Fall gardening

Planting and care tips

maple-seedlingHome gardeners are used to doing most of their planting in spring due to tradition. Back when the average flower bed was filled with annuals, this was the norm, as annuals are tender plants that only live for one season. When perennials came into the fore, the spring planting habit simply carried on. Yet most perennials (as well as many shrubs and trees) do best when they are planted in fall.

When plants go into the ground in spring, they are faced with cool soil that slows down their rooting, but soon have to cope with warm air temperatures that stimulate leaf growth and flowering. Along come summer droughts, which further hinder root formation. As a result, many spring-planted plants fail to root properly and spend their first summer looking stressed. In contrast, fall-planted specimens go into warm soil at a time of year when rainfall is usually abundant and evaporation is low. This combination of warm soil and even moisture is ideal for root growth, which continues long into the season, well after the aerial (above the soil surface) parts of the plant are dormant.

When planting in the fall, be sure to use mulch. It moderates soil temperature, adds needed nutrients, retains moisture, and visually improves the environment.

Trees, shrubs and perennials that prefer to be planted in the fall

Maple, Acer spp. 
Horse chestnut, Aesculus spp. 
Lady’s mantle, Alchemilla spp. 
Astilbe, Astilbe spp.
Bergenia, Bergenia spp. 
Catalpa, Catalpa spp. 
Hawthorn, Crataegus spp. 
Pinks, Dianthus spp. 
Ash, Fraxinus spp. 
Daylily, Hemerocallis spp.
Hosta, Hosta spp. 
Daisy, Leucanthemum spp. 
Lily, Lilium cvs. 
Crabapple, Malus spp. 
Peony and others, Paeonia lactiflora 
Oriental poppy, Papaver orientale cvs.
Cork tree, Phellodendron spp. 
Phlox, Phlox spp. 
Ninebark, Physocarpus spp. 
Spruce, Picea spp.
Pine, Pinus spp.
Hens and Chicks, Sempervivum spp. 
Linden, Tilia spp.
Elm, Ulmus spp. 
Viburnum, Viburnum spp.

Planting seeds

Fall sowing is a nearly forgotten art, but one worth exploring. In nature, seeds – be they from perennials, annuals, trees or shrubs – mostly fall to the ground in autumn to germinate the following spring (many hardy plants won’t even sprout, or only poorly, without experiencing cold temperatures). So if you’ve been sowing hardy plants in spring with only marginal results, try planting seeds in fall instead. Even many annuals, such as sweet peas, mallow, spider flower, pansies, larkspur, ornamental cabbage and snapdragons, do best when sown in autumn.

Overseed or sod your lawns

Lawns are better started in fall. The cool air temperatures reduce evaporation and slow foliage growth, giving the roots time to dig in. Typically, lawns over-seeded or sodded in fall grow just enough to look good. They really show their strength the following summer when, thanks to a deep, well-established root system, they breeze through summer droughts. Sod or overseed lawns at least eight weeks before the first killing frost

Protect plants and prepare for next year

Wrap your evergreens and rose shrubs with burlap. It is best to place stakes around the plant and wrap the burlap around the stake, rather than the plant itself. As the gardening slows, you will
have more time to take on other projects. Organize the garage – sharpen and tune up your garden tools and machinery.