As the heat of summer wanes, the garden takes on new life. Roses put on fresh blossoms, vegetable crops fruit with abandon and late-season bloomers paint the landscape with the colors of autumn. The cool nights and increased rainfall give rise to a garden rejuvenation. The mild weather also makes autumn the perfect time to establish new trees, shrubs and hardy perennials in the landscape.
Laying Down Roots
The greatest benefit of fall planting is root establishment. During the fall and early winter months, plants are actively growing roots. In fact, roots grow anytime the soil temperature is above 40o F, which includes a good portion of the winter in many southern states. When trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials are planted in the fall they have a long time to establish a root system before the growing season commences. And when warm temperatures return in spring, plants are ready to take advantage of the window for spring growth.
What to Plant in Autumn
Deciduous shrubs are among the best candidates for fall planting. Selecting shrubs to purchase in autumn can be very rewarding, as many are putting on seasonal displays of fruit or fall foliage. The same is true of herbaceous perennials. Fall-blooming perennials like toad lily and asters often get overlooked during spring shopping. A trip to the garden center in fall showcases late-season bloomers. You will also find plenty of spring-and summer-blooming varieties to plant.
Ornamental grasses also make for excellent fall planting, typically adding immediate impact in the garden. More important, fall planting results in bigger, showier plants the following season. On the opposite spectrum of grasses, cool-season turfgrasses such as Kentucky bluegrass and fescue are also planted in fall.
Many trees can be established in autumn, but not all benefit from fall planting. Slow to establish species are better planted in spring. Likewise, broadleaf evergreen trees should be planted in spring as they have a tendency to desiccate during winter. Needled evergreens or conifers need a little more time to set down roots and should be planted in early fall. Refer to the table to identify the best time to plant landscape trees.
All bare root plants, including fruit trees and roses, should be planted in late winter when they are dormant. Also, broadleaf evergreen shrubs such as azalea and hollies, as well as narrow-leaved evergreens like yew respond best to spring planting. These plants are prone to water stress over the winter months.
Many plants are discounted at garden centers in fall, but these are not always the best specimens. Be sure to check for a healthy root system and good branching habit before purchasing sale items.
Fall Planting Tips
- Keep roots moist during planting.
- Water plants in immediately after planting.
- Mulch the roots of newly-installed plants to conserve soil moisture and insulate soils.
- Water regularly throughout the fall and winter months to keep roots and soil moist.
- Hold-off on fertilizing until spring.
- Wait to prune until mid- to late-winter when plants are dormant.
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