Summer may be over, but that doesn’t mean you have to put away your gardening tools just yet. On the contrary, fall is a very busy period for many gardeners, as it’s one of the best times of year for planting a wide array of flowers, vegetables, shrubs, and trees. Read on to learn more about fall planting.
Why plant in the fall?
Factors that make fall a great season for planting include:
Cool air, warm soil—Many types of plants find the cooler air of autumn to be a welcome relief from the high temperatures (and associated heat stress) of summer. At the same time, the soil is still warm enough in the fall to allow plants to develop strong and healthy root systems before the ground freezes.
More reliable rainfall—Plants can quickly become parched on hot summer days, especially if they’re fairly newly planted, but this is much less of a problem in fall when rain showers start to become more regular in many climates.
Fewer pests—If you’re like most gardeners, you’ve probably had the experience of seeing some of your new spring plants seriously damaged by insects. However, far fewer of these pests can withstand fall’s cooler temperatures, which is great news for newly planted greenery.
Good deals—Fall is an excellent time to take advantage of the many end-of-season sales offered by local nurseries and garden centers. A wide variety of bulbs, perennials, trees, and shrubs—all of which can be planted in the fall—are often available at discounted prices from late summer onward.
A head start on spring—Getting plants in the ground in the fall means that you’ll be able to enjoy them earlier in the spring (not to mention that you’ll have a bit less work to do during the busiest gardening time of year).
What to know before you plant
Before you do any fall planting, it’s important to know what climate zone you’re in, as well as the typical first hard frost date for your region. A great resource to explore is the USDA Hardiness Zone Map. This map, which divides North America into 11 distinct planting zones, helps you understand which plants will be best suited to your particular area given its unique climate characteristics.
Knowing about frost dates is important because, as a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to make sure your new plants are in the ground at least four to six weeks before the soil starts to freeze. If the period between planting and freezing is too short, the plant may not have had the chance to establish a strong enough root system to survive the winter.
What to plant in the fall
When it comes to plants that work well for fall planting, there’s no shortage of great choices. Some of the best options include:
Spring bulbs—Did you know that spring bulbs should be planted in the fall because they require a period of cold to bloom? Classics such as tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and hyacinths are always popular choices, but there are plenty of other types to check out if you’re looking for something more adventurous. It’s also a good idea to buy several varieties of bulbs with a range of flowering periods so that you can enjoy different blooms at different times throughout the spring. Before planting your bulbs, make sure that nighttime temperatures have been below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for about two weeks (this will help prevent bulbs from emerging too early).
Cool-season annuals—Cool-season flowering annuals can bring a welcome burst of color to gardens that may be looking a bit limp and parched by the time the end of summer rolls around. Options like violas, snapdragons, dianthus, and cornflowers are as hardy as they are colorful, and they can tolerate low temperatures and frost while remaining vibrant through November (or even longer in some climates). You can help maximize the life of your fall annuals by removing spent flowers promptly.
Cool-season vegetables—Your vegetable garden can be just as bountiful in the fall as it is in the summer if you choose to start fast-growing varieties from seed or buy transplants from your local garden center. Greens such as spinach, arugula, and mustard greens work well as they germinate in cooler soil and mature quickly. Likewise, root vegetables such as radishes, beets, and turnips thrive in cool conditions and can be ready for harvesting in less than two months. Late fall is a good time to plant crops for overwintering, notably onions and garlic.
Trees, shrubs, and perennials—When it comes to planting trees, shrubs, and perennials, fall is better than spring because the cooler temperatures are easier on the plants and promote greater root development. Another bonus of fall planting is that most of these types of plants will have stopped producing new top growth, so they won’t require much care through the spring (after planting, simply mulch them and keep them well-watered).