Many gardeners think that spring is the best time to plant. We're glad to get outdoors and get our hands in the soil after a long winter.... and we assume plants feel the same way. Although spring is the time to plant vegetables and bedding plants (petunias and impatiens, for example) it's not necessarily the best time to set out other plants. For example, spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils and tulips must be planted in fall. And fall is as good -- or better -- a time to plant many perennials and wildflowers. Here's why:
- The soil is warm from summer's heat and cools down slowly, so roots continue to grow. At the same time, air temperatures are cooling, which reduces top growth and the demands it places on roots. Strong root growth in fall translates to vigorous above-ground growth in spring.
- In many parts of the country fall weather is more predictable than spring weather, making it easier to schedule gardening activities. Plus, the cooler weather makes it an especially pleasant time to be out in the garden.
- There are fewer insect pests to bug you -- and your plants -- and weed growth has slowed.
Planting Spring-Blooming Bulbs in Fall
Plant spring-blooming bulbs, such as crocus, daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths, in fall, once the soil has cooled to about 60° F. In most parts of the country, this usually occurs when evening temperatures begin to drop into the 40s. Don't wait too long, though; you want to plant at least six weeks before the ground freezes so bulbs have time to grow a strong root system. Here are some guidelines for when to start planting bulbs in different parts of the country:
- Northeast and Rocky Mountains: Start planting in mid September
- Midwest, Appalachians, Mid-Atlantic Coast, and Plains States: Start Planting in late September
- Pacific Northwest Coast: Start planting in early October
- California Coast: Start planting in mid October
- The South and Gulf Coast: Start planting in late October
Planting Perennials in Fall
Fall planting gives perennials a head start over their spring-planted counterparts. Roots continue to grow even as air temperatures cool, so plants are rarin' to go in spring. To give plants time to get established before winter, plan to plant at least six weeks before the ground freezes.
After planting, apply a thin (1- to 2-inch-deep) layer of organic mulch, such as shredded bark, around plants to conserve moisture. Plan to water weekly if nature doesn't provide a soaking rain. Don't apply fertilizer, however, because doing so can prevent plants from entering their winter dormancy. Once the ground freezes, apply a deeper mulch layer (3 to 4 inches deep) to help insulate roots from alternating freeze thaw cycles, keeping mulch an inch or two away from stems to prevent rot.
Planting Wildflower Seed in Fall
If you think about it, planting wildflower seed in fall makes sense. After all, in nature many wildflowers produce flowers in summer, develop seed heads, and then drop their seeds in fall. Those seeds lay dormant until the weather warms up in spring. When it comes to sowing your wildflower seed, the key to fall planting is patience: Wait to sow until after the first killing frost when air temperatures have cooled. Otherwise, the seeds of annual flowers may germinate during a warm spell, only to be killed by the next cold snap. One advantage of fall planting, especially in cold-winter areas, is that you'll see blooms a few weeks earlier than if you sowed in spring. For persons living in warmer climates where you may not experience the harsh cold winters, fall provides the ideal time to plant. Flowers will begin blooming through the winter and spring months before the extreme heat of the summer sets in. It also allows to plan planting around your rainy seasons which means less watering for you. It’s a win win situation for all!