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Getting Your Garden Ready for Fall Planting

getting your garden ready for fall planting
By Marianne Willburn, gardening expert and author.

 

Did you know that in most cases, fall is actually a much better time to plant than spring? And we’re not just talking about fall-planted bulbs either! As nights lengthen and days begin to cool off, the soil is still quite warm, providing a wonderful environment for plants to focus on root growth rather than putting energy into spring foliage and flower. By the time spring warms the soil and the earth gets moving again, plants have had plenty of time to establish strong, healthy roots and are raring to go!

Pests have slowed down for the season, most having completed their life cycles or begun their dormancy period over the winter. Weeds are also slowing down, giving new shrubs, perennials and wildflowers the ability to get established without suffocating competition. In many parts of the country, fall means rain, and rain means root development – lessening your watering duties.

Last, but certainly not least, fall is far less busy. Cooler days invite time spent in the garden, and the frenetic buzz of spring chores is still months away. It’s a terrific time to leisurely plant wildflower seeds, spring bulbs, perennials and shrubs. Let’s look at a few general guidelines for fall plating:

  • Planting Time: Actual fall planting times vary greatly by region. The good news is that we ship your fall-planted perennials and flower bulbs when it's time to plant in your zone! It’s good to know your regional signs (such as the first frost, the onset of fall rains, or the freezing of soil). Check our frost date chart here. If hesitant, check with your local state extension office for advice.
  • Soil Preparation: In most areas, it will help to have compost on hand as a soil amendment. If you're planting wildflowers, it's important to clear the area of all existing growth, but compost or amendmenta are rarely required for wildflowers.
  • Fertilizer: Avoid extra fertilizer that is heavy in nitrogen, as the resulting growth will most certainly be killed by frosts and the plant will be damaged or killed. You can use bone meal to promote root growth, but be sure to use a very small amount and mix it well with the soil, as too much phosphate can have a detrimental effect on microscopic soil organisms.
  • Water: Immediately after planting, give your new plants or seeds a good watering!

Read on for helpful tips to prepare for fall planting Wildflower Seeds, Woodland Flowers, Perennial Plants, Shrubs, and Fall-Planted Flower Bulbs! Plus, explore some of the most popular plants we offer for fall planting, now available to order. 


fall planting wildflower seeds

Tips For Planting Wildflower Seeds In Fall

Planting in fall mimics the natural cycle of seed heads dispersing ripened seeds at the end of the season. Fall-planted meadows typically bloom 2-3 weeks ahead of spring-planted meadows!

  • In frost-free climates, you can plant wildflowers in cooler fall temperatures for a nice display of fall color.
  • In colder climates, you can plan a dormant fall planting. With a dormant planting, seeds will lay dormant until soil temperatures warm in spring, and they'll have a head start on germination and growth. Wait to spread seeds until after a few killing frosts, as you don't want seeds to sprout before spring. Find your local frost dates here.
  • Learn More: How To Plant Wildflowers In Fall

Explore Popular Pollinator-Friendly Wildflower Seed Mixes

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Tips For Planting Woodland Plants In Fall

Many woodland flowers bloom in early spring. Though some varieties can be slow to establish, their early season blooms are a delight! Planting in fall will allow these plants to establish their roots, giving you a better chance of seeing blooms in their first spring season.

  • Four to six weeks before your last frost, clear the area you wish to plant of woody debris and any rooted invasives. 
  • Cutting invasive plants (such as multiflora rose) down to the ground is not enough – the plant must be dug up or your new plantings will suffer.
  • Prepare the soil by mixing in a generous amount of organically rich compost (decomposed leaf ‘mold’ is a perfect amendment), and plant according to specific instructions.
  • Many woodland plants are shipped as tubers or dormant roots. Mark planting sites with an easy-to-see flag or marker so you can keep an eye on your new plantings easily and keep the area clear of woody debris over the winter.
  • Learn More: How To Build A Woodland Wildflower Garden

Explore Woodland Plants Available For Fall Planting


Tips For Planting Perennials In Fall

Find the ‘sweet spot’ where new plants won’t be stressed by the heat of late summer, but will benefit from the onset of cool rains and frost-free conditions. We typically recommend planting four to six weeks before the first frost in your area. 

  • Give your plant a good, deep hole with a base of workable, amended soil to encourage strong root growth. 
  • If you have heavy clay soil, dig the hole twice the depth of the pot to ensure that the plant doesn’t sit in a waterlogged ‘clay pot’ all winter.
  • After removing the plant from the pot, lightly tease the roots away from their potted shape. If a plant is severely root bound you can be a bit rougher. 
  • Place the perennial at the same planting depth as it was in the pot and backfill the hole with amended soil. 
  • Water it well. (Add more soil when if backfill has settled through watering) 
  • In most cases, a two inch layer of mulch placed around the plant, leaving at least an inch of space around the crown of the plant, is a great idea for extra root protection over the winter.
  • Learn More: Visit The Tool Shed for planting guides on our most popular plants

Explore Easy To Grow Perennials Available For Fall Planting


Tips For Fall Planting Shrubs

Many of the same rules apply to shrubs as they do to perennials, however, as shrubs are generally larger than perennials, a few extra considerations should be noted.

  • First, it is important to pay attention to spacing requirements for your particular variety. Moving a woody shrub after it’s established is possible but difficult, and will set the shrub back – better to place it well the first time.
  • Also, it is crucial not to skimp on the size of the hole you are digging for your shrub – generally two times the width and height of the original pot. 
  • Once you have backfilled half of the hole, water in well and allow the soil to settle within air pockets you often can’t see. Then, fill the rest of the hole, tamp down and water well once again. 
  • When you mulch, leave two inches around the base of the woody stems.
  • Learn More: All About Planting Shrubs In Fall

Explore Shrubs For Fall Planting


planting bulbs

Tips For Planting Bulbs In Fall

Spring's earliest flowers are planted in fall! Fall-planted flower bulbs, including popular Daffodils, Tulips, Alliums, Snowdrops, and more, must be planted in fall to receive adequate time chilling in the ground. If you live in a warm, frost-free climate, you can refrigerate fall-planted bulbs for 12 weeks before planting to ensure beautiful blooms. 

  • Plant bulbs when average night temperatures are in the 40 to 50F range to prevent rot or disease issues. This is usually about four weeks before your last frost. 
  • Make it easy on yourself from the beginning by mixing a wheelbarrow of half organic compost and half native soil to amend each hole before planting.
  • For bulbs, dig a small hole with a depth of two to three times the height of the bulb, leaving an inch of crumbly and workable soil in the bottom. Add another inch of amended soil, plant the bulb right side up and fill the hole with native or amended soil. 
  • Don’t forget to mark your bulb planting site with sticks or markers to avoid accidentally digging them up later.
  • Learn More: Visit The Tool Shed for planting guides on our most popular bulbs

Explore Easy To Grow Fall-Planted Flower Bulbs

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About the Author: Marianne is a Master Gardener and the author of the new book Big Dreams, Small Garden. You can read more at www.smalltowngardener.com.

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