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Succession Planting: Summer, Fall Planting For Season-Long Color

by Amanda

Succession Planting - perennials

Fall offers a second season for adding perennials to your garden.

Many gardeners work long hours in the spring months, feverishly planting a variety of bulbs, wildflowers, and perennials for spectacular summer color. But packing all of your planting into several weeks per year isn’t always the most relaxing — or beneficial to your landscape. Succession planting refers to the simple practice of adding wildflowers, bulbs, perennials, and vegetables to your garden in a staggered timeframe throughout the season, for a long-lasting display of color, harvests that are spread out, and well-timed resources for local wildlife. As you’ll see in the comprehensive list below, planting isn’t just for spring!

Succession Planting In Summer: Annual Wildflowers

If you didn’t get around to planting annual wildflowers in the spring, or want to create a long-lasting display of easy color, you can still plant quick-blooming annuals in the summer months. Depending on your region, you can plant easy-to-grow, quick-blooming annual wildflowers well into July.  

Succession Planting - annual wildflowers

Zinnias and Cosmos are quick-blooming annuals great for summer planting.

Some of our Favorite Quick-Blooming Annual Wildflowers For Summer Succession Planting:

When planting wildflowers in the summer months, make sure to regularly water the area until seedlings are at least 6” tall. After this, watering weekly should be enough to supplement regular rainfall.

Succession Planting In Summer: Fall-Flowering Crocus

Although August can sometimes be one of the hottest months of the season, it is actually the perfect time to plant Fall-Flowering Crocus. These quick-blooming, easy-to-grow bulbs bloom in just weeks and offer up late season blooms that are a great resource for pollinators (and the gardener who’s just not quite ready for winter).

Succession Planting - colchicum

Colchicum bulbs can be planted in August for blooms starting in just weeks.

Fall-Flowering Crocus come in elegant shades of pink, white, and purple, and can be planted in the front border of beds (they only get 6-8” tall). They are also a great candidate for adding fall color to containers on patios, balconies, decks, and stairways.

One of the most popular Fall-Flowering Crocus is Saffron Crocus, which produces lovely purple blooms in the fall. The tiny red stigmas can be harvested and used fresh (or dried) as a spice in your favorite culinary dishes. Yes, this is the same expensive spice that you see in specialty stores and it’s actually quite easy to grow and harvest on your own.

Learn all about growing and harvesting Saffron Crocus for spice. 

Succession Planting - bearded iris

August is the perfect time to plant Bearded Iris because plants are typically dormant during the extreme heat, making them easy to plant.

Succession Planting In Summer: Bearded Iris

August is the second season (besides spring) to add Bearded Iris to the garden. August-planted Bearded Iris rhizomes acclimate to your garden quicker and grow bigger in their first full season, often blooming in their first spring. Why is this? Bearded Iris, even re-bloomers, are typically dormant during the August heat. When a plant is dormant, it's in a suspended state and not actively growing, conserving all of its energy for the future. This is a perfect time to add plant, move or divide existing plants that are getting overcrowded.

Learn how to divide and replant Bearded Iris in August.

Succession Planting In Summer and Fall: Cover Crops

Planting Cover Crops in Summer:  Cover crops are an easy way to add nutrients to your soil in areas where a vegetable crop has just passed, or new areas you’d like to plant in the fall. Summer is actually a great time to plant cover crops and you can do so in two ways:

  1. Use cover crops to fill in gaps in your garden. Weed growth is often at its strongest in the summer and cover crops will help fill in gaps in the garden that weeds most likely will overtake -- as well as add nutrients.
  2. Plant cover Crops in bare areas around trellised plants. Plant cover crops in the garden around your trellised, tall vegetables like tomatoes or beans. They’ll not only suppress weeds in the garden bed, but also provide extra nutrients to the soil.

Succession Planting - clover

Cover crops (like this Clover) can be planted in the summer or fall to add nutrients to the soil.

Planting Cover Crops in Fall: A more common use of cover crops is fall seeding, after everything has finished up for the year. Plant varieties like Clover and Vetch in colder areas after there have been a few hard frosts and the seed will lie dormant until the early spring. In warmer areas (like the South) plant just before the rainy season. The cover crops will grow quickly come spring and suppress any early spring weed growth, while also adding nutrients to the soil before it's time to plant your vegetables or flowers.

Some Of Our Favorite Quick-Growing Cover Crops:

Succession Planting - fall bulbs

Many spring-blooming bulbs (like Tulips and Daffodils) must be planted in the fall as they need months of near-freezing temperatures to grow and bloom.

Succession Planting In Fall: Spring-Blooming Bulbs

Some of our favorite spring-blooming flowers, like DaffodilsTulips, and Alliumhave to be planted in the fall. These bulbs require 3-4 months of near-freezing temperatures to grow and bloom in your garden because they are native to colder regions (think: the Netherlands) and need this cold period. If you're in an area that doesn't receive this type of cold weather naturally, you can pre-chill the bulbs in your refrigerator and plant in early spring.

Learn how to chill spring-blooming bulbs.

But this is all good news for gardeners; we love the cool, crisp fall weather and jump at any excuse to get out and enjoy the garden this time of year. The term, “dig, drop, done” was coined about Fall-Planted Bulbs because they are so easy to grow. Add your favorite Daffodils, Tulips, and more to the the garden in fall and simply wait for a spectacular spring show of color!


Succession Planting - perennials

Fall-planted perennials often grow and bloom in their first season.

Succession Planting In Fall: Perennials

While many think of spring as the best time to add perennials to the garden, fall is another great time plant, because:

  1. Plants will get a jump-start on spring growth. Planting perennials in the fall gives them a head start on growth the following spring. Root systems will start to grow when you get them in the ground in the fall, letting the plant get established, and then as soon as the ground thaws in spring, long before the soil can be worked and any new plants can be put in. This early start means first-season perennials can actually show their flowers!
  2. The cool weather. If the hot, sweaty weather isn’t for you, try gardening in the fall! The crisp, cool air makes for an enjoyable, leisurely experience working in the garden. The cool weather also gives plants less of a transplant shock (than planting in extreme heat) and lets them acclimate to your garden better.

Succession Planting - wildflowers

Fall-seeded annual wildflowers (like Sunflowers and Cosmos) typically bloom two weeks earlier than if planted in the spring.

Succession Planting In Fall: Wildflowers

All wildflower seeding provides a jumpstart on spring growth and blooms, while also helping to suppress weed growth in the early spring. Many experts actually think fall wildflower planting is better than seeding in the spring for several reasons:

  1. Fall planting mimics seeding in nature. As wildflowers finish up blooming for the season, they naturally drop their seeds for next year’s growth.
  2. Earlier growth/blooms. Wildflower seeds planted in fall lay dormant in the winter and burst into growth as soon as the ground warms, which results in earlier growth and blooms. Typically, a fall-seeded annual blooms two weeks earlier than if planted in the spring. 
  3. More time to plant. The cool fall weather is forgiving; you can clear your area and because it’s too cool for weeds to start growing, you don’t have to seed right away. 
  4. Spring weed suppression. Because your wildflowers will come up and grow as soon as the ground warms, they will have a better time out-competing the weeds in your soil. This means less weeding time for you (which we all want).

When To Plant Wildflowers In Fall, By Region

  • Areas With Cold (Freezing) Winters, Including Northeast, Midwest, West: Plant wildflowers in the fall after there have been several hard frosts in your area and the seeds will stay dormant until early spring.
  • Areas With Warmer (Above Freezing) Winters, Including Southeast, Southwest: Plant Wildflowers at the beginning of your rainy season, which typically falls in January or February. This will give wildflowers the natural water they need to grow and let them get established in your garden during the coolest part of the year.

Although all of these different planting times may seem a bit challenging to keep up with, doing a little planting several times throughout the season is much easier -- and more rewarding -- than trying to cram everything in the few weeks in early spring. Also, succession planting allows  you to let things grow for a bit and you can evaluate whether something needs to be moved or added in the next planting time, without having to wait all the way until next spring.

What are some of your favorite succession planting tips? Please share in the comments below!