Getting Your Garden Ready for Fall Planting
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.
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
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
Native Red Trillium is a beloved woodland wildflower with stunning, three-petaled burgundy flowers that float above a whorl of bright green leaves. Also known as Purple Trillium and ...Learn MoreRed Trillium Wake Robin, Stinking Benjamin, Purple Trillium Trillium erectum$21.32 Sale $15.99Per Bag of 3
Creeping Wintergreen or also known as Gaultheria Redwood™ forms large mats of glossy green groundcover in the woods. This plant produces light pink flowers in late spring followed...Learn MoreRedwood® Creeping Wintergreen Redwood® Creeping Wintergreen, Checkerberry Gaultheria procumbens Redwood®$15.99 Sale $13.59Per Plant - 3" Pot
Full Bloom Double White Trillium is a pure white native treasure for the spring shade garden or ephemeral woodland. Add a note of elegance to the bright and beautiful early spring ga...Learn MoreFlore Pleno Trillium Flore Pleno Double White Trillium Trillium grandiflorum Flore Pleno$17.32 Sale $12.99Per Bag of 3
‚Red Beauty‚ Japanese Painted Fern is a graceful color-maker in the shade garden, with silver-tinged green fronds that sport deep-burgundy stems and veins. Making its hom...Learn MoreRed Beauty Japanese Painted Fern Japanese Painted Fern Red Beauty Athyrium niponicum Red Beauty$10.65 Sale $9.05Per Plant - 3" Pot
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
‚Butter and Sugar‚ Siberian Iris produce creamy yellow-and-white flowers borne on long stems above elegant clumps of green, sword-like leaves. Easy to grow and adaptable ...Learn MoreButter and Sugar Siberian Iris Butter and Sugar Siberian Iris Iris sibirica Butter and Sugar$18.65 Sale $13.99Per Bag of 1
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
‘Wyldewood’ Elderberry is an outstanding native shrub that creates wildlife habitat and year-round beauty, with the added benefit of a bountiful crop of edible berries. G...Learn MoreWyldewood Elderberry Wyldewood Elderberry Sambucus canadensis x WyldewoodAs low as $19.99 Sale $18.99Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
‚Ruby Slippers‚ Oakleaf Hydrangea delivers oversized, cone-shaped blooms that arrive in white to light pink and deepen to a reddish-magenta as they age. A compact shrub, ...Learn MoreRuby Slippers Oakleaf Hydrangea Oakleaf Hydrangea Ruby Slippers Hydrangea quercifolia Ruby Slippers$23.99Per Plant - 4" Pot
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
Graduated pink and tangerine blooms top a stately 22-inch stem in ‚Apricot Impression‚ Darwin Tulip, creating a glowing effect in beds and borders. These large, softly ra...Learn MoreApricot Impression Darwin Tulip Apricot Impression Darwin Tulip Tulipa Apricot ImpressionAs low as $11.99 Sale $8.99Per Bag of 10
Treasured for its dual-toned blooms and a tendency to return year after year, ‚Peppermint Stick‚ Tulip is a low-growing species tulip with plenty of punch in a petite fra...Learn MorePeppermint Stick Tulip Peppermint Stick Tulip Tulipa clusiana Peppermint StickAs low as $13.32 Sale $9.99Per Bag of 15
English Bluebells have delighted gardeners for centuries with clear blue flowers on gracefully arching stems. Bell-shaped blooms emerge mid-to-late spring, carpeting the woodland flo...Learn MoreEnglish Bluebells English Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scriptaAs low as $15.99 Sale $11.99Per Bag of 15
When is fall planting NOT a good idea?
If you are planting a shrub or perennial that is at the very edge of winter hardiness for your area, it is best to wait until early spring when it will be given the luxury of a long growing season to fully establish itself. Messing with those tender roots so close to winter is a bad idea. However, if you ordered last spring, and never managed to get a zone-marginal plant in the ground (hey, it happens!), put the pot in a sheltered location where it can still benefit from rain, and cover it with a heavy layer of mulch for the winter. In mid-spring, uncover and plant according to specific directions.
As much as it’s hard to see the season end, there comes a point where it’s no longer advisable to plant. Many adventurous gardeners will plant very hardy shrubs and perennials up until the ground starts to freeze and take their chances, but generally, it’s best to allow plants and bulbs at least a few weeks of root development before that point.
Unplanted bulbs will not last through the winter, so if you didn’t get around to planting them, there is little to lose by planting in still-unfrozen ground. For some bulbs such as hybrid tulips, hyacinths and paperwhites, you can keep them in your refrigerator for forcing in February instead!
If you didn’t get your wildflower meadow prepared before the ground froze, it’s better to refrigerate seeds and wait until very early spring to sow than to sprinkle seeds on hard ground for ever-hungrier birds.
One of the very best reasons for planting in the fall is the discovery of those new plantings in the spring. They’ll be flush with growth and adding something new to your garden without adding anything to your spring workload. It’s a win-win for the plant and for the gardener. Time to start making your wish list!
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.