Getting Your Garden Ready for Fall Planting

getting your garden ready for fall plantinggetting 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 seedsfall planting wildflower seeds

Fall Planting Wildflower Seeds

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.

Click the button below to view our step-by-step guide to planting wildflower seeds in fall!

Explore Popular Pollinator-Friendly Wildflower Seed Mixes

  1. Mini Meadows Wildflower Seed Mix

    Plant our Mini Meadows Wildflower Seed Mix for a beautiful display of some of our most loved wildflower seeds. This one-of-a-kind mix was designed by Mike “The Seed Man” Lizotte ...

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    Mini Meadows Wildflower Seed Mix Mini Meadows Wildflower Seed Mix
    As low as $14.95 Sale $14.21
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Plant our Mini Meadows Wildflower Seed Mix for a beautiful display of some of our most loved wildflower seeds. This one-of-a-kind mix was designed by Mike “The Seed Man” Lizotte to pair with his book, Mini Meadows. These easy-to-grow wildflowers will offer years of enjoyment for new and experienced wildflower gardeners alike. All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow.
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  2. Bouquets For Days Wildflower Seed Mix

    Create beautiful flower arrangements from your own meadow or flower garden with our Bouquets For Days Wildflower Seed Mix. We’ve included a wide range of flower forms and textures ...

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    Bouquets For Days Wildflower Seed Mix Bouquets For Days Wildflower Seed Mix
    As low as $14.95 Sale $14.21
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Create beautiful flower arrangements from your own meadow or flower garden with our Bouquets For Days Wildflower Seed Mix. We’ve included a wide range of flower forms and textures in a diverse palette, with every color of the rainbow to let your inner artist shine. This mix features 27 annual varieties for bold first-season color and long-lasting blooms. Non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free, and guaranteed to grow.
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  3. spring into summer wildflower mix

    The Spring Into Summer Wildflower Seed Mix (formerly known as Summer Splash) offers up some of the biggest color of any mixture we carry! With 44 easy-to-grow species, this is a grea...

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    Spring Into Summer Seasonal Wildflower Seed Mix Spring Into Summer Seasonal Wildflower Seed Mix
    As low as $9.95 Sale $9.46
    Per 1/4 Pound
    The Spring Into Summer Wildflower Seed Mix (formerly known as Summer Splash) offers up some of the biggest color of any mixture we carry! With 44 easy-to-grow species, this is a great choice for new garden beds, replacing part of your lawn, or creating a naturalized meadow. Packed with heat-tolerant quick bloomers, this mix can be planted well into the summer for color in the first season. An easy, rewarding mix for those new to wildflowers and experts alike.
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  4. Northeast Pollinator Wildflower Seed Mix

    Plant your support for the disappearing pollinator population in your own backyard with our Northeast Pollinator Mix. This easy-to-grow blend is designed to provide food and habitat ...

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    Northeast Pollinator Wildflower Seed Mix Northeast Pollinator Wildflower Seed Mix
    As low as $14.95 Sale $14.21
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Plant your support for the disappearing pollinator population in your own backyard with our Northeast Pollinator Mix. This easy-to-grow blend is designed to provide food and habitat to northeastern pollinators throughout the length of the growing season. Annual and perennial wildflowers like New England Aster, Black Eyed Susan, Milkweed, Coreopsis and Cosmos provide pollen, nectar and shelter for hundreds of important species, including Monarch butterflies and native bees. Contains only 100% pure, non-GMO and neonicotinoid-free seeds, best for planting in CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, WV, QC and the Eastern Townships. Guaranteed to grow.
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Fall Planting Woodland Flowers

Many woodland flowers bloom in early spring. Though some varieites can be slow to establish, their early season blooms are a delight! Planting in fall will allow these plants to establish their roots, giving 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.

For more information, read our helpful article about how to build a Woodland Wildflower Garden:


Explore Woodland Flowers Available For Fall Planting

  1. Blue Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica

    Virginia Bluebell’s gorgeous flowers start out as lovely, pastel pink buds and open up into vivid, true blue blooms. A perfect addition to part and full-shade woodland gardens, pla...

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    Virginia Bluebells Virginia Bluebells Mertensia virginica
    As low as $18.98 Sale $12.99
    Per Bag of 3
    Virginia Bluebell’s gorgeous flowers start out as lovely, pastel pink buds and open up into vivid, true blue blooms. A perfect addition to part and full-shade woodland gardens, plant Virginia Bluebells to see early spring blooms and frequent visits from pollinators. This native plant increases in size each year and will form a beautiful colony over time with almost no care from the gardener. (Mertensia virginica)
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  2. Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, Ostrich Fern

    The Ostrich Fern is a grand, native plant from the Eastern American woodlands. Unfurling in a fiddlehead shape, it gets its name from the open plumes that resemble ostrich feathers. ...

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    Ostrich Fern Ostrich Fern Matteuccia struthiopteris
    As low as $17.98 Sale $12.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    The Ostrich Fern is a grand, native plant from the Eastern American woodlands. Unfurling in a fiddlehead shape, it gets its name from the open plumes that resemble ostrich feathers. Like most ferns, this one prefers a cool, moist spot and will spread and thrive in any wet, shady area of the garden. A notably graceful plant. (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
    Learn More
  3. Pink Bleeding Heart, Dicentra

    Old Fashioned Pink Bleeding Heart is a popular shade perennial with arching stems of lovely, heart-shaped flowers that bloom each spring. Deeply-cut, blue green foliage remains fresh...

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    Pink Bleeding Heart Pink Common Bleeding Heart Dicentra spectabilis Pink
    As low as $11.98 Sale $9.99
    Per Bag of 1
    Old Fashioned Pink Bleeding Heart is a popular shade perennial with arching stems of lovely, heart-shaped flowers that bloom each spring. Deeply-cut, blue green foliage remains fresh and healthy throughout the summer, helping to fill out the garden bed and provide a graceful backdrop for summer blooms. A timeless classic, this plant inspires nostalgia whenever it's noticed! Deer resistant. (Dicentra spectabilis)
    Learn More
  4. White Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum, Wake-Robin

    White Trillium opens exquisite white blooms up to 4 inches across in mid-spring. Flowers fade to a pretty pale pink. This woodland wildflower requires patience but is well worth th...

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    White Trillium White Wake Robin, Wood Lily Trillium grandiflorum
    As low as $18.98 Sale $14.99
    Per Bag of 3
    White Trillium opens exquisite white blooms up to 4 inches across in mid-spring. Flowers fade to a pretty pale pink. This woodland wildflower requires patience but is well worth the wait. Seeds produced by the plants and underground roots and will spread slowly into drifts of trillium that look like a white blanket covering the ground. (Trillium grandiflorum)
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holding barerootholding bareroot
planting plantplanting plant

Fall Planting Perennials

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. 

Click the button below to visit "The Tool Shed," your source for detailed planting guides on some of our most popular perennial plants.

Explore Popular Perennials Available For Fall Planting

  1. May Night Meadow Sage

    May Night is the top signature Salvia, with famous deep blue/purple blooms. A big favorite. Perennial plant of the year in 1997. (Salvia nemorosa)...

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    May Night Salvia Meadow Sage May Night Salvia nemorosa May Night
    As low as $10.98 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    May Night is the top signature Salvia, with famous deep blue/purple blooms. A big favorite. Perennial plant of the year in 1997. (Salvia nemorosa)
    Learn More
  2. Black Eyed Susan Goldsturm, Rudbeckia in bloom in perennial garden

    'Goldsturm' Black Eyed Susan brings a burst of showy color to the full-sun garden. Golden yellow, daisy-like petals surround nectar-rich, brown center 'buttons' set atop deep green f...

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    Goldsturm Black Eyed Susan Black Eyed Susan Goldsturm Rudbeckia fulgida Goldsturm
    As low as $9.98 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    'Goldsturm' Black Eyed Susan brings a burst of showy color to the full-sun garden. Golden yellow, daisy-like petals surround nectar-rich, brown center 'buttons' set atop deep green foliage. Unbothered by most pests, poor soils, drought and humidity, 'Goldsturm' is easygoing and the perfect addition to flower arrangements and pollinator gardens. Deer resistant and long-lasting. (Rudbeckia fulgida)
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  3. Catmint Walkers Low, Nepeta faassenii

    'Walker's Low' Catmint is known for its easy going nature - it can thrive in a variety of soil and sunlight scenarios, though it does prefer things on the sunny, dry side. Beautiful ...

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    Walker's Low Nepeta Walker's Low Catmint Nepeta faassenii Walker's Low
    As low as $9.98 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    'Walker's Low' Catmint is known for its easy going nature - it can thrive in a variety of soil and sunlight scenarios, though it does prefer things on the sunny, dry side. Beautiful purple flower spikes appear in early summer and continue to bloom and release their sweet fragrance for up to 3 months. Very showy and very low maintenance, 'Walker's Low' is a great choice for planting in swaths, lining walkways, or adding to pollinator gardens. Deer resistant. (Nepeta faassenii)
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  4. Monarch Magnet Garden Hero Image

    If you plant a Monarch Magnet Perennial Garden, they will come! This brilliant arrangement includes vital Butterfly Weeds that are the growing Monarch’s only food source, as well a...

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    Monarch Magnet Pre-Planned Garden Monarch Magnet Pre-Planned Garden
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    If you plant a Monarch Magnet Perennial Garden, they will come! This brilliant arrangement includes vital Butterfly Weeds that are the growing Monarch’s only food source, as well as six essential nectar plants favored by the adult butterflies. Attract monarchs and bring a vibrant dose of color and beauty to your yard.
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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.

For more details about planting shrubs in fall, read on in this helpful article:


Explore Shrubs For Fall Planting

  1. Annabelle Snowball Hydrangea

    Annabelle' Hydrangea is famous for its huge, snow-white blooms and excellent cold hardiness. This shorter variety grows 3 - 5 ft tall and flowers reliably, even after severe winters ...

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    Annabelle Snowball Hydrangea Snowball Hydrangea Annabelle Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle
    $25.98 Sale $19.99
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    Annabelle' Hydrangea is famous for its huge, snow-white blooms and excellent cold hardiness. This shorter variety grows 3 - 5 ft tall and flowers reliably, even after severe winters and intentional pruning. Its enormous 10" blooms and ability to adapt to both cold and heat have made 'Annabelle' one of the most popular hydrangeas in the country. (Hydrangea arborescens)
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  2. White Wild Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, Wild Elderberry

    This native elderberry is a spreading shrub grows to be about 8-10 feet and boasts creamy-white flowers in mid-summer, giving way to loose clusters of delicious black fruits that are...

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    Wild Elderberry Wild Elderberry Sambucus canadensis
    $28.98 Sale $19.99
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    This native elderberry is a spreading shrub grows to be about 8-10 feet and boasts creamy-white flowers in mid-summer, giving way to loose clusters of delicious black fruits that are high in nutrients and antioxidants. The foliage then turns a deep burgundy in Autumn, completing the wonderfully-changing cycle of this beautiful shrub. (Sambucus canadensis)
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  3. Henry's Garnet Virginia Sweetspire, Itea virginica Henry's Garnet

    Offering spring fragrance, summer structure, and fall color, classic 'Henry's Garnet' Virginia Sweetspire is a hardworking semi-compact native shrub that delights throughout the seas...

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    Henry's Garnet Virginia Sweetspire Henry's Garnet Virginia Sweetspire Itea virginica Henry's Garnet
    As low as $23.98 Sale $18.99
    Per Plant - 4" Pot
    Offering spring fragrance, summer structure, and fall color, classic 'Henry's Garnet' Virginia Sweetspire is a hardworking semi-compact native shrub that delights throughout the seasons. Long cylindrical clusters of sweetly fragrant white blossoms cover the arching branches from late spring to early summer, attracting pollinators, hummingbirds, and songbirds.The foliage turns to deep garnet red, for lasting color into late fall. (Itea)
    Learn More
  4. Mophead Hydrangea All Summer Beauty, Hydrangea macrophylla All Summer Beauty

    'All Summer Beauty' Hydrangea is a compact, long-blooming mophead variety that produces big, bouncy flowers on 4 ft shrubs. Because it blooms on both new growth and old wood, flowers...

    Learn More
    All Summer Beauty Mophead Hydrangea Mophead Hydrangea All Summer Beauty Hydrangea macrophylla All Summer Beauty
    $25.98 Sale $19.99
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    'All Summer Beauty' Hydrangea is a compact, long-blooming mophead variety that produces big, bouncy flowers on 4 ft shrubs. Because it blooms on both new growth and old wood, flowers will form throughout the season, even after a harsh winter - which can be the undoing of other hydrangeas. Known for its bright blue blooms in acid soils, expect to see shades of pink and purple where the ground is more alkaline. (Hydrangea macrophylla)
    Learn More

planting bulbsplanting bulbs
hosta bareroothosta bareroot

Fall Planting Bulbs & Bare Roots

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 refridgerate 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.

Bare roots are planted in a similar way; however, it’s best to consult the packaging or web page instructions for specific planting depths and other important points. Some crowns must be placed inches below the soil line, while others should be exactly in-line with the soil. While some bare roots are woody and bulbous, others have many tender, stringy appendages that should be spread out evenly in all directions at planting time.

Click the button below to visit "The Tool Shed," your source for detailed planting guides on some of our most popular flower bulbs.

Explore Popular Fall-Planted Flower Bulbs



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!

indoor forcing bulbsindoor forcing bulbs


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 or follow The Small Town Gardener on Facebook or Instagram.

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