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. 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 39 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
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    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 39 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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  2. 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
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    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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  3. 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
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    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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  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
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    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. Painted Trillium, Trillium undulatum, Wake-Robin

    Painted Trillium is an enchanting woodland wildflower, with delicate white petals and a magenta-red center burst. Native to the northern woods, each plant produces a single bloom tha...

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    Painted Trillium Wake Robin, Painted Lady Trillium undulatum
    Painted Trillium is an enchanting woodland wildflower, with delicate white petals and a magenta-red center burst. Native to the northern woods, each plant produces a single bloom that sits atop three whorled leaves. Painted Trillium prefers acid soils but can adapt itself to sweeter, more alkaline soils as long as it is given a good amount of shade and moisture. (Trillium undulatum)
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  2. Red Beauty Japanese Painted Fern, Athyrium

    '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 home in moist, ...

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    Red Beauty Japanese Painted Fern Japanese Painted Fern Red Beauty Athyrium niponicum Red Beauty
    '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 home in moist, shady areas, 'Red Beauty' will grow vigourously if the plants are kept well watered, but is not an agressive spreader. Carries a slightly spicy fragrance. (Athyrium niponicum)
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  3. Pink Trailing Arbutus or Mayflower, Epigaea repens

    Trailing Arbutus is an exquisite woodland flower that boasts sweet-scented, pastel pink beauty blooms along running stems of shiny evergreen leaves, creating the ultimate groundcover...

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    Mayflower Mayflower, Trailing Arbutus Epigaea repens
    Trailing Arbutus is an exquisite woodland flower that boasts sweet-scented, pastel pink beauty blooms along running stems of shiny evergreen leaves, creating the ultimate groundcover for woodland gardens. (Epigaea repens)
    Learn More

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. 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
    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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  2. Campanula Rapido Blue, Rapido Blue Bellflower, photo courtesy of Walter's Garden

    'Rapido Blue' Bellflower is a must-have heavy bloomer that will add character and charm to your garden borders and paths. 'Rapido Blue' Bellflower explodes in a mound of purple flow...

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    Rapido Blue Bellflower Rapido Blue Bellflower Campanula carpatica Rapido Blue
    'Rapido Blue' Bellflower is a must-have heavy bloomer that will add character and charm to your garden borders and paths. 'Rapido Blue' Bellflower explodes in a mound of purple flowers up to four weeks earlier than the older "Clips" series. Plant in containers and add instant color to your patio with these upward facing bell shaped flowers. (Campanula carpatica)
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  3. Low Maintenance Daylily Collection

    The Low Maintenance Daylily Collection features 6 different eye-catching and easy-to-care for perennial daylilies. Ranging in color from clear yellow and peachy pink to touches of or...

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    Low Maintenance Daylily Collection Low Maintenance Daylily Collection Hemerocallis
    The Low Maintenance Daylily Collection features 6 different eye-catching and easy-to-care for perennial daylilies. Ranging in color from clear yellow and peachy pink to touches of orange and brilliant red, this medley of bright bloomers shows off stripes, ruffles and bicolor petals. (Hemerocallis)
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  4. Campanula Rapido White, Rapido White Bellflower, photo courtesy of Walter's Garden

    Bellflower Rapido White has a profusion of white, open-bell shaped flowers that cover this compact plant from late spring all through summer. This bellfower is an improvement from t...

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    Rapido White Bellflower Rapido White Bellflower Campanula carpatica Rapido White
    Bellflower Rapido White has a profusion of white, open-bell shaped flowers that cover this compact plant from late spring all through summer. This bellfower is an improvement from the older "Clips" series, with flowers appearing up to four weeks earlier. Border your paths and walkways for a charming cottage look. Rapido White is perfect for small garden spaces or containers to spruce up your patio. (Campanula carpatica)
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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. Forsythia Magical® Gold

    Magical® Gold Forsythia comes to life with larger blooms up to 1" wide in early spring. This forsythia produces golden-yellow flowers on both new and old wood and has strong stems ...

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    Magical® Gold Forsythia Magical® Gold Forsythia Forsythia x intermedia 'Kolgold' Magical® Gold
    Magical® Gold Forsythia comes to life with larger blooms up to 1" wide in early spring. This forsythia produces golden-yellow flowers on both new and old wood and has strong stems that bloom from top to bottom! Pruning just became easier, because even if you cut it back later in the season the new wood will still produce flowers. Make sure to cut a few stems so you can enjoy the coming of spring both outdoors and in arrangements for your home. (Forsythia x intermedia)
    Learn More
  2. Pink Sunset Hydrangea with bright bubblegum pink blooms, and rich green foliage

    Pink Sunset™ Hydrangea produces an abundance of intense pink blooms for months of summer color. Mophead blooms open pale pink, and darken to a vibrant bubblegum pink color. Flower ...

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    Pink Sunset™ Hydrangea Pink Sunset™ Hydrangea PP#28,907 Hydrangea Pink Sunset™ PP#28,907
    Pink Sunset™ Hydrangea produces an abundance of intense pink blooms for months of summer color. Mophead blooms open pale pink, and darken to a vibrant bubblegum pink color. Flower coloration can vary with soil pH: alkaline soil is required for rich pink hues - acidic soils will produce clear blue flowers. A delightful compact habit is excellent for large containers, centerpieces, or patio plants. In the garden, a sturdy structure and strong root system produce vigorous plants and support oversized blooms. (Hydrangea macrophylla)
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  3. Viburnum x burkwoodii, Mohawk Viburnum in bloom

    Mohawk Viburnum provides season after season of color, beginning with showy red flower buds in spring. Buds open into spheres of fragrant white to pink blossoms. The spicy clove-like...

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    Mohawk Viburnum Mohawk Viburnum Viburnum x burkwoodii
    Mohawk Viburnum provides season after season of color, beginning with showy red flower buds in spring. Buds open into spheres of fragrant white to pink blossoms. The spicy clove-like perfume delights gardeners and butterflies alike. Flowers are followed by red fruits that mature to black. Glossy, dark-green foliage turns orange to burgundy red in autumn. (Viburnum x burkwoodii)
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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

  1. Red Darwin Tulip Bulbs Parade, Tulipa

    Parade is the pure, luscious red-orange perennial tulip. The bright flowers often measure up to 6" in diameter when in full bloom. A Holland favorite....

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    Parade Darwin Tulip Darwin Hybrid Tulip Parade Tulipa Parade
    $9.32 Sale $6.99
    Per Bag of 10
    Parade is the pure, luscious red-orange perennial tulip. The bright flowers often measure up to 6" in diameter when in full bloom. A Holland favorite.
    Learn More
  2. Hyacinth Bulbs Purple Mix, Hyacinthus orientali

    Hyacinth Purple Mix is an array of beautiful lavender, purple, magenta and soft lilac blossoms. This mix has a wonderful fragrance and is best planted in a cluster. Hyacinths are de...

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    Purple Hyacinth Mix Hyacinth Purple Mix Hyacinthus orientalis Purple Mix
    $15.32 Sale $11.49
    Per Bag of 12
    Hyacinth Purple Mix is an array of beautiful lavender, purple, magenta and soft lilac blossoms. This mix has a wonderful fragrance and is best planted in a cluster. Hyacinths are deer resistant and make excellent cutting flowers. (Hyacinthus orientalis)
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  3. Winter Buttercup, Eranthis cilicica

    Winter Buttercups are a sweet addition to the early spring woodland garden. These deer resistant, bright golden-yellow petite flowers are easy to grow and prefer humus rich soil and...

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    Winter Buttercups Winter Buttercups Eranthis cilicica
    $7.99 Sale $5.99
    Per Bag of 15
    Winter Buttercups are a sweet addition to the early spring woodland garden. These deer resistant, bright golden-yellow petite flowers are easy to grow and prefer humus rich soil and partial shade. Winter buttercups naturalize and re-seed, so it’s best to find a location that allows room to grow. (Eranthis cilicica)
    Learn More
  4. Pink Allium Oreophilum, Persian Onion

    Allium Oreophilum has large magenta florets that form a loose flower head. This unusual color in the allium family is a must-have addition to your garden or patio pots. Since Oreop...

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    Allium oreophilum Flowering Onion Allium oreophilum
    $7.32 Sale $5.49
    Per Bag of 25
    Allium Oreophilum has large magenta florets that form a loose flower head. This unusual color in the allium family is a must-have addition to your garden or patio pots. Since Oreophilum is a shorter variety, it blends well with other perennials and makes an excellent addition to the border. Great in fresh or dried bouquets. Deer Resistant.
    Learn More


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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