The Scoop on Fall Planting

Sep 17, 2013 |


The spring season rush to prepare landscapes for the summer is often frenzied.  That’s why Whitmores recommends scheduling many of your landscaping services before spring has even sprung. Although it’s difficult to know if you will need services like tree care before the last of the winter’s snowfall, you can get a head start by arranging maintenance programs, design projects, and installations in the fall or winter.

In fact, did you know that for many trees, shrubs and other perennials* fall is also great time to plant? Most people are unaware of how stressful transplanting can be on a plant. Most perennials will thrive in spring if properly installed during the previous fall season.

Plants use energy to push out shoots, leaves, fruit, flowers and roots. Fall installation allows a plant, which has most likely completed these growing cycles, to focus its energy into establishing its root system. Weather may begin to cool in fall but soils will continue to stay warm for a longer period, and roots will grow until temperatures drop below 45 °F. Adding mulch to the garden bed or around the base of a plant will help keep the soil insulated.

A fall planting allows for a healthy and deep root system to potentially be established. This healthy root system allows the plant to be better prepared for the summer heat and droughts, and the perennial can then use its energy to take full advantage of its natural spring growing surge.

Cooler fall weather also means plants need less water because fall lacks the high temperatures which dry out soils, and plants are preparing for dormancy. An added bonus for gardening homeowners is that fall weather is often more pleasant than the summer heat when working outside. Another fall planting tip is to avoid high nitrogen fertilizers, which can encourage new growth at a time when you want your plants to begin preparing for dormancy.

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(A tree ready for a fall planting)

Why can summer be so tough for newly installed plants?  Long, hot summer days are stressful on a plant which hasn’t established its root system. Besides the perennial needing more water in order to remain healthy, warmer months mean more insects, and an increased chance of infestations. Summer humidity also creates ideal conditions for fungus and mildew to grow.

Spring planting is still preferred for some perennials. A good rule of thumb (which applies to many perennials) is; late summer or fall blooming perennials are best to transplant in the spring, and spring or early summer bloomers are best to transplant in fall.

*A perennial is any plant that lives for more than 2 years. Annuals or biennials will only survive for 1 to 2 years. The word “perennial” is often used to connote smaller sized, non-woody plants.  Shrubs and trees are also technically perennials and will be included under the word “perennial” for the purpose of this article.

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(A fall planted landscape ready to be enjoyed the following summer)

Tips for Purchasing Perennials:

After a long, hot summer above ground perennials may look a little tired. But the plants should still be healthy, because they are concentrating their energy into their roots and crown. So although they may not appear to be robust, they can still be beautiful additions to your landscape by next spring.

Plants purchased in the fall may also look different compared to what they look like during their peak, while blooming or in full foliage. Always make sure that you do some research before choosing an unfamiliar plant. Consult with your nursery salesman, or look in catalogues, books or online for descriptions and images. Different varieties of the same perennial can have leaf variations or flower colors that you will not notice in the fall while the plant is preparing for dormancy, but may be an unexpected surprise come spring.

Deciduous perennials which have been out of the ground all summer, or transplanted in the fall, will defoliate sooner then established plants. This does not mean the tree or shrub is unhealthy, and the plant should recover by the following year.