As you're cleaning out garden beds, raking up leaves, and harvesting fall veggies, you might feel like the gardening season is coming to an end. But we're not there just yet. Fall doesn't have to be all about cleaning up dead plants, it's also an excellent time to plant some new features in your yard.
The cooler days with less intense sunshine, are the perfect time for trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, and bulbs, to develop a healthy root system before dealing with the hottest days of next summer.
Planting Trees and Shrubs in Fall
Planting new trees and shrubs in the fall is like giving them a head start. The hottest days of summer and transplanting are stressful for plants. Planting them in the fall, when the weather is cooler, and leaves are dropping, allows them to focus all their energy on developing a robust root system before they need to start putting out leaves. Fall rains help them stay hydrated, although you may still need to supplement watering to ensure they soak up enough water for the winter.
When planting trees and shrubs in the fall, keep these rules of thumb in mind:
Plant your tree a minimum of 6 weeks before the first expected frost, 8 weeks is even better.
The planting hole should be approximately three times as wide, but no deeper than the nursery pot or root ball.
Once your tree is planted, cover the root area with a thick layer of mulch to insulate it. Don't build a volcano of mulch around the stem or trunk as that will most likely cause rot, killing your new tree or shrub.
Water your tree every day for the first 2 weeks, every 2-3 days for weeks 3-10, after that water weekly until the ground freezes. A soaker hose coiled in a spiral around the root ball of a tree is your best friend for watering.
Spraying an anti-desiccant on newly planted evergreens before freeze up will give them some extra protection from winter kill.
Planting Perennials & Bulbs in the Fall
For similar reasons to trees and shrubs, many perennials will benefit from being planted in the fall. Plants like dianthus, coreopsis, phlox, sedum, peonies, hardy chrysanthemums, and ornamental grasses will do well with fall planting. You can also encourage them to put more energy into root development by trimming off existing flower buds, so they put less energy into producing blooms. Removing buds and flowers will help them come through stronger next spring, and you might be lucky enough to get a healthy batch of flowers in the first season.
Don't forget about bulbs; you'll want to start getting those in the ground in mid-October. The best time is when nighttime temperatures are between 40-50°. Make sure you get them deep enough, 2-3 times as deep as the bulb is tall, and water them well.
A mulch layer can help insulate bulbs more and is a slight deterrent for some critters that like to eat bulbs. If you've got lots of wildlife around that likes to eat bulbs, you may need to make more concerted efforts to protect them. The downside of mulch is that it will delay blooming in the spring, as the ground underneath thaws slower, but more evenly.
Late Season Veggies
Don't forget you've still got time to get some fall veggies planted for harvest before frost. Vegetables like lettuce, spinach, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale prefer the cool season and still have plenty of time to mature. It's also time to get that garlic in the ground for next season's harvest!
While you're cleaning out those garden beds, start thinking about making room for a new tree, shrub, or gorgeous perennial. If you've got some perfect spots for new plants or need some ideas for what to add, stop by the garden center for a visit.