Fall planting can be very rewarding. There are several reasons fall planting is beneficial over spring planting.
For most people, “planting season” refers to spring, when temperatures begin to warm up, the earth thaws, and the weather is unpredictable. As fall begins, homeowners winterize their lawns and gardens and retreat indoors without a thought about planting. However, fall planting can be very rewarding. There are several reasons fall planting is beneficial over spring planting.
Fall planting is easier on your schedule.
Since fall weather is more predictable, fall gives the gardener more time to plant. The lack of germinating weed seeds means you do not need to get plants in the ground in a rush to beat the weeds. You can take each step as you have time, rather than trying to work between the heat waves, cold snaps, rain and even unexpected late snows of spring.
Fall planting is easier on your pocketbook.
Seeds and plants are usually discounted in the fall, so your gardening budget can go further. Just make sure the plants you purchase are still healthy – it’s only a bargain if the plants live. See What to Look for When Purchasing Plants for more tips on buying healthy plants.
Fall planting is better for your plants.
While some perennials will not survive if planted or transplanted in fall, most will do well. The warm soil allows the plant to develop strong, healthy roots. Photosynthesis slows down due to shorter days, and cooler air temperatures allow less foliage growth and more root growth. This means you will need to water your new plants less often. When winter hits, the plant goes dormant and, assuming you provide proper insulation, will stay dormant until spring. The proper protection usually means waiting until after the ground freezes (wait until your region experiences a full week of freezing temperatures) and then laying mulch over the garden bed. Without mulch, brief warm snaps can awaken your dormant plants and then kill them when the cold returns.
With fall-planted plants, once spring arrives, the established root system allows the plant to be much more able to cope with varying weather conditions. Spring-planted perennials will likely do worse in the same conditions because they do not have a strong, healthy root system yet. In addition to the weather, fall planting is easier on plants because weeds have mostly gone dormant, so the new plants do not need to compete with weed plants until spring. Pests are also less of an issue in fall, although rodents can still cause problems.
What to plant in fall
For gardeners who grow their plants from seeds, fall planting can be a great solution to the woes of spring weather and time constraints. Seeds will not sprout until spring, but will have a head start because they will be in the ground as soon as warm weather begins. Make sure to plant seeds after a killing frost so the seeds will not sprout prematurely.
Perennial plants planted in fall will have a chance to establish a strong root system before winter hits, and will then have stronger roots to survive the unpredictable spring and early summer the following year.
Most bulbs should be planted in fall for a spring bloom. When purchasing new bulbs or replanting last season’s bulbs, check each bulb to make sure it is firm. A soft bulb is most likely rotten. For more on fall bulb planting, see the related article Planting Fall Bulbs.
Trees and shrubsPlanting new trees or shrubs in fall is a great way to get them established in their new home before the high stress of spring and summer. Plant in early fall to give the tree the most time possible to establish its roots without the stress of extreme weather.
What not to plant in fall
Certain plants will not take well to fall weather. Any sort of groundcover should be planted in the spring, as a fall growth spurt would weaken the plant rather than strengthen it. Acid-loving plants also do better when planted in spring. In the Midwestern climate, fall annuals are okay to plant in late summer to early fall, but planting any later will ensure that nothing grows.
In most areas of the Midwest, planting must be completed by the end of October to avoid winterkill, where seedlings or plants die from exposure. Keep these limitations in mind as you create your fall gardening plan, and you should have no problem creating a beautiful garden this fall that will make for a beautiful spring garden next year.