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What Should I Plant In The Fall?

Posted by Keith Dintelmann

Autumn Brings Opportunities To The Active Gardener

If you have been in the Nursery business for any length of time you know that spring is the busiest time of the year.  Coming out of the dreary winter months most people look forward to getting out into their yards and gardens in an effort to bring some life back into their landscapes. To that end garden shops are stampeded by gardeners looking for fertilizers and seeds and plants and tools. Yards get fertilized, shrubs get pruned, and flowers are planted, all with the idea of breathing color back into our lives.  It is an exciting time of year for the gardening enthusiast.

Fall however is a different matter.  As the days get shorter and shadows grow
longer, there is a sense of things slowing down.  The air blows cooler and our thoughts turn
toward kids returning to school, and football games and soccer games and
baseball playoffs and maybe even the upcoming hunting season.  We look at our landscapes and consider how tired everything looks.  We’ve worked all spring and summer but the heat and drought have beaten us down.  The crabgrass we’ve tried so hard to ostracize has refused to be denied and has taken root. The perennials we’ve cared for are done blooming and the shrubs
too.  All that we have to look forward to are the colors changing in the leaves of our trees.

But the savvy gardener does not sell the fall season short.  There are too many advantages to
the season to look at it with sorry eyes. One should look at the fall as the time to not only get a head start on spring but also as a season which possesses its own opportunities for adding
beauty to the landscape.

Opportunity#1 – Planting Perennials 

Perennials are an especially good crop to plant in the fall.  If you have perennial plantings currentlyfall blooming perennial aster in your landscape that are getting large and need to be divided, early fall is the perfect time to perform that task.  The act of dividing helps to rejuvenate the old plants.  The “divides” can be set in new locations and they will establish new root systems during the course of the fall season.  It would be best to complete this task before the end of September to ensure that root systems do develop before winter sets in.  Adding a fertilizer that is higher in phosphorus and potassium and lower in nitrogen will aid in root development.  You can also use any type of Root Stimulator type fertilizer, which has Indole butyric acid as its active ingredient, to aid in root development as well.

Besides dividing existing perennials, plant new perennials too.  Everything from daylilies to hosta to salvia.  Getting these plants in the ground now gives them a head start toward spring.  And don’t forget the traditional fall perennials like Mums and Asters.  Whether you actually plant them in the ground, put them in pots, or use them in displays, the color that Chrysanthemums and Aster add can really brighten and bring back to life a landscape that has been beaten back by the heat of summer.

Opportunity#2 – Addressing the lawn

slit seederYour front lawn provides the canvas that your landscaping is set against. Your backyard is the play surface for all your outdoor activities.  Keeping your lawn lush and green provides a richness and a contrast to your plantings and makes your outdoor activities more enjoyable.  Fall lawn treatments are a must to that end.  One of the most
important things you can do is core aerifying. Whether you do it yourself or hire it done, core aerifying relieves compacted soil and allows for greater air exchange to lawn roots (roots need
oxygen too).  It also allows for those fall rains to soak into the soil building much needed moisture levels that are undoubtedly lacking after the summer months. 

After core aerifying, slit seed the lawn.  Lawns that are stressed and thin after the summer heat can benefit from slit-seeding. This technique uses a piece of equipment called a slit seeder to add
grass seed directly to the soil just below the surface and to do so with out destroying existing turf.  The additional seed germinates in a week or two (depending on the variety) and continues to grow and establish itself right up until the cold days of winter arrive.  It is best to get your seeding done in September.  Your degree of success begins to diminish after that so it certainly needs to be complete before the end of October.  As long as the seed roots and the new shoot reaches a height of 1 to 2 inches before winter sets in, the seedling will survive.  And when spring
comes it will be ready to take off.  Regular watering is a must during this process.

Additional advantage can be gained by applying a fall application of fertilizer to the lawn.  There
are many brands that offer a winterizing type of fertilizer that is typically low in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus and potassium.  This will help build the root system of the established turf as well as the new seedlings.

Opportunity#3 – Planting Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs.  If you haven’t guessed by now, fall is for planting.  The reason is actually quitefall flowering trees and shrubs simple but you have to understand at least in general how plant growth works.  When plants emerge in the spring and new leaves sprout, the energy that drives this activity is drawn from stored carbohydrates in the stem and trunk.  Once leaves are established, photosynthesis can occur and provides the energy for continued growth all through the growing season.  As days shorten the energy that is produced begins to build stem and trunk girth as well as build the root
systems rather than tip growth.  By planting in the fall gardeners take advantage of the fact that root systems continue to grow and develop and therefore the plant becomes established and is ready to take off in the spring.  A fall planted plant hits the ground running, so to speak, and doesn’t waste any time with getting established like a spring planted plant would and is therefore better prepared to take on the heat and drought of summer.  This is true regardless of whether you are talking about spring/summer/fall flowing shrubs, shade or ornamental trees, or evergreens.

If its color you’re wanting to add to the landscape, consider planting fall blooming shrubs. 
There are many varieties of flowering shrubs that bloom in late summer and early fall that give you the opportunity to add bloom color to your fall landscape color palett.  These include Crepemyrtles
and Altheas (both in a multitude of colors), Heptacodium, and Caryopteris.  Some varieties of  Hydrangea are still in bloom as well as Abelia.  Knock Out Roses are still in bloom and will be till frost. Re-blooming Azaleas such as the Encore and Bloom-a-thon brands are pushing out new sets of flowers in an array of colors.

Opportunity#4 – Pruning

pruning fall trees and shrubsFall pruning can be performed on any number of plants.  The exception
to this would be spring flowering shrubs. These shrubs have their flower buds already set for the spring bloom.  Pruning in the fall would result in removing these flower buds and consequently, no bloom in the spring.  But all summer and fall flowering shrubs as well as most evergreens and trees can all be fall pruned.  It’s best to wait till after first frost as pruning can encourage new growth and we don’t want to force new growth to pop only to have it nipped off by a frost event.What I like best about fall pruning is how it makes everything look refined and cleaned up for the winter. It also makes it easier to hang the Christmas lights.  

So even though fall is here this is no time to take your repose.  The opportunities to improve
your garden are here too.  So get after it.


Pictures from greenerblade.com, jpetersongardendesign,telegraph.co.uk

Tags: Plants, General, Fall