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Why Plant in the Fall?

planting a bush

Most gardeners can't wait until spring arrives so they can get outdoors and plant something. Good gardeners know that fall is an excellent time for planting trees, shrubs, bulbs, and for some essential lawn care.

Why Plant in the Fall?

As autumn arrives it’s time to think about spring.  Although air temperatures are beginning to drop, soil temperatures remain warm - actually warmer than in the spring.  This, along with traditionally higher rainfall in autumn, makes it a great time of year to plant.  The moderate temperatures also mean that outdoor work is a rather pleasant task.   Plus, planting now means there’s one less thing you’ll have to do next spring.

Planting Trees and Shrubs

Transplanting and planting are stressful to plants at any time of year.  Fall’s cooler air temperatures mean transpiration is less (plants lose less water through their leaves). Trees and shrubs planted in the fall have the autumn months to develop their root system, giving them a head start in the spring.  During the winter months they can acclimate, rest, and recover before the rush of spring growth.

Planting Annuals, Perennials and Bulbs

Of course, fall is the time for planting autumn standbys like pansiesmums, and frost-tolerant vegetables. Fall is also a good time to plant spring-blooming perennials. Fall is the only time to plant spring-blooming bulbs. Plant several varieties with different bloom times and you can enjoy bulbs all throughout the spring season.  Crocus, snowdrops, tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, anemone, allium, iris, frittilaria - the list is as long as the succession of blooms in store for you next year.

Lawn Care in the Fall

grass seed sprayer

Don’t forget your lawn. Do a soil test to learn which (if any) amendments your soil needs. Adding organic matter and other recommended elements in the fall gets your lawn ready for a burst of growth next spring. 

Make sure your lawn can withstand the stress of winter. Most lawns will benefit from a late fall application of a winterizer lawn food.  These fertilizers are higher in potassium than regular lawn food to make grasses more winter-hardy.  

Keep leaves and other debris from accumulating – they can harbor pests and disease.

Tips for Cool-season Grasses

  • Lower the mowing deck for the last cutting. This reduces disease potential during wet winter weather (and makes raking leaves easier).
  • Aerate for increased vigor next spring. Aeration allows greater movement of water, fertilizer and air to stimulate turf. Aeration also speeds the decomposition of grass clippings and enhances deep root growth.
  • Apply the last main feeding of the year.  A starter fertilizer is essential for new lawns.  The additional phosphorus in these fertilizers promotes seedling development. 
  • Overseed or renovate now for a strong spring lawn. 

Tips for Warm-season Grasses

  • Apply a final fertilizer treatment if the lawn is still actively growing, but be cautious about applying too much nitrogen.  Most warm-season grasses are approaching dormancy and new growth could encourage disease during winter months. 
  • Choose a winter conditioning fertilizer with insect control (if needed). 
  • Overseed warm-season grasses with annual ryegrass for continued green through the winter.

Fall Lawn and Garden Clean Up

Less fun perhaps, but just as important, is a good fall lawn and garden cleanup.   Pick up debris, deadhead spent blooms, divide peonies and daylilies, dig up summer bulbs for storage, mulchprune, and pull the last weeds of summer.  Those weeds may look dead, but perennial weeds are merely going dormant.

Fall is an excellent time to step back and evaluate your lawn and garden (while it’s still green) to see what worked and what didn’t. Make notes and plan accordingly for next year's garden.