Fall Planting Tips & Tricks!

The time is right to get growing! Tempting as it may be to buy plants in spring when they’re looking full and luscious, fall is actually the perfect time to work on landscaping, says Dr. Ken Tilt, an expert horticulturist.

“Fall is really an ideal time for planting,” he says. “It isn’t the only time for planting, but it’s definitely an optimal time because after you get a few frosts, the plants go dormant and are less active. However, we still have soils that are warm enough throughout the winter that we get root growth. So by planting in the fall, you are planting in the cooler time of the year, and you get root growth that will be ready to take up water during our hot spring temperatures. When leaves unfurl and expand, the increased roots are better able to access the reservoir of water, and the stress of transplanting is drastically reduced.

Summer’s peak heat is behind, the soil is still warm, and the next few months can bring soaking winter rains. That means immediate and deep root growth for all kinds of plants that reach their prime in spring, if not before. Here are our top picks, including some surprises – plus tips for planting them.

Of all the deciduous trees out there, we’re especially smitten with those whose leaves turn vivid fall hues, from rich red and gold to fiery orange and deep burgundy. At nurseries in early autumn, you can see them sporting their true fall colors before you buy. Our picks range from a dwarf container-size tree (Japanese maple) to a whopper that needs space to show it off best (ginkgo).

Japanese maple. Choices include ‘Emperor One’ (20 ft. tall; red foliage) and ‘Floating Cloud’ (15 ft. tall; dappled white leaves).

Gingko. Fan-shaped leaves of this shapely tree (to 35 ft. tall or more) turn brilliant buttery yellow.

Redbud.  ‘Forest Pansy’ grows 15 to 20 ft. tall; autumn leaves are yellow to red.

The best perennials to plant now, after a dry summer, are unthirsty bloomers such as penstamon, gaura, and yarrow (pictured). All pump out striking flower clusters over a long season (from summer well into fall); many attract pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds. Grow the plants in a sunny spot where they’ll have enough room to reach full size, and water regularly for the first year or two, until the plants mature.

Unless you have your own compost pile at home, or perfect garden soil that drains well, buy bagged compost to add to the soil before planting annuals, perennials, trees and many ornamentals (native plants generally do not need added compost).

The secret to a garden’s continuing productivity is autumn renewal. Beginning each October, follow this simple strategy: cutting, pruning, weeding, and mulching to freshen the plantings.  Then in the spring, stand back and watch your garden grow!


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