Spring may be special, but fall is fine for planting. Turfgrass, spring-blooming bulbs, cool-season vegetables, perennials, trees, and shrubs can all be effectively planted in the fall.
Fall has distinct planting benefits. Autumn's cooler air temperatures are easier on both plants and gardeners. The soil is still warm, allowing roots to grow until the ground freezes. On the flip side, in spring, plants don't grow until the soil warms up. Fall has more good days for planting than spring does, when rain and other unpredictable weather can make working the soil impossible. And there's a lot more free time for gardening in autumn than in always-frantic spring. Plus, the late season is usually bargain time at garden centers that are trying to sell the last of their inventory before winter.
Fall showers are generally plentiful, but it's easy to deeply water plants if it doesn't rain at least an inch per week. Pests and disease problems also fade away in the fall. You don't need fertilizer, either. Fertilizer promotes new, tender growth that can be nipped by winter weather, so stop fertilizing by late summer.
The window for fall planting ends about six weeks before your area gets hit with a hard frost, usually in September or October. Use this list for fall planting inspiration.
All spring-blooming bulbs need a period of cold dormancy to bloom. Plant bulbs in fall to ensure a beautiful spring display. If deer or other critters frequent your yard, plant bulbs they don't like to nibble, which include:
- Grape hyacinth
- Siberian squill
- Dog's-tooth violet
- Winter aconite
Fall is the best time to plant pansies because the still-warm soil temperatures give their roots time to establish. By planting in fall, you'll get two seasons of enjoyment out of these cool-season favorites. Remove spent flowers so the plant doesn't use its energy to set seeds, and keep the soil moist. After the soil freezes, mulch plants to prevent alternate freezing and thawing cycles that can heave plants out of the ground.
Many vegetables thrive in cool weather, including:
Many fall-harvested crops should be planted in early August to give them enough time to mature. Always consult the seed packet to see how many days it takes until maturity, and count backward from your frost date to allow enough time.
Lettuce, spinach, and other greens with a short maturity time can be planted later in the season. Extend the growing season by planting them under floating row covers or cold frames that will shield plants from frost but still allow light, air, and water to penetrate.
Editor's Tip: Many root crops taste sweeter when they're harvested after frost.
Fall is the best time to establish new turfgrass and do most lawn chores. If you live in the North, cool-season grasses such as bluegrass, fescue, and ryegrass should be fertilized in early September and again in late October or early November to give a boost for earlier spring green-up. In the South, avoid fertilizing dormant warm-season grasses unless they have been overseeded with winter ryegrass.
Trees and Shrubs
Fall is an ideal time to plant trees and shrubs. The weather is cool but the soil is still warm enough for root development. Before digging, check with your local utility companies to locate any underground lines. Always plant trees and shrubs at their natural soil lines. Keep newly planted trees or shrubs well watered until the ground freezes so they get a good start before going into full dormancy during winter.
Perennials can also be planted in the fall, especially specimens with large root balls. If you have hostas in your yard, fall is an ideal time to divide and replant plant them. Peonies should also be planted or transplanted in the fall. Avoid planting them too deep—no more than 2 inches above the bud on the root—or they won't bloom.
Any fall-planted perennials should be carefully watered until the ground freezes to keep their roots healthy and strong. Don't overwater, but make sure the plants get at least 1 inch of water one time per week.
What About Mums?
Chrysanthemums come into full glory by late summer and early fall, but it's not the ideal time to plant them. Garden mums do best when planted in spring so they get fully established before winter. Sadly, the big, beautiful pots of florist mums you can buy already in bloom at a garden center won't survive the winter if you plant them now.