As I explained last week, on Thursdays for the rest of this month I'll be bringing you tips and advice for . . .
Yeah. You may be ready to just clean'r'up and close up shop in your garden by this point in the season. But I'm here to tell you . . . there's some work you can do now to lay a foundation for a healthy and happy garden next spring.
Last week, we de-bunked the cutting-back-in-the-fall thing. This week, we take on planting/transplanting! Because, gardening friends, fall is most often the BEST time of year for digging a hole in the ground and sticking a plant in it!
Why plant/transplant in the fall, you ask?
Conventional wisdom used to be that fall was the time to cut back and spring was the time to plant. But conventional wisdom is really just . . . following tradition; doing what's always been done. And you know when the whole clean-up-in-the-fall/plant-in-the-spring thing started? Well, a hundred years ago when people in England and Europe were most interested in carefully sculptured topiary gardens and growing exotic plants collected from all over the world, it was important for them to tidy up in the fall and plant in the spring. And those practices stuck around - even though most people these days don't have turn-of-the-LAST-century gardens.
In other words . . . "garden fashion" dictated the horticultural practices of the time, and those practices carried over through the decades -- where they hold firm as conventional wisdom even now. More recently, though, horticultural scientists have researched and discovered better ways for gardeners of today . . . to garden. So, unless you happen to be into carefully sculptured topiary gardens and exotic plants, it makes a lot more sense to switch those gardening tasks around: clean up in the spring, plant in the fall.
Benefits of fall planting:
- A growth headstart. In the spring the soil is cold, so the roots of newly planted perennials grow slowly. In fall, though, the soil is already warm, so roots grow faster. And since the plants won't be producing flowers in the fall, they'll have more energy for sending vigorous roots into the soil. By the time spring rolls around next year, your new plants will be happily settled -- and will grow faster and bigger than if you waited to plant in the spring.
- Take advantage of the dormant period. In the fall, most shrubs and trees are heading into their dormant phase -- which makes it an excellent time for transplanting. Rather than continuing to transfer energy into new foliage and aboveground growth, plants will transfer energy into their roots and be able to store nutrients and resources for the cold months ahead.
- Easier care. Plants just require less fuss-and-bother when planted in the fall -- and you're less worried about their "performance." They still need plenty of water, of course, but with lower temperatures and shorter days, they'll need less water -- and no fertilizer. (And you'll be able to stop watering altogether once the soil freezes.)
- You know what you need. This season's garden is still fresh in your mind, so you can easily recall (and maybe still even see) the "holes" in your in your garden and easily identify all the areas that need a bit more "pizzazz." You know what made you crazy this year. You can still remember plants in other people's gardens that caught your eye. Fill those holes now -- before you forget about them in the spring!
- Bargains. This is the time of year to pick up great bargains at nurseries. You can find big mark-downs on perennials right now. Sure, the plants may be "leggy" and they most likely won't be blooming. They may look a little worse for the wear. But in the fall, we don't care so much about the tops of the plants -- we care about the roots! So take advantage of lower pricing on perennials in the fall. I have "rescued" many a great plant from fall clearance tables -- including a sad little Japanese maple ($8) that is now a star performer in my garden.
Know your gardening zone . . . and pay attention to the weather.
Successful gardeners know their gardening zone. The USDA publishes a plant zone map (or hardiness zone map) for the United States. Here's a handy interactive plant zone map -- you just plug in your zip code and the site will tell you your zone. Once you know your zone, you've got some valuable information at your fingertips! Plant information (on tags, websites, in catalogs or books) will always tell you which zones a particular plant is appropriate for. (Local nurseries will usually only carry plants appropriate for you local zone.)
Your zone is also helpful for targeting the general frost date for your area -- and will help you pinpoint when it's the best time to do some fall planting. For example, in Zones 6 and 7, the cool-down period starts around the end of September, about six weeks before the first fall frost. This is the ideal time to start your fall plants. In Zones 3 to 5, you’ll want to plant earlier if you can. And of course, Zones 8 to 11 can pretty much plant year-round without a problem. You want to get an early start to give roots time to get established before the hard frosts hit.
Sure . . . frost might seem like your biggest fall planting challenge, but it’s actually not a huge problem. Yes, frost will kill the tops of your new plants, but it won’t affect the root growth. The roots will grow until the soil freezes solid (a hard frost), which is often weeks or even months after the first frost hits. In temperate regions—everywhere but the far North and the high mountains—soil usually doesn’t freeze until after Thanksgiving.
I hope you can see . . . that NOW is a great time for planting and transplanting.
In fact . . . what are you waiting for???
(And be sure to check out the excellent resources below for tips and how-to advice on doing the actual planting/transplanting. I've even included a special link for hydrangeas -- because fall is THE BEST time to transplant hydrangeas.)
Here's a Frost Date Chart to help you figure out your area's first frost/last frost date. (Really helpful information for gardeners.)
Looking to move a hydrangea? Here's the scoop: Moving Hydrangea Bushes: When and How to Transplant Hydrangea.
Here's a bare-bones article with information to help you determine the best time to transplant perennials, shrubs, and trees from GardeningKnowHow.com.
Wondering how to successfully transplant perennials in the fall? Check these tips from Horticulture Magazine.
Here's an engaging discussion about dividing and editing your perennials with Margaret Roach and her guest Toshi Yano on this episode of A Way To Garden. (There's a link to listen - 25 minutes, or you can read the transcript.)