Ahhh, fall has officially arrived, bringing cooler temperatures, the smell of freshly fallen leaves, and the start of sweater weather and soup season. I love fall; it may just be my favorite season. There is nothing quite like biting into the first fresh apple, sipping hot apple cider, and seeing the leaves put on a marvelously colorful show. It is also one of my favorite times in the garden. The weed and pest pressure lessens, the flower beds transition to fall flowers as the ever-beautiful dahlias hit their stride, and the cooler temperatures make garden chores much more enjoyable. The frantic days of bringing in the abundant summer harvest start to wane as we look forward to a slightly slower pace on the farm. But even though we adopt a more relaxed approach to fall, we still have plenty to do before the first frosts of winter arrive. One of the essential tasks we’ll be tackling in the upcoming weeks, believe it or not, is planting. Perennials, bulbs, and hardy annuals will all be tucked in their beds in anticipation of the next growing season. After all, fall is the perfect time for planting.
There are several reasons why planting in the fall benefits your plants. Let’s dig in:
- Warm Soil: In the fall, the soil is still warm from the summer sun, making ideal conditions for root development. At the same time, average daily temperatures are cooler, which allows the plants to establish with less stress. Warm days and cool nights present an ideal environment for plant growth.
- Reduced Stress: Typically, fall offers less weed, pest, and disease pressure, and healthy plants will be more robust and root better. Plants start entering dormancy in the fall, and being in this state helps lessen transplant shock. At this time of year, plants are transitioning from concentrating on their growth above ground to developing below ground level. By planting in the fall, the plant gets adequate time to recover from transplant shock and create a robust root system before exposure to summer demands.
- Better Drought Tolerance: This benefit is more important than ever after the severe droughts we had this summer. Fall planted perennials get an additional 6-8 months of root development before being subjected to summer’s dry conditions. A deep, vigorous root system will benefit the plant when water is scarce. Fall also typically brings frequent precipitation, which will help your new transplants establish. It’s also easier to keep newly-planted plants sufficiently watered when the temperatures are in the 70s rather than the 90s.
- Getting a Head Start: When planted in the fall, plants get more time to establish their roots and thus are ready to go when spring arrives. Unlike spring-planted perennials, those planted in the fall will not have to spend energy developing roots and will be faster to grow and flower.
- It’s More Pleasant: Lastly, planting in the fall is more pleasant for the plant and the gardener. Digging in the summer heat is less enjoyable than performing these tasks in the cooler temperatures of fall.
Here at Whistling Bee Farm, I’ve been taking advantage of these fall planting benefits while adding perennials to our gardens. Many perennials make excellent cut flowers, and they often help fill gaps in annual bloom times. In the past month, I have planted allium, yarrow, obedient plant, Agastache, rudbeckia, veronica, sedum, baptisia, hydrangea, and helenium, to name a few, and I can’t wait to share them in bouquets next season. This week, I’ll plant the roses that spent the summer in pots on my patio into a newly dedicated rose bed. Fall is also a great time to divide and replant existing perennials in your landscape. So, go ahead and divide those irises, hostas, or daffodils that have been looking a little crowded in your garden. Just be sure to give them enough time to settle and grow their roots before the first frost. For us in Zone 5b, I prefer to get my new plants in the ground before the end of September, to be sure they have enough time to establish.
In a few weeks, I will focus on planting our fall bulbs such as garlic, tulips, daffodils, and allium. I am getting these beds prepped to be ready when it comes time to plant. I have drastically increased our bulb numbers this year, so getting them all in the ground for their long winter nap will be a monumental task. But I think it will be worth it when those beautiful flowers bloom in early spring. I will also dig some new beds for the peony roots that will arrive next month. I am very excited to be adding a new variety to the farm called ‘Etched Salmon’ and will also increase our numbers of one of my favorite varieties ‘Candy Stripe.’
So, while the temperatures cool and the smell of falling leaves hangs in the air, why not get planting? If you do, you’ll find that your plants will thank you. So, enjoy those first bites of freshly picked apples, the dazzling display of fall colors, and plunging your hands into the soil one last time before winter. Happy fall planting!