If weather predictions are accurate, this upcoming week brings crisp nights, and perfect low 70s days, which means, fall planting is here. If you’ve been to the store and seen the truckloads of plant material arriving, you already knew that.
Here’s a question we’re asked a lot: Is it better to plant in the spring or the fall? The answer is yes. Spring and fall planting are both excellent seasons to plant, and it often comes down to what works best for the gardener’s schedule. In spring, gardeners are busy with everything from clean-up to containers, so fall is a perfect time to evaluate the landscape and add where needed. Are the foundation plantings overgrowing the house? Do you need screening for privacy, evergreens for winter interest, replacing a tree, or adding last-minute perennials to a border? The garden is winding down, and it’s easier to assess what is needed, and bonus, that’s one less springtime chore.
So, why is fall planting preferred? Here are the three top reasons.
Root Growth Versus Shoot Growth
As the air cools, the soil stays warm, encouraging root development over shoot development. Root growth continues until temperatures drop to 48°F but shoot growth slows down around 60°F. The variance in temperatures between air and soil in fall forces the focus on root growth. Roots anchor plants and provide water and nutrients for the plant’s growth and health, so slowing down shoot development and ramping up root growth is good.
You can plant six to eight weeks before the ground freezing, giving plants plenty of time to establish and be able to withstand cold weather. In Western North Carolina, plan on mid-November as a deadline for getting fall plants in the ground. Once the soil freezes, all root growth stops until spring, but there is time to establish plants to withstand cold temperatures if you plant now.
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Don’t get too excited about this one. You still have to water, but with fall comes a more sustainable rainfall (hopefully), allowing for more budget-friendly watering and less work for the gardener. Additionally, plants’ photosynthesis is less as daylight hours are shorter, requiring less water for plants. When you water, be sure to water at soil level to drench roots and go around the plant using the shower setting on the water wand (not a jet stream setting that can disturb soil). Water your plants 2x a week if we haven’t had soaking rain in 10 days (last week’s rain is considered soaking rain). Watering more frequently may be necessary for evergreens that are susceptible to drying out from winds and colder temperatures. Knowing your soil, how it drains or does not is your best key to understanding how to water your garden. But with the hot days of July and August behind us, your plants will transition into your garden with less stress and less watering from you.
Get A Jump Start On Spring
Get a jump start on spring color. Plant azaleas, rhododendrons, pieris, forsythias, and other flowering shrubs now to enjoy when spring arrives. Plant perennials that will reward you next year and take that off your 2021 to-do list. Fall is also bulb planting time. If you want spring daffodils, tulips, crocus, allium (yes to the allium!), NOW is the time to purchase bulbs (they sell fast) and plant in October or November. Planting in fall gives them the chilling hours needed to bloom in spring.
Not everything you want to plant in the fall may be available (most herbaceous perennials are gone by the end of September), but that only makes watering easier. Dividing the planting up between spring and fall gives the gardener more time to establish new plants. And, the same applies to transplanting. Fall is a great time to transplant anything that needs moving in your landscape, or if you still have plants sitting in your driveway in nursery pots, plant them now.
Gardens take time to grow, and they aren’t couches that instantly fill up the space we measured. They are living, organic, dynamic ecosystems that require a little patience as they establish. By planting in fall, we get ahead of the curve and can enjoy them all the quicker.
Written by Cinthia Milner, Landscape Consultant, and blog writer.
B.B.Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.