Every gardener knows that the best time of the year to plant spring flowering bulbs is the Fall. But how about planting trees, shrubs and other flowers? Or transplanting a struggling plant to a better location on your property?
Fall is my favorite time to plant. First of all, the weather is cooler than in Spring, so I can put in a full day in the garden without ending up overheated, dehydrated and sunburned. Secondly, plant roots love fall temperatures. When you plant in the fall , roots keep growing until soil temperatures drop below 45 degrees, giving them plenty of time to establish before becoming dormant. This is especially important with any kind of tree, shrub or flower that will bloom early in the spring. Plants will also experience less transplant shock, since they won’t be subjected to the kind of heat spikes and dry periods a too-short spring frequently delivers.
According to Dr Ken Tilt, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System Horticulturist, “By planting in the fall,…you get root growth that will be ready to take up water during 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 greatly reduced.”
As fall is much cooler than spring and less likely to see the heat spikes that spring can deliver, your plants will retain more water, which means that the water you give them will be used more efficiently and not lost to evaporation and transpiration.
Just as in the spring however, mulch around the newly planted or transplanted plants liberally. They’ll need good insulation during the winter to protect them against frost heave, and of course, the mulch helps to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
Remember your basic planting rules:
- When transplanting, dig the plant out beyond the drip line to preserve as many surface feeder roots as possible. Feeder roots in small plants can extend as much as 1 foot past the drip line and trees and shrubs even further. This makes a startling difference in the plant’s ability to withstand any transplant shock. You also want to keep intact as much of the soil clinging to the rootball as possible.
- Your new hole should be at least twice as wide as the rootball of the plant you’re dropping into it. Make sure it’s filled with good soil mixed with compost and water the area thoroughly after planting.
- Use an organic fertilizer starting six inches from the crown of the plant and extending past the drip line, as the feeder roots are the primary recipient of any fertilizer.
And last but not least, in the fall there are terrific bargains to be had at nurseries. Trees, shrubs and flowers must be sold off because many won’t keep well over the winter. I’ve frequently paid less than half price for a pricey plant I really wanted when I bought it at the end of the season. Planting in the fall is a win/win for everybody!