PASSAIC COUNTY, N.J. -- Don’t let the hot and humid days of early September fool you – fall is just around the corner, and it’s a great time for planting.
The warm days and cool nights of autumn provide optimal conditions for successful root development. While all plants need sufficient water after planting, the cooler temperatures and hopefully, more frequent rains, of September and October, reduce the need for supplemental irrigation.
Many nurseries and garden centers have special sales in the fall – making this season even more enticing for home gardeners.
With some simple steps, your can have great results with fall planting:
- Determine what types of plants your landscape needs before you go shopping. Do you have sufficient evergreens for winter cover for birds and other wildlife? Do you have a gap in bloom during the growing season? Many landscapes have too few pollinator plants in early spring and late fall. September is a particularly good time to find native grasses and late blooming native perennials like asters, goldenrods, and sunflowers.
- Plant early in the fall. Most trees, shrubs and perennials should go into the ground at least six weeks before hard frost occurs. When does hard frost occur? That’s become something of a moving target with climate change. In the past decade, the tri-state region has experienced two severe snowstorms in late October. Start your planting early to avoid an unhappy weather surprise. Note that late fall “dormant” planting can be done, but it’s a bit trickier for the average home gardener.
- Skip the fertilizers when planting. Many chemical fertilizers are loaded with salts that rob the soil of crucial moisture. If your soil is healthy, even organic fertilizers may be unnecessary. Reach for a bit of compost instead, and focus on improving soil fertility and biology. Soil is a living thing, filled with millions of microorganisms – keep them happy naturally, not chemically-overwhelmed. Your plants will have to adapt to your native soil, sooner or later, so don’t keep them dependent on an artificial crutch.
- Mulch after planting to retain soil moisture and to moderate soil temperature. As winter weather develops, freezing temperatures can cause the soil to expand and contract. “Frost heave” can result, pushing smaller plants out of the ground. To help moderate soil temperature, add two to three inches of good quality organic mulch around plants after planting. For plants that like a lot of organic matter, like many woodland plants, mix 50% compost with 50% organic mulch and spread as you would any mulch. Just remember to keep mulch a few inches away from the trunks of trees and shrubs to prevent crown rot.
- Make sure that new plants go into winter well-watered – especially trees and shrubs. This is especially important for shallow-rooted woody plants like azaleas, rhododenrons and mountain laurels that can dehydrate quickly in dry weather. These types of plants are usually better planted in the spring, as are magnolias, dogwoods, tulip trees and some others. Whether it’s you or Mother Nature, make certain that your new woody plants get a good, deep soaking - on the roots – at least twice a week until hard frost (for more watering tips, see the recent article in this column).
Get planting this fall! You will reap the rewards next spring.
Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial . When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.