Fall is a great time to evaluate your garden and determine what should be corrected, moved, or added. Based on this season’s performance, you can assess the nutrient needs of your soil and landscape plants, determine areas in need of mulch or soil improvement, suppress weeds, and decide which areas to add or remove plants.
Why Is Fall Good for Planting?
Putting plants in the ground during fall gives them time to grow deep roots so they are able to withstand heat and drought conditions when summer comes again. Cooling air temperatures in fall slows the growth of plants above ground, but the soil remains warm; roots continue to grow until soil temperatures are in the low 50s to upper 40s. Increasing rainfall helps keep the soil moist, but it is best to continue to water regularly until rains are ample and consistent (always water in new plantings regardless of weather or season).
Continue to plant until up to 4-6 weeks before your average first hard frost; we prefer to get most plants tucked in by mid-November. If you plant close to or after frost, those plantings may not root well, if at all, but should still fare better than if left in their containers over winter. Consider providing additional protection during extreme winter conditions.
Which Plants Can Be Planted in the Fall?
- Spring-flowering bulbs: tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, and more!
- Hardy trees, shrubs, perennials, and ornamental grasses
- Cold-hardy color: pansies, dusty miller, coral bells
- Cold-tolerant edibles: garlic, shallots, leeks, lettuce, kale, chard, brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, pak choi)
- Edible landscape plants: blueberries, fruit trees, and cane berries
- Wildflower seeds
- Grass seed
We are lucky to live in an area where it is almost never too cold to plant!
- Always add organic matter when planting; use a ratio of ⅓ to ½ compost to native soil. Dig your hole twice as wide, but no deeper than the pot you are planting from; keep the plant at the same level in the soil as it was before replanting.
- Starter fertilizer has essential nutrients that young plants need; many are bone meal-based, which provides plants with the power to grow a healthy root system. We recommend using G&B Starter Fertilizer in every hole you dig!
- Winter weather can be severe; consider wind gusts and rain patterns when deciding whether or not to stake a tree or shrub for temporary support.
- To determine if your soil is too wet for planting, squeeze a wad of soil in your hand until it stays in a ball. Poke the soil ball with your finger—if it crumbles, it’s ready; if it stays in a ball, it’s too wet to work with (you can even damage the soil structure if you insist on planting). If drainage is a concern, partially fill planting hole with water to see how well it drains before planting.
- Great products to know: G&B Soil Building Conditioner, Malibu Compost, G & B Organic Fertilizers
- One of our favorite tools for gardening is a soil thermometer!
Soil Preparation & Conditioning
- Add compost to garden beds annually (1-2 inches deep) to improve soil fertility and texture, increase microbe populations, and assist in moisture retention. Do a basic soil test for nutrients and pH; begin making adjustments (e.g. lime) now so soil is ready for planting by spring.
- Sow cover crop seeds in areas where annual crops are removed to improve the soil and compete with weeds (examples: crimson clover, Austrian pea, fava beans, common vetch).
- Correct deficiencies, including poor drainage, hard soil, and low nutrition levels. Our landscape division can help with French drains or other drainage techniques.
- This is a great time to start the creation of a new planting bed with sheet mulching or by using the lasagna gardening technique.
Weed Control & Prevention
Dormant weed seeds come alive as fall rains return. Use a layer of weed-seed free compost or mulch (at least 2-4 inches deep) to suppress weeds. Apply a corn gluten product or use Preen as an anti-germination agent in freshly weeded areas where you don’t want new seeds to sprout.
How to Move or Divide Plants Successfully
Everyone is happier when not overcrowded! The best tools to use for dividing are a cultivating fork or sharp spade and a Hori Hori knife. The most important thing to remember is to give newly moved or divided plants plenty of TLC—regular watering and a little extra mulch in winter, at least for the first year or two. A good rule of thumb is to divide spring-flowering plants in early fall and divide summer and fall bloomers in early spring.
New Plant Aftercare & Winterization
Even “old” plants are “new” plants once they’ve been moved; young roots need extra protection from extreme temperatures (mulch).
- If working with deciduous or herbaceous plants that will go dormant for winter, keep moist until dormant and continue to water as they emerge in spring.
- To speed up the rooting process, use Root Master B-1 after planting.
- Evergreen plants, especially broad-leafed evergreens, may need to be staked for support until rooted and will need to be kept consistently moist as well as protected from extreme cold temperatures and drying winds (Cloud Cover or MoistureLoc are products that help plants retain their natural moisture levels; they are both sprayed onto the plant’s foliage for protection).
- Before predicted cold snaps, water all plants well, especially newly planted ones.
- If using mulch for winterizing purposes, be sure to wait until after the first hard frost so plants have a chance to go dormant; shortly after Thanksgiving is usually a good time. Be sure to leave the area around the crown of plants free of mulch; don’t pile mulch up around the base of plants or against the trunks of trees or shrubs.