Have No Fear of Fall Planting

For larger, more colorful plants next year

Aquilegia chrysantha with Nepeta xfaasseniiAquilegia chrysantha
with Nepeta xfaassenii

Over the many years I’ve been in the retail nursery and greenhouse business, it has been an uphill chore to convince my fellow gardeners that fall is an excellent time to plant.  Spring has always been a more traditional time to plant because I think we have taken our cues from farmers who wait until after the last spring frost to plant. (Except for winter wheat which is fall planted!)

But for ornamental plants, spring is not always the best time. This is especially true for areas of the country, especially the Western US, where spring is windy, unsettled and gives way to summer’s heat with little warning.  Our plants don’t have much time to get their roots into the soil before summer’s baking temperatures.

In cold winter regions like Santa Fe, it is my impression that many folks are afraid that winter’s cold will kill their fall transplants and so they are reluctant to plant.

This has not been my experience when you follow a few simple steps;

Helianthus maximiliana 'Santa-Fe' with Perovskia atriciplicifoliaHelianthus maximiliana
'Santa-Fe' with Perovskia
  1. Get your plants into the ground about 6 to 8 weeks before the first hard frost of the fall.
  2. Select the most cold hardy perennials when planting in USDA zones 4-6 (*see detailed list below)
  3. Prepare a wide, generously sized planting hole enriching the soil with Yum Yum Mix and some good quality compost.
  4. Mulch with a generous 1” to 2” thick layer of mulching material
    • For waterwise (xeric plants) use crushed gravel, pine needles or crushed nut shells.
    • For plants that enjoy richer soils and more water use composted bark, shredded bark or coarse textured compost.
  5. Water once every three to four weeks if the winter snows are sparse and the weather is dry.
Echinacea purpurea, Agastache 'Blue Fortune' and SolidagoEchinacea purpurea, Agastache
'Blue Fortune' and Solidago

And be sure to plant some spring flowering bulbs while you’re out planting your perennials. Bulbs and perennials are a winning combination and help to color up your garden early with the bulbs.

Here is my list of very cold hardy perennials that are a sure thing when transplanted in fall. And they get a big jump on spring-planted plants with lots more flowers and foliage. Fall planting is like gaining a planting season’s advantage over spring-planted perennials!

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