Fall – The Best Time for Planting
The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia had this great article in their latest newsletter. Cliff Fairweather, the author of the article, shares some wonderful tips. Also check out their Audubon at Home Program — they can give you advice on establishing a healthy habitat in your yard.
Fall – the Best Time for Planting
Cliff Fairweather, ASNV Naturalist
Spring planting gets all the attention with big plant sales and crowded garden centers, but fall is really the best time to plant. I consulted with a number of native plant gardeners in the Audubon at Home program about fall planting and I am now passing their wisdom on to you.
Fall is the best time to plant for a number of reasons. First, the plants are going dormant at this time of year and so they are less susceptible to transplant shock. In the spring, plants are expending a lot of energy on new growth, leaving them with fewer reserves to cope with the stress of transplanting.
Another good reason to plant in the fall is the weather. Summer temperatures are moderating so plants are suffering less water stress and so they don’t need as much water. Moreover, we generally have more rain, including soaking tropical storms that save us from turning on the tap. Still, you’ll have to give them some water, so water long (and patiently!) enough to encourage deep root growth.
Virginia Native Plant Society Potowmack Chapter President Alan Ford offers this advice on watering: “Water once a day for a week, once a week for a month, once a month for a year. This is most appropriate for trees but any plant will benefit. Reset your schedule any time you get an inch of rain or more.”
Cooler fall weather is easier on your plants and it’s easier on you than gardening in the summer heat. In our area, you can plant at least into November with natives – but resist the urge to tidy up the garden too much. Left-over seed heads feed birds and other animals, while plant stalks and leaves harbor insect eggs, larvae and pupae that will be next year’s pollinators and bird food. Also, take advantage of the autumn leaf-drop to create free mulch and compost.
Finally, fall planting gives your plants three seasons to get established and grow deep roots before they have to endure summer drought. I think conservation horticulturist Nancy Christmus sums up the logic of fall planting very nicely, “Just allow nature to work its magic; the plant will go dormant and appear in spring ready to rock and roll.”
Thank you to Alan Ford, Robin Rentsch, Kevin Munroe, Pam McMillie, and Nancy Christmus for their garden wisdom!