The question that has been most often asked in the garden center this week has been, “Can I still plant? Isn’t it fall and that means its time for things to die and me to clean up my garden?” The answer to that question is, yes, fall is when your garden traditionally is put to bed, but a bigger, resounding YES to the question as to whether to still plant or not. With the changing of the leaves to gold, golden opportunities abound for fall planting!
Garden centers nationwide have run a popular “Fall is for Planting” campaign for the past several years, but it seems like while it’s a catchy phrase, not many people really understand what the fall planting season is all about or why it is really a better time to plant many things than in the spring.
So here’s the scoop. Springtime planting is great for many things. For annuals springtime planting is a must- there’s no other time to plant these. But the problem with planting everything in the spring is that it is a very difficult time for plants to adjust and become established.
To begin, the ground is still cold. Plants usually won’t throw out many roots until the ground warms up somewhat and in this area, that’s usually hedging into summer, depending on the year. Once they are planted they are subjected to great swings in temperatures as we can easily have snow one day and warm, sunny weather the next. It’s sometimes a struggle for even the most hardy plants to get a good start.
When you plant in the fall, the ground is already warm and that is a big boost for plants who need to send out roots to become established. Daytime and nighttime temperature differences are usually not as severe and since the ground is already warm, it gives the plant some protection against the cooler nighttime temperatures. The survival rate of things planted in the fall is often greater than those planted in the spring.
Next comes the question of when and what to plant. Check the usual freezing dates of the ground in your area. This isn’t the frost date, but instead the actual date that the ground usually freezes. In the higher elevations this date is probably early October, depending on the year. In Cortez and the lower elevations, it is probably up until mid or even late October, or perhaps into November, again, depending on the weather that particular year.
The best time to put your fall plantings in is right about now- or approximately six weeks before the ground freezes. This allows the plant to become established and let the roots begin to spread and look for water before the ground begins to freeze and the plant goes dormant.
Many plants are suitable for fall planting. It’s a great time to install new lawns. Grasses love the cooler weather and will establish themselves quickly under fall conditions. It’s also a perfect time for planting perennials. Many of these are fall blooming anyway, adding a final burst of color to your yard.
Trees and shrubs do much better when planted in the fall. Plant nursery stock now, mulch them well and water according to recommendations throughout the winter and you will be surprised how well they will do!
If you like having fresh vegetables, or haven’t quite filled your freezer, fall gives you one last shot at a garden. Cold crops, usually associated with early spring planting such as lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, spinach, cauliflower and others can all be sown now for one more taste before winter. Remember the soil is still warm, but the air is beginning to cool off and that’s what they like in order to grow well. You may have to cover plants as we get further into the season, however, so keep an eye on those temperatures if you decide to try a fall vegetable garden.
And of course it’s a perfect time for fall mums and pansies. Not many people know much about fall pansies and it’s such a shame for they are one of the most versatile little plants. Plant fall pansies now, they will bloom until freezing, but then they don’t die. Instead they winter over, similar to a perennial, only to be some of the first bloomers in your spring garden, provided they receive adequate moisture. The more snow we have, the better, as this provides insulation and moisture for them. This past winter, the fall pansies I planted at the garden center came back huge and beautiful and folks were amazed that they hadn’t been planted in the spring along with all of the other annuals. Try some this year in your yard!
If you want more immediate gratification in your yard, consider planting fall mums. They will provide instant color throughout the fall and are available in a large variety of colors and types. From huge football type mums to wiry spider mums, there’s a look and texture for any yard. . Mums are available as both perennials and annuals, so be sure to recognize which you are purchasing so that you can make wise planting location decisions. Mums tend to grow large though, so keep this in mind when planting. They are easy to grow. Cut them back after flowering to a height of about 6-8″ to prepare them for the winter and the next growing season.
And finally, what everyone thinks of in the fall- bulbs. Buy your bulbs now for best selection, but hold off a bit to plant them until the weather cools down more. If you plant them now you may end up with October tulips! One exception would be fall crocus which can be planted now.
Think about where you want to place them and the impact they will have in the spring. Masses of color created by planting many bulbs in one area generally create a better show than spacing a few out here and there. Daffodils and narcissus are wonderful to use if you have deer problems as they tend to prefer other plants to these and therefore usually leave these alone.
Bulbs are also fun for those households that have children. Kids like to plant them- they can’t hurt them as there is no foliage to harm, and watching for them the following Spring is like a great mystery unfolding in the yard. Consider allowing your children to have a place of their own in the garden for the bulbs they’d like to try. Visit your local garden center and let them pick out several varieties taking care to stagger the blooming times and they will have a wonderful bulb garden throughout the spring.
View the upcoming Fall season as a time of great opportunity to try new things in the garden. With the warm, sunny days and the slight nip in the air, it’s a great time to get out in the yard and plant!