The winds are picking up. The clouds are rolling in. The morning are cool and rain is falling from the sky. Yes: the seasons have changed, summer has said its sweet farewell, and fall is in the air. Fall is a perfect time to add new life to your garden, and so we thought we’d share a few tips for how to plant trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs this season.

Why plant in fall? Cool air temperatures, more moisture and less sun mean less stress for plants while they’re adapting to their new home in your garden. While soil temperatures are still warm from summer, your trees, shrubs and perennials are able to put energy into establishing strong root systems, which will keep them steady through winter and allow them to flourish come spring-time. And depending on what you plant, you may even enjoy winter or early spring blooms to brighten your curb appeal. 

How to Plant Trees and Shrubs

Crepe myrtle trees provide a vibrant show of late summer blossoms, available in a variety of colors

  • Identify the best location: When you add a tree to your garden, you’re making an investment that will last decades. It’s going to grow during this time — a lot. Look towards the future make sure to leave lots of room around your tree so it’ happy for generations to come. Consider the rest of your garden and home position too – depending on the density of the foliage, a new tree can drastically change your sun exposure. Plan accordingly. (This change is less dramatic with most shrubs, especially if kept pruned, but still worth considering)
  • The Hole: When planting a tree or shrub, make sure to dig a hole about twice as wide and deep as your container.
  • Feeding: In order to help your new tree or shrub adapt to your native soil, you shouldn’t fertilize too heavily at planting, if at all. Back fill your hole so that the base of the plant sits just above soil level, using your native soil.
  • Planting: If the root ball of your tree or shrub is bagged, remove as much of the burlap as possible before planting so that the roots have room to grow. Place your tree in the hole, and begin filling with soil. When it’s halfway full, water thoroughly and allow water to drain. Then, fill the rest of the hole with soil. Water again moderately once you’ve finished filling.
  • Mulch: Mulching in your new tree or shrub will allow it to better retain moisture. An extremely important piece of how to plant trees and shrubs is to keep them watered while getting established. Mulching around the new planting will assist.

How to Plant Perennials

Perennials like Echanacea and Salvia come back yearly and are perfect for fall planting.

  • Timing: The ideal time for planting perennials in the fall is about 6 weeks before your first frost date. Check for this date in your zone, and plan accordingly
  • Location: Identify the best location for your plants by referring to the instructions included on the plant ID tag that came with your plant. Some factors to consider are sun exposure, soil drainage, zone hardiness and spacing.
  • Planting: Dig your holes slightly larger than the root balls of the plant, and back-fill with a mixture of your native soil plus nutrient-rich amendments and/or compost. Water your perennials thoroughly after watering. It’s best to let the water soak in a few times, which ensures that there are no air pockets in the soil. This helps the plants survival rate over winter.
  • Put them to sleep: Once the tops of your plants die back (don’t worry – this is what herbaceous perennials are all about!) spread a thick layer of mulch over the plants. This will help with moisture retention and guard your plant’s root system from the chill of winter.

How to Plant Bulbs

Alliums, like this A. cernuum are amongst our favorite bulbs.

  • Timing: Fall is the ideal time to plant many bulbs. In fact, many bulbs require a winter chilling period in order to product flowers come springtime. However, it’s important to check the zone-hardiness of each of your bulb species to ensure they’re going to survive in your climate. If you live in a place that is too cold for your bulbs to over-winter outdoors, it is possible to simulate the winter chill in your basement or refrigerator. Bulbs should be planted once evening temperatures are between 40-50 degrees. If you need to wait, just store them in a cool dry place.
  • Location: Bulbs can be planted just about anywhere, but well-draining soil is important, because otherwise they can rot. Most bulbs tend to like good sun exposure, but since they’re often the first plants to come up (before trees have leafed out), it’s easy to find a bright spot.
  • Planting: Loosen soil so that it’s workable, removing rocks. Plant bulbs at the depth specified on their included instructions. As a general rule of thumb, plant your bulbs in a hole that is two times the width deep (for example, if your bulb is 1″ wide, plant it 2″ deep). Compress the soil lightly, and water in moderately.

Flowering shrubs like this Oakleaf Hydrangea make important habitats for bees and other pollinators.

If you’re looking for some big-picture fall planting advice and inspiration, here are a few more tips for how to plant trees and other specimens in the fall. Also, don’t forget about your indoor gardens – you’ll need to make some changes to make sure your houseplants survive the change of seasons!

What are you planting in your garden this fall? Got any questions about how to plant trees and other plants in the fall? Share your questions, pictures and thoughts in the comments, and happy planting!

Pistils Nursery