Fall is for Planting

The Northfield News does a fall Home and Garden Supplement each year. Leif wrote an article for the supplement discussing fall planting.

“For many of us living in the Upper Midwest, the idea that “Fall is For Planting” is firmly established in our minds. This season of blazing colors is indeed an excellent time to plant many varieties of landscape plants.

Cool fall and spring temperatures together with gradually slowing rates of plant growth and water usage make for lower maintenance demands on the gardener. Less frequent watering is needed from mid-September to mid-November and again in April and the first half of May. However plants placed in the landscape this fall, will need just as a consistent a water program from next May 15th through the balance of the Summer of ’08 as shrubs, trees and perennials planted next spring.

Once plants are fully leafed out next spring they are in high gear. The spring growth flush takes an enormous amount of the plants stored energy, and sufficient but not excessive water availability will be a key to good and rapid establishment next season.

During the first year a plant is in its new place in the garden, the most important thing that takes place is the growth of new roots into the surrounding soil. Fall planting can allow some minimal root growth to occur before the onset of dormancy. However this root growth is far less than the root growth plants can accomplish in the first month or two of next year’s growing season. One of the biggest advantages of fall planting is that the plant in question is ready and waiting to take advantage of every single day of the phenomenal spring growth flush. No one has to remember to go out and plant in the spring. The plant is already in place, just waiting for its internal mechanism to be set loose for spring growth.

We are all probably familiar with the incredibly fast and prolific growth of plants in the spring. My Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart seems to leap out of the ground overnight. An important thing to remember is that almost as much growth activity can be occurring underground, especially with new landscape plantings. Nice loose soil should be present around a new plant, allowing roots to quickly extend through soil that is free of compaction.

Perhaps the most significant reason the growth of new roots is so vigorous in early spring is the internal signals sent by swelling buds to the tips of the roots. As buds swell in response to increased sap flow, these swelling buds send a hormonal (chemical) signal to the root tips to begin elongation. This lengthening of the tips of roots can take place at an incredibly rapid rate, especially when the plant that was planted in the fall is ready and waiting to begin the explosion of spring growth both above and below ground, and not a day is lost.

As gardeners happily follow the saying that “Fall is for Planting”, a few things can really help the plants be ready to take full advantage of the spring growth flush. Provide fertile soil, good drainage and consistent but not excessive watering. Mulch with 2″ to 3″ of bark mulch or wood chips over an area wider than the root ball, and fertilize moderately once a month in April, May, June and July the following year.

Also prior to planting be sure to aggressively root prune any container grown plants that have matted roots when removed from the nursery pot. This will help relieve the root bound condition common to plants marketed in plastic nursery pots, and allow the best opportunity for rapid growth of new roots into the surrounding soil.

Yes, “Fall is for Planting”, and good bargains are commonly available at nurseries this time of year. Enjoy the cool and pleasant planting conditions as you fall plant and prepare your new landscape plants for the fullest benefit from next spring’s growth flush. “