Fall is a great time to plant. The cooler weather lessens transplant shock and makes it easier to keep up with watering. With cooler weather and shorter days, plants start focusing on sending energy into their root systems to prepare for dormancy, which is great for getting new plantings settled. Fall planting is similar to planting at any other time of year, but there are a few special considerations.
If you’re wondering how to plant in fall, here’s a handy list of fall planting do’s and don’ts:
Do plant evergreens as soon as possible.
Why: Many trees and shrubs can be planted well into the chilly fall but when it comes to evergreens it’s better to play it safe. Arborvitae, boxwood, and hemlock in particular prefer to be planted with enough time to establish before the ground freezes. Planting evergreens too late into cold weather increases the risk of winter injury, so it’s better to get them in the ground as soon as possible. It’s critical to water your evergreens (both newly planted and mature) right up until the ground is frozen. You might also consider installing a snow fence to protect evergreens like arborvitae and Norway spruce.
Do water until the ground freezes.
Why: Even after a freeze above ground has nipped most of the plants in our landscape, the soil remains quite warm for some time. Your plants are still focusing on rooting and establishing, and they need moisture to do it. Additionally, a well watered root zone is more resilient and insulated when cold soil temperatures finally do take hold. When the ground is frozen and won’t absorb any more moisture, you’re off the watering hook for the winter.
Do protect newly planted trees and shrubs right away.
Why: Animals get hungry during the winter and your new plants will quickly become a buffet. Tree wraps on young trees are critical to protect from deer rubbing and the chewing damage inflicted by rabbits and mice. Use chicken wire or some sort of rabbit proof fencing around young shrubs. If you’re planting fruit trees, put tree wraps on them immediately- their sweet bark is candy for rabbits and mice who will quickly girdle and kill a young tree. Aim for tree wraps tall enough to protect all the way up to the first branch and keep an eye on snow levels- if the snow is higher than the tree wrap, rabbits will climb the snow mountain to get to exposed bark.
Do apply 3-4 inches of mulch.
Why: Mulching plants installed late in the season is especially important. Your plants will thank you for the extra layer of insulation and moisture retention with vigorous growth next year. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunks and stems of trees and shrubs to discourage rot and give you somewhere to pour water.
DON’T DO THIS
Don’t use a quick release or liquid fertilizer.
Why: Stimulating fresh growth at the end of the season with quick release, water soluble feed, will produce tender new growth that will be damaged by a freeze and could weaken the plant overall. Fall planting is so great because plants are focusing on fortifying their root zone and fertilizing redirects that effort toward the topgrowth, which is counter productive. If you must fertilize, use slow release only or wait until spring
Don’t cut back perennials.
Why: Most perennials will benefit hugely from the additional layer of insulation that dead foliage provides them. Even if you usually cut your plants back at the end of the season, it’s worth it to leave fall planted perennials alone until spring. This especially applies to hardy mums and any plants that are slightly tender or marginally hardy.
Don’t forget about them in spring.
Why: Your new plants have settled in and gone to bed, but they haven’t had time to establish their root systems into the surrounding soil. After the spring thaw, make sure to be attentive to watering your new plantings for at least the first summer. It can be easy to think of them as independent and tough after they make it through one of our delightful winters, but they’re essentially brand new plantings and they need to be cared for until they are established.
Feel free to ask us if you have any questions about fall planting. We’re always here to help!