Winter is Coming
For most people, the coming of crisp weather usually means it’s time to wind down outdoor activities and chores. There’s no more mowing the lawn, hanging out on the patio, or swimming, and many garden plants are on their last legs. But did you know it’s possible to cultivate a beautiful landscape that will take you right through the fall season? We consulted several pros to find out how to plan, plant, and enjoy your autumn garden.
Know Your First Frost Date
Before you head to a nursery, you need to know your region's first frost date. It’s not an exact science. Instead, it’s an average estimate of the date when you should expect the first frost. Frost kills various plants and slows down growth considerably for others, so it’s important to know. You can plug in your zip code and get frost date info here.
Find Out About Rainfall Figures
Staff from family-owned nursery Perfect Plants explain that having a grasp on your area’s rainfall information is vital to figuring out whether you need to pick drought-tolerant plants. Most people tend to put away the hoses and stop hand watering when the weather cools, so choosing a plant that won’t succumb to drought can be key. Perfect Plants staff suggests the Arbequina olive for hot weather locales with little rain.
Consider Trees and Grasses
Don’t discount trees, say Perfect Plants staff. Because the soil is still warm in the fall, the roots can grow without the stress of sweltering temperatures. Choice trees for fall planting include maples, pines, fig trees, and black diamond crape myrtle trees.
Derek Gaughan, owner of Prince Gardening, explains that many plants thrive once the summer heat dissipates, but he’s personally fond of ornamental grasses for the fall garden. His top picks include Blue Oat, Purple Fountain Grass, and Little Bluestem.
Pay Attention to Hardiness Zones
You should know your hardiness zone before purchasing plants. Pay attention to labels that let you know if a plant is suitable for growing in your zone. You can find your USDA Hardiness Zone here. Remember that your zone is just a ballpark figure: With a bit of ingenuity (and protection), you can grow almost anything anywhere. Just check out this Montreal woman’s tropical backyard oasis.
Temper Your Expectations
Understand that plants don’t grow at the same rate in the fall as they do in the summer. Fewer daylight hours means plant growth rates decline as winter approaches. Cooler temperatures can also initiate dormant periods in plants. In short, don’t expect the fall garden to look the same as a summer one.
Rely on Perennials
If you’re going to take the time to plant something new in the fall, you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck with perennials. Shelby Devore, gardening expert and founder of Farminence, suggests adding chrysanthemums (or ‘mums’) for a pop of color during the fall. “Many people assume that flowers are solely a spring and summer treat and don’t realize that there are many plants that actually prefer to bloom in the fall,” she notes. Many mum varieties are hardy and don't require much maintenance.
Think About Spring
Don’t forget about spring! Fall is the ideal time for planting several spring blooms. Bulbs are inexpensive and quick to plant, says Douglas Dedrick, landscaper and founder of This American Lawn. Which ones can you plant this time of year? Tulips, hyacinths, alliums, crocuses, and daffodils are all great candidates.
Avoid Plants in Full Bloom
When shopping for fall ornamentals, Shelby Devore cautions gardeners against choosing plants already in full bloom. Unless you’re purchasing for purely decorative reasons, steer clear of showy blooms. Once a plant is already in bloom, the flowers won’t last for more than a couple of weeks. Instead, Devore explains, "choose the plant that only has a few blooms (10-25%) that are opening up.” You’ll enjoy longer bloom times this way.
Think in Layers
Fall is an essential season for landscaping, says Dan Bailey, President of WikiLawn. When considering your landscape, he suggests adding varying areas of interest. Instead of choosing just one type of plant (e.g., planting several trees and nothing else), add shrubbery and flowers to the middle and foreground of your landscaping for a layered appearance.
Plant Seeds That Need a Chill Period
Some seeds simply won’t germinate if you sprinkle them onto the ground in the spring or summer. They require a chilling period to sprout. Douglas Dedrick says purple echinacea seeds are perfect to plant in the fall because they need a winter chill. These perennials will also attract beneficial insects when in full bloom.
Plan for Color
If you're interested in adding a colorful array of ornamentals, Andrew Gaumond of Petal Republic is a fan of asters, dahlias, and begonias. He also adds that gardeners in fall planting mode should plan for the spring. “Many plants need a full winter season in the ground,” Gaumond explains. Those who plan in advance will be well rewarded in April or May the following year.
If you want fall blooms, select plants known to bloom in the late summer and fall. Don’t discount seeding annuals, such as zinnias, in the spring. They bloom for extended periods of time and well into the autumn.
Don’t Wait Too Long
Finally, regardless of the plants you choose, don’t wait too long! There is indeed a point when it’s too late to plant. Once the ground freezes, you’re out of luck. Keep an eye on the calendar. Don’t forget to plant your bulbs, seeds, and plants before winter arrives.
Keep these tips in mind when selecting plants for your fall garden.
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