By Randall D. Schultz, Content Editor of HomeGardenandHomestead.com
Spring may be the most common season for planting, but gardening experts say the autumn season is also a great time to plant wildflower seeds, perennials, bulbs, shrubs and trees. That’s because planting in the fall gives plants a chance to get established before the cold weather of winter arrives.
“Fall planting reduces the stress on new plants and newly sprouted seeds,” said Mike Lizotte, managing partner of AmericanMeadows.com. “As temperatures cool off in the fall, most wildflowers naturally drop their seeds. So when you plant in the autumn, you’re actually following the example of Mother Nature.”
Jeff Dinslage, president of NatureHills.com, a popular online source for trees, shrubs and perennial plants, agrees. “Fall is great for planting,” said Dinslage, “Plants love to get acclimated in a new location after the heat of the summer has subsided. The soil is still warm, so plant roots can really get a growth spurt that helps them get ready for winter. Then, in the spring, that tree or shrub can really come to life in your yard.”
Fall is the best time to plant bulbs such as tulips and daffodils, because these spring-flowering bulbs need a cold season in order to produce blooms. Daffodils are one of the most popular bulbs because they flower early in the season—and they produce blossoms year after year.
Miniature Daffodil Tete Boucle has light and dark golden-yellow double flowers that bloom in early spring. This smaller Narcissus variety is happy in pots on the patio, in a sunny garden border, or even as a charming addition to window boxes. The yellow flowers stand 6-8 inches tall, and this variety is very similar in form to the wild daffodil from which it was hybridized. These fantastic plants are super-easy to plant in fall, and they don’t care about soil (as long as it’s well-drained).
Tulips are another favorite spring-flowering bulb, and the new varieties of colorful tulips never seems to end. Double Late Tulip Pink Star is one of the most spectacular tulips available. The flowers have so many petals that this type of tulip is commonly known as Peony Tulips. Double Late Tulips bloom in the late spring and are very long lasting—often blooming well into early summer.
Double Late Tulip Pink Star has full peony-like flowers in shades of magenta and pink with accents of apricot. Plant Pink Star in large groups for a head-turning display that will provide many 16-18” tall flowers. A bag of 8 bulbs sells for $13.98 from www.americanmeadows.com.
Perennials love fall
Fall is an ideal time to plant perennials, which love the season’s cooler temperatures. Compared to spring-planted perennials, which typically suffer a period of transplant shock, plants installed in the fall adapt quickly to their new environments.
“Although you won’t see a lot of stem and leaf growth in the fall, the plants put into the ground in autumn are busy growing new roots,” said David Salman, chief horticulturist for HighCountryGardens.com. “With the arrival of spring, the fall-planted garden is ready to burst forth with vigorous new growth and a profusion of flowers.”
One of Salman’s favorite flowering perennials to plant in the fall is Texas Blazing Star (Liatris mucronata) –a large, showy perennial that blooms in late summer to attract numerous butterflies to its nectar-rich lavender-pink flowers. This Liatris species offers an amazing display of tall, lavender-pink flowers—and each flower stalk is a true magnet for pollinators. Originating from the plains of northern Texas, Oklahoma and the Southern Great Plains, this resilient plant is a water-thrifty choice for drier planting sites. Texas Blazing Star (Liatris mucronata) is deer resistant and grows well in USDA Zones 5-9.
Agastache (Hummingbird Mint) is another plant that Salman recommends for fall planting. During the past decade, many new varieties of Agastache have been introduced with colorful flowers ranging from apricot orange to bright pink. These are showy, fragrant, long-blooming perennials that (as their name suggests) are highly attractive hummingbirds. Sometimes known as Hyssop, Agastache plants are essential for a pollinator-friendly garden and have excellent resistance to browsing deer and rabbits.
Agastche ‘Desert Sunrise’ is a cross between the two best southwestern species of the genus: Agastache rupestris and Agastache cana. This new perennial introduction is a sturdy, vigorous grower that blooms non-stop from midsummer through fall. The bi-color flowers are pink and orange—just like a sunset. The flower spikes are quite large and both the foliage and flowers are delightfully fragrant. Agastche ‘Desert Sunrise’ is available exclusively from www.highcountrygardens.com, which also sells many other varieties of Agastaches.
Plant wildflower seeds now for summer flowers
Even though most of us think about sowing seeds in the spring after the winter has passed, another great time to sow wildflower seeds is in the late fall and early winter.
In areas in the U.S. with hard, freezing winters (the Northeast, Midwest and the Rockies) seeds should be sown after a killing frost but before the ground freezes. In frost-free areas with hot summers (South Florida, southern Texas, Southern California and the low deserts of the Southwest), seeds can be planted almost all winter, but are best sown right before rainy weather sets in.
For best results, the ground should be prepped before sowing seeds. Clear away most competing plants, and turn over the soil with a rototiller. At the very least, take a metal rake and rough up the soil so seeds can penetrate the soil surface.
“Whether you are sowing a five-acre meadow or five square feet in a suburban yard, the better you prepare the area to get rid of weeds, grasses and other competing plants, the better results your seed planting with yield,” said Mike Lizotte. “You’re not giving the seed a good chance to survive if it has to compete with existing root structures in the soil.”
American Meadows has created six different regional seed mixes to increase both seed germination and plant survival. For example, the Northeast Wildflower Seed Mix contains 27 different wildflower species, all of which thrive in the growing conditions of the Northeast.
Different wildflower seed mixes are also available for full sun, partial shade and dry growing conditions. Other seed mixes include species that flower in the fall, and seeds for specific flower types (such as sunflowers, zinnias and cosmos).
It’s a great time to plant trees
Trees are the anchors in a well-designed landscape. As the largest plants, trees naturally become focal points that draw the eye into a yard or garden. Choosing the right trees can make the difference between an interesting, inviting yard and a boring yard that no one notices.
Jeff Dinslage of Nature Hills Nursery says one of his favorite trees to plant in the fall is the Autumn Blaze Red Maple, one of the superstars in the fall landscape. This variety is a cross between a red maple and a silver maple, and it has become one of the most sought-after maple trees in the USA.
Autumn Blaze Red Maple has an upward shape that works well in clusters or as a stand-alone focal point in the yard. The tree is disease and pest resistant—and it’s tough enough to persevere during drought conditions and strong enough to withstand heavy snows. But in the fall Autumn Blaze Red Maple becomes a landscape superstar, when its leaves turn a bright orange-red that is dazzling enough to stop traffic. At maturity, an Autumn Blaze Red Maple can reach 40-60 feet tall and 40-60 feet wide throughout USDA Zones 4-8
Another popular tree that Dinslage recommends for fall planting is a Honeycrisp Apple Tree. A Honeycrisp apple is a best-selling fruit at the grocery store, and a Honeycrisp Apple Tree is a great addition to any property. A flurry of pink blossoms covers the tree in early spring. Then yellowish green apples cover the tree in late summer and ripen with a red blush in September. But the fruits don’t immediately drop when ripe, so you can take your time in picking them.
To maximize fruit production, plant another apple tree close by to aid in pollination (such as Gala, Granny Smith, Empire, McIntosh or Red Delicious). This semi-dwarf tree reaches 15-20 feet tall, so it fits comfortably in most yards. For more information about great tree varieties to plant this fall, visit www.naturehills.com.