The Central Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association has been promoting a program this fall called “Fall is for Planting”. Even though it may be more exciting to plant perennials, shrubs and trees in the spring when everything is starting to flush out of its winter dormancy, it is much more beneficial to the plants to plant in the fall. Let’s discuss some of the reasons that this is true:
1. The soil temperatures are still warm, even at this time of the year in Zone 7. I imagine the further north you go, the soil temperatures are getting cooler but most should still be conducive to root growth. In areas like Zone 7 where the soil will only freeze in the top few inches, the roots will continue to grow throughout the winter. Just imagine all of those little roots growing and getting ready for the spring…
2. In the spring when the plants break dormancy, all of those little roots will be ready to take up water and nutrients which will give them a leg up over their spring planted companions. This translates into more established plants when the inevitable summer drought hits.
3. When we get into the period where the rain stops falling (usually July in central Virginia), the plants that were installed in the fall have sent out lots of roots and they’re not only growing out but they’re also growing down. What’s further down in the soil? You guessed it…moisture that isn’t readily available to plants whose roots haven’t reached that depth.
4. The last and perhaps the most important reason to plant in the fall is that it usually rains in the fall. That means less work for you and more even watering for the plants. I’m sure that we are all aware that not even the most technologically advanced irrigation system can water like God does…he’s the master for a reason you know.
There are a few plants that shouldn’t be planted in the late fall, say after the end of November in central Virginia. They are crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia) and pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’). The failures of many gardeners and landscape professionals can attest to this but if you have a microclimate where the soil stays warmer than your surrounding areas, you can certainly try to push the limits. Remember: just because the label says something doesn’t mean it’s written in stone. Variations of those guidelines happen all the time and the only way you can find out if it applies to you is to try it out. If you have any plants that you’ve pushed past what the tag recommends or you have had any failures with other plants that have been planted in the fall, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy planting!