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Fall is for planting...

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09/25/2003
Fall is for planting...

Even though fall fever seems to be unheard of, fall is a wonderful time for planting all sorts of things. Well, almost all sorts. What you can successfully plant depends on what hardiness zone you live in more than anything. If you live in Zones 7 and southward, fall is simply the best time to plant everything. The cool, moist weather of your mild winter is the ideal season to get plants rooted and well established before the onslaught of summer heat and possible drought.

If you're in Zone 6 or northward, you can plant and transplant most trees and almost all shrubs, as well as spring and early- to mid-summer blooming perennials. What not late summer and fall bloomers? After all, they look enticing in the nursery, all in flower now, reminding you how low your garden is on blooms at the end of the season.


The reason is that when a plant is in flower, its energy is going toward the blossoms, and subsequent seed production. Root growth--which is what you want to develop, with urgency when you are fall-planting--is delayed until flowering and seed production are over. Perennials that are not well rooted are subject to being heaved out of the ground by freeze and thaw cycles, or otherwise winterkilling. That's why, as a general rule, it is best to plant spring and early summer bloomers, like the Geranium pratensis in the main photo, the aubreita (above) and the Campanula glomerata (below) in the fall, and fall bloomers in the spring.



Of course, it's always fun to push the envelope. So, here are some ways you can cheat on that rule. If you just have to plant a fall bloomer now, cut off all its flowers, as well as any that develop between now and the first freeze. Now bereft of flowers, your perennial will now be encouraged to put out roots quickly. Keep the soil around your new perennial mulched to delay soil freezing as long as possible.

However, with trees the investment--and hence, the risk--is greater. While most trees thrive more vigorously after fall planting than after spring planting (flowering dogwood is a case in point), there is a short list of species that should not be fall planted. A good example is river birch (Betula nigra) which often fails to leaf out the following spring after a fall planting. Check with your local extension department to determine which trees should not be fall planted in your area.

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