Here in the south, fall is a great time to landscape

We are all accustomed to planting in the spring. There are many reasons for this, but is it really the best time for long term plant survival? I guess that depends on a lot of things. There is no easy answer.

On the downside plant availability is better in the spring. Garden centers know then they sell most of their plant material and that is in the spring. That often means nurseries have healthier plants at their disposal then.

However, stress on newly installed plants is much less in fall around here. Growth of leaves and stems slows down and goes dormant. Trees and shrubs require less water when they enter dormancy. Watering becomes less critical than it is in spring. In short, it’s easier to take care of new landscaping.

Another reason to plant in the fall is below ground. Root growth is much more vigorous in fall. This only makes sense. Soils are warm and they take longer to cool than air temperatures because water has a high heat capacity.

Because of this, roots continue to grow well into the fall. They put down a network for water absorption that will help with the following summer’s heat stress. In our area summer stresses most plants more than winter does. Winter rarely damages deciduous trees and shrubs at all unless soils are too wet.

Plants can become stressed in winter, particularly when they are marginally hardy. I’d be hesitant to plant zone 8 plants too late in the fall. Certain evergreen shrubs or trees like eucalyptus should become established well before they must face cold winter winds. In northern climates this effect is even greater.

Another negative to planting in the fall is that the job generally looks less spectacular. Usually plantings aren’t as colorful as most flowers are dying back. Patience is definitely a virtue here. Plants will jump in the spring.

Incorporating fall flowering plants like mums, pansies and ornamental kale can spice things up. Encore azaleas have been a nice fall color addition. Most perennials like hosta, iris and daylily are best divided and replanted in the fall.

Spring flowering bulbs are planted in fall but they have no immediate impact. Bulbs should never be planed too early in the fall or they might break dormancy and not flower properly.

Around here, tulips are rarely successful over the long term as deer love them. Hyacinths generally aren’t too successful either. Narcissus species like daffodils and paper whites are another matter. They grow fabulously around here and they come back year after year. Deer won’t eat them either.

On balance, I think fall is a great time to plant, especially the basic framework. It’s also cooler and easier on the person doing the planting. For most trees, shrubs and perennials I’d say survival is better under conditions of less care.

Supplementing plantings with spring color is always a plus. Besides, after going through winter I know I’m not the only one who wants to add a little color to the picture. Spring annuals can spice up any landscaping.



Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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