Fall is for Planting
As our volunteer teams gear up for our annual Fall Plant Sale (September 14-15 at the Gardens), discover why experts believe that fall is an ideal time to plant trees, shrubs—and so much more.
By Brooke McMinn
Fall is hands down the best time to plant most things in the garden. Here’s why: Cooler weather means fewer pests to injure new plantings. It also means less water lost to evaporation, so irrigation needs are lower, which, in addition to saving money on the water bill, also reduces stress to plants. Of course, gardening in cooler temps is also much more comfortable for the gardener!
So, what are some good things to plant in fall? The choices are vast. Fall annuals, spring-blooming bulbs, herbaceous perennials, cool-season vegetables, hardy herbs, vines, shrubs and trees, trees, and more trees! Just as important as what to plant is how and where to plant it.
Coming up with a plan prior to selecting plants is the best thing you can do to help ensure the long-term success of your garden. Investing time and money without first consulting reliable references for information about plants, culture, and insects is likely to result in a waste of both. The first step in developing your plan should be to test your soil. A great resource is Auburn University's Soil Testing Laboratory, which tests for pH, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Simply pick up soil sample boxes and forms at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System offices at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, and mail them to the laboratory. Cost is $7/sample. Be sure to carefully follow the recommendations and remember that more does not equal better. Soil test results are like a prescription for healthy soil, and healthy soil is the best thing you can give plants. A separate test should be done for each distinct garden area every few years. In addition to any fertilizers or other amendments suggested by a soil test, fall is a great time to add organic matter such as ripened manure, compost or rotted leaves. Adding organic matter to soil will help to increase soil aeration, water retention and microorganism activity, all stuff your plants will like. Your soil test may also help inform your plant selections.
So, what are some good things to plant in fall? The choices are vast. Fall annuals, spring-blooming bulbs, herbaceous perennials, cool-season vegetables, hardy herbs,
vines, shrubs and trees, trees, and more trees!
Select plants that prefer existing environmental conditions to make sure they are well suited for each other. Consider factors such as soil pH level, soil moisture, and sun exposure of garden areas, and choose plants that are known to perform well under those conditions. Another major consideration should be plant size, especially for trees and shrubs: Be sure the space each is planted in can accommodate the expected mature size of the plant. If plants are too close to each other they may compete for water and nutrients. Being planted too close to existing structures can interfere with root development. Other considerations should be plant hardiness zones, resistance to pests and disease, ecological benefits, and seasonal interest.
Finally, once your plants are in the ground, be sure to mulch from within a few inches of the base of the plant all the way out to the drip line with 2-3 inches of natural wood or bark mulch. Proper mulching will keep weeds at bay and help to regulate soil moisture and temperature throughout the winter.