Fall is often the best time to plant perennials

October 9, 2013
Lupines do well when planted in the fall.

In weather and in life things are rarely what they should be.  Take the fall equinox of Sept. 22 when one would assume we should be in the middle of autumn.  If you look to the heavens that is true, but here on earth we tend to lag.  Temperature lag that is.  Because earth stores heat in our oceans our seasons come later than dates reckoned purely by astronomy.

But starry eyed gardeners can use this lag as a fine time to plant many perennials. Because the soil and air are cooler, but still relatively warm, fall is much less stressful on new plantings than summer. Weeds are in decline so there is less competition. Soil moisture is often higher in the fall than summer, as there are usually more dependable rains to keep plantings from drying out.

Autumn’s shorter days do not trigger plants to use energy to send up leaves and shoots and flowers, but direct plants to send down roots and get established.  It is said you can gain an entire year of growth by planting in the fall rather than waiting for spring.

The same holds true of perennials you want to move or divide.

Plants that do well when planted into the fall include lupines, cone flower (Echinacea), astilbe, daylily, hollyhock (Alcea), bleeding hearts, hosta and peonies.

As with any gardening venture it’s best to start with healthy, strong plants. Dig your soil deeply and add any soil amendments such as bone meal or slow release organic fertilizer. You can add compost and soil amendments such as peat moss to your fall plantings.

Avoid fast acting fertilizers because you want to avoid encouraging your plants to sprout new fragile growth that will not be strong enough to survive the pending winter.

Do add a nice mulch of at least three to five inches to keep the soil moist.  After the ground freezes add more mulch to prevent alternate freezing and thawing of the ground that can result in heaving.  Heaving is where plants are literally heaved out of the ground during the winter.

Because small roots are often damaged in transplanting a plant might not be able to take up enough water to thrive, so even things out by cutting back the top growth.  This also encourages the plant to grow roots.

Try to plant at least six weeks before your first freeze, so the plants have time to really settle in before they go dormant for the winter.

One of the main reasons for fall planting is that we just seem to have more time.  Vegetables are harvested, daily chores are done and we can take a more leisurely pace towards life. After all, the Earth itself seems to have lagged by staying warmer longer than the astrological dates would decide. And as mere gardeners who are we to argue with the heavens?

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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