Fall is for Planting

Right now is a good time to plant trees, shrubs, and perennial plants in the mid-Atlantic region. Planting in the fall is wise for several reasons. The most compelling reason boils down to this: planting in the fall requires less work than planting in the spring or early summer.

When a plant is installed in a landscape it goes through a period of time when it is very vulnerable to water stress. I feel confident in saying that in landscape settings the majority of plants that die within one year of planting do so due to a lack of water. A very large percentage of the plant-planting population do not understand how to properly water a plant. In most cases rainfall is not enough [1].

Having plants installed in the spring or early summer is signing up for intensive plant care. The plants are counting on you to provide water until they develop a root system. And this is why planting in the fall is a good idea. In the fall the soil is still relatively warm from the summer, while air temperatures are falling. The high soil temperature encourages root growth, which reduces the amount of watering you will need to do. The cooler air temperatures reduces the transpiration rate, which reduces the amount of water the plant needs to survive. This translates to a reduction in plant care when compared to the spring or early summer. By the time the winter ends and things begin to warm up for the following summer, your plant will have a respectable root system in place.

If the thought of watering newly installed plants keeps you from adding to your landscape, or if you’ve killed plants installed in the spring or early summer, you should give fall planting a try. We’re entering the best time to plant right now. The next 4 to 6 weeks are prime for fall planting.

As a disclaimer I feel I should mention hardiness. If you stick to plants that are reliably hardy you’ll have no problems with fall planting. If you want to try pushing the boundaries with plants that belong farther south you are best off waiting for the spring [2].

My advice is this: add a few plants to your landscape soon. Find a good spot for Hydrangea paniculata ‘Quickfire’ or Weigela florida ‘Wine and Roses.’ Or maybe try adding a new tree, like Acer griseum or Cornus kousa. There’s never been a better time to plant.

[1] This is a post in itself, but I’ll save that for another day.
[2] Growing marginally hardy plants is another topic that bears further discussion–it’s all about microclimates and selecting the right sites.

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