By Sean Conway

Fall Is for Planting and Getting Good Deals at the Nursery

One of the best times to plant shrubs and perennials is in the fall.

Several years ago the nursery industry came up with a slogan, "Fall is for planting." The objectives were to help educate gardeners and to extend the selling season. The advice is sound and for several reasons.

Consider the experience my teenage son had in a job this past summer working in a rather large garden. His employer's home sits on a multi-acre piece of property with a spectacular view. During the hot, dry months of July and August, he helped her plant scores of shrubs, perennials and annuals.

Unfortunately, because they didn't realize how much water new plantings require, especially during weeks of hot, dry weather, a good percentage of these plants didn't survive, or were so stressed that their chances of making it through the winter are greatly diminished.

Planting during the fall months, once temperatures have moderated, puts less stress on plants as they establish themselves. Cool evening temperatures and warm daytime temperatures stimulate root growth, especially during the early fall before daylight shortens too much.

In most regions of the country, cooler fall temperatures come with increased rainfall, and adequate moisture in the ground helps plants establish healthy root systems. Had my son's employer waited a few weeks to do her planting, she would have much greater success.

That is not to say that planting during the summer is not OK. It can be very successful, provided the newly transplanted plants get enough water.

A good rule of thumb for newly planted beds is at least an inch of water per week if you are using an overhead sprinkler. Place a rain gage in the bed to monitor the amount.

For shrubs and trees, the method I prefer is to place a hose at the base of the shrub and let water slowly seep onto the top of the root ball for about 20 minutes.

Another advantage of fall planting is that garden centers and DIY stores often offer shrubs and perennials at greatly reduced prices once the summer is over.

Nursery businesses prefer not to winter plants over. They will have new inventory arriving in the spring, so most -- especially large DIY stores -- mark down plants substantially to get rid of them. The assortment may be a bit more limited than in spring, but if you have a lot of planting to do, buying in the fall can save you a lot.

If you are shopping for perennials in the fall, don't be too concerned if the plants look a bit bedraggled. Most perennials don't look too good after spending the summer in a pot. Choose the plants with the most foliage, even if they're a bit beaten up.

When choosing shrubs or trees, also look for plants with as much foliage as possible. Avoid shrubs that have brown or leafless tips. If the plant is missing a lot of leaves, examine the growing tips for dormant buds; the plant should be fine when it leafs out next spring provided it has live buds when you plant it.

When buying evergreens, make sure there are no areas on the plant with brown needles. Evergreens, unlike deciduous shrubs or trees, will not re-grow new needles on old branches.

In general it is not a good idea to fertilize new fall plantings. Best results will be achieved if you condition the soil with organic amendments prior to planting. The goal is for the plant to establish roots rather than top growth.

If you didn't get around to planting this past spring, or if you want to get a jump on next spring, remember, fall is for planting.


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