The cooler, crisper mornings and evenings lately indicate we are zooming towards fall quicker than you can say “pumpkin spice latte.” While tailgating, football games and trips to the cider mill for donuts will be high on the priority list in a few weeks, don’t forget about your landscape! Planting in autumn has incredible benefits. Cooler temperatures are not only easier on the plants, but also on the gardener. Unlike spring (with its unpredictable weather), fall typically offers more mild-mannered days that are ideal for planting. The soil is still warm so roots can take hold and continue to grow until the ground freezes. Pest and disease problems tend to let up once the cool temps roll in. There’s no need to fertilize this time of year. Garden centers are busy clearing out inventory, so you may find some bargains to beautify your landscape. Best of all, a bit of hard work now will pay off big time come spring! Here’s our list of four things to plant in the fall to jump-start growth!
1. Spring-Blooming Bulbs
Nothing says spring has arrived quite like the first crocus. Or daffodil. Or hyacinth. All spring bulbs require a period of cold dormancy to bloom, so get your bulbs in the ground in the next six weeks or so to ensure beautiful, showy flowers in the spring. Take care to choose firm, plump bulbs with no visible mold. Bigger bulbs usually mean bigger blooms. Plant in an area that gets full sun (six hours a day or more) in well-drained soil, adding in some organic material. Plant two to three times deeper than the height of the bulb, with the pointy side up, roots facing downward. Add some mulch to prevent weeds and to deter the critters from snacking, water well and you’re all set ‘til spring!
2. Trees and Shrubs
Fall is an ideal time to plant trees and shrubs. Milder temperatures and warm soil create perfect conditions for root development. In fact, roots will continue to grow in soil with temps as low as forty degrees. As always, check out the tag information to choose the perfect location for your new tree or shrub, making sure it has enough room to grow to its mature size–you certainly don’t want to have to move it later. Dig your hole two to three times as wide and just as deep as the root ball, loosening the soil in the hole to allow for roots to spread. If the root ball is in burlap, you can remove it or leave it as is; the burlap will decompose over time, just make sure to cut it back from the top of the root ball. If your plant is in a pot and roots are tightly tangled or root-bound, you can cut them to loosen. It will not harm the plant and cutting will encourage new root growth. Make sure the top of the root ball is even with the soil line and fill in the hole and cover with soil. Tamp the soil lightly, then water to remove air pockets. Cover with a couple of inches of mulch to protect roots from freezing. Keep newly planted trees or shrubs watered well until the ground freezes (click here for tips on watering). This will give roots a strong start on growth before going into dormancy. Skip fertilization and pruning in the fall, as both encourage new growth above ground and you want the tree or shrub to focus solely on root establishment going into winter.
Fall is a great time to take stock of your perennials. Hostas growing out of control? Divide them and re-plant elsewhere or share your extras with friends. Love the look of peonies or irises? Plant them in the fall to give them the best chance of success, or if you need to relocate them, there’s no time like the present. The basic rule of thumb? If it blooms in spring or summer, fall is the time to divide or transplant. Looking to add a new variety or two to your garden? It’s perfectly okay to plant perennials as the weather cools. Chances are, if you head to your nearest garden center, you’ll find a bargain on perennials this time of year. Keep in mind that the bloomy show-offs you remember from early spring may have faded a bit, but with a little TLC they’ll be back in all their glory next spring brightening up your landscape.
Once you get your chosen perennials home, plant them just as you would in the spring. Dig up the soil to aerate and remove any weeds. You want to dig the hole twice as large as the pot the plant is in. Remove the plant from the pot, loosening roots and place in the hole, covering with soil. Apply a few inches of mulch. It may seem that with the cooler temperatures that watering isn’t as important, but your plants need to be watered until the ground freezes to keep their roots healthy and strong. Make sure plants are getting at least an inch of water a week. The soil maintains warmth in the fall, and because plants aren’t utilizing their energy to produce blooms, a strong root system will have time to develop before the ground freezes, giving your plants a healthy head start. By the time the heat of summer hits next year, they’ll be ready!
4. Fall Vegetables
You may be surprised to hear that there are a variety of vegetables suitable for fall planting in West Michigan. Cool weather can bring out the best flavor in many vegetables. Chances are that by late summer, you have already pulled some items from your summer garden, so you can easily replace those with some fall varieties. Obviously, you’re not going to find starter plants in your local garden center this time of year, so any cool-season vegetables you choose to grow will have to be from seed. Seek out fast-growing seed varieties to plant. To plant successfully, you’ll need to know the first likely frost date. For our area, that usually occurs mid-October to early November. Check here for more information. Look at the seed packet to determine the number of days to maturity for that particular vegetable. Then count back from the first expected frost date to estimate the best time to plant. What kinds of vegetables can thrive in cooler temps? Kale, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, beets and carrots to name a few. Why not choose a couple and give it a go this fall in your own garden?
The window for fall planting in West Michigan is almost upon us. Take a little time this autumn to set yourself up for a fabulous spring. Plant some bulbs. Add a new tree. Grab a few perennials on sale at your local garden center. Try your hand at a cool-season vegetable garden. Come spring time, you’ll be glad you did.
If you’re already running out of time this fall and need some help with your autumn landscape maintenance or projects, our team is ready to help! Just drop us a line.