Gardening Perennials

Fall is for Planting Perennials

Tips on planting your perennials this Fall

Fall is a great time to add perennials to your Victory Garden 2.0!

Fall may be a better time to plant perennials than spring. Like spring, fall has cooler, rainier weather that is more conducive to helping plants establish. Unlike spring, fall doesn’t subject freshly planted perennials to the stress of summer heat and the dry spells this can cause.

Here are a few other points to consider if you’re on the fence about fall planting…

Take Time to Evaluate your Fall Landscape

Fall is an excellent time to assess your garden. It is the conclusion of a full season watching your garden perform and when plants are freshest in your mind. Compared with spring, everything is at its mature size. This makes it easy for you to see bare spaces or estimate the precise size of something you plan to replace.

By evaluating at the end of the season you might also find yourself focusing more on fall color. This is a good time to check if your perennials melted away after flowering, or are a few items still in bloom? Is the foliage chlorotic or riddled with holes from some bug’s dinner? Ensure you get three seasons of interest from your garden by dealing with fall color in fall!

💡Beginner Tip: Chlorosis is a yellowing of leaf tissue due to a lack of chlorophyll. Possible causes of chlorotic leaves include poor drainage, damaged roots, compacted roots, high alkalinity and nutrient deficiencies in the plant.

Great Time to Shop for Perennials

Is there a bad time for plant shopping? When you are picking up your mums or ornamental kale, pop over to the perennials department and see what is looking good. How the plant looks in the garden center in fall is usually a good representation of what it will look like every fall. Watch for perennials free of disease or insect damage and still in flower or showing a particularly vibrant leaf color.

Garden centers often reward late-season shoppers with a different set of plants from early spring. Late to emerge and late to flower plants are now stocking the shelves. This time of year also often sees discounts on plants the garden center doesn’t want to overwinter.

Tips to Being a Successful Fall Perennial Planter

1. Plant 6 Weeks before the Ground Freezes.

Once frost hits perennials start to go dormant, transferring energy into their roots for the following year. Giving your freshly planted perennials a period to get established in their new home before the ground freezes solid (sometime in November or December in most temperate climates) will increase overwintering success.

2. Choose plants that are hardy, avoiding plants that are less hardy than your hardiness zone.

If you live in hardiness zone 4, but can get away with growing perennials that are only hardy to zone 5 – this is not the best time to plant. These perennials need a full growing season for the best chance to overwinter, particularly as a young plant. In fact, it is safest to plant perennials that are one zone hardier than yours (planting a zone 3 perennial if you live in zone 4). North American gardeners will find the hardiness zone of most perennials listed on the plant’s label.  Unsure what your zone is? Look it up by entering your zip code (American readers) or postal code (Canadian readers). Other readers could find their hardiness zone by asking a local nursery.

3. Don’t worry about new growth.

You probably won’t see many new shoots or flowers, but that’s ok! You’re planting this perennial for next year. What you can’t see above the soil is happening below with fine root development.

4. Wait until after a few good hard frosts before cutting them back.

Some gardeners still cut back their perennials at the end of the season. This isn’t really necessary (it’s sort of a bad habit left over from old-fashioned methods of gardening), but if you still do it, don’t start until the very end of fall. That’s because the nutrients stored in the stems and leaves need time to travel into the roots for winter. Removing the top growth too early denies the plant the kick start it needs to get going in the spring. If you’re unsure if it’s too early to cut back, just leave it till spring!

5. Do NOT fertilize.

The slow-release fertilizer included in their nursery pot and held in the rootball is more than enough to get them to overwinter. Too much nutrition can have adverse effects on the plant and interfere with their transition to dormancy.

6. Provide winter protection.

Mulching with wood chips or leaf litter is a good way to protect the crown of the plant from cold damage in winter.

12 Perennials to Plant This Fall

Here are some choice new perennials to try this fall. Click on the photo for an enlarged view.

Text and photos supplied by the National Garden Bureau.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

3 comments on “Fall is for Planting Perennials

  1. Autumn planting has obvious advantages in a chaparral or desert climate. In our region, there is no need for frost protection. Unfortunately, it will be a busy season for us. We must still wait to get started though. It will still be warm for a while.

  2. Please tell the person having Id trouble to download the iNaturalist app. University grade!

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