Fall is the Perfect Time to Plant Shrubs

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Shrubs are some of the most reliable and hardworking plants in the garden.

They are long-lived, big enough to make an impact while still fitting into gardens of any size (even container gardens!), and some offer the same flowers, fragrance, leaf color, or pollinator appeal as your favorite annuals and perennials.

Shrubs also play well with other plants in the garden. They make a great backdrop to show off your shorter-lived flowering plants and cover for them when they’re not in bloom. Shrubs are also wonderful for creating an “understory” that fills the gap between larger trees and shorter plants and groundcovers. Birds and other wildlife also love shrubs as a safe haven between the ground and trees. Many shrubs also provide birds with fruit, nectar or even a place to build a nest.

💡Helpful Hint: Make the most of your planting work by choosing shrubs that look good in more than one season, like evergreens, reblooming shrubs and plants with pretty fall color.

Burning bush
(Euonymus alata ‘Compacta’).
Photo: gardenia.net

Some shrubs have fall leaf colors just like trees.

‘Little Quick Fire’ hydrangea
(Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Quick Fire’)
Photo: Proven Winners

Many shrubs fit well into containers for dressing up the patio.

Icebreaker Korean fir
(Abies koreana ‘Kahouts Icebreaker’)
Photo: kiginursery.com

Evergreens bring year-round color and aren’t always just green.

Winterberry Berry Poppins®
(Ilex verticillata ‘FarrowBPop’)
Photo: springmeadownursery.com

Many shrubs have attractive berries that may also attract birds.

Fall is the perfect time to plant shrubs in your garden. Here’s why:

  • Most plants are still visible, so you know where you have gaps to fill.
  • The year’s successes—and problem spots—are still fresh in your mind, so you know what might need replacing.
  • As plants drop leaves, you’ll be able to see where you need some evergreen structure.
  • Planting in fall gives your shrubs lots of time to recover and put out new roots before the stress of summer.
  • You may be able to take advantage of end-of-season sales at your favorite nursery.
  • Cooler weather also makes it more comfortable for you!

Here’s how to plant your shrubs in the fall for a beautiful garden next year:

  • Start with a healthy plant. It’s okay to pull the plant out of its container at the store to make sure the roots are healthy.
  • Dig a hole that’s twice as wide but no deeper than your plant’s container. It’s important to plant your new plant at the same level or even slightly higher than the surrounding soil.
  • Take your plant out of the container it was sold in.
Pull outwards or cut off encircling roots.
  • Plants bought at the end of the season may have been in their container a long time and be “rootbound” with roots circling around the rootball. Loosen these roots and pull them outward so they can grow out into the soil. It’s even okay to cut them since you are planting in the fall to give them extra time to recover.

💡Helpful Hint: Use your shovel as a measuring tool! Compare the height of the rootball to your shovel blade to know how deep to dig. Use the handle to get an estimate of how wide to dig—the hole should be twice as wide as the container.

  • Place your new plant in the center of the hole, checking that the top of the rootball is not lower than the surrounding area.
  • Lightly dust the rootball with mycorrhizae (beneficial fungi) to encourage better root growth.
Just use the original soil as backfill. Improving soil at planting is no longer recommended for trees and shrubs
  • Add the soil back into the hole, making sure there aren’t large air pockets. There is no need to amend the soil with compost or fertilizer: this is no longer considered necessary or helpful. Water well to help settle the soil. Add more soil if needed, but do not pack down after watering—this will compact the soil. Water instead to settle the soil again.
  • Spread mulch around your new shrub. Mulch will help insulate your new shrub’s roots in the winter and keep them cool next summer.

Remember to Water…

Be sure to water your shrubs well immediately after planting and give them frequent, deep watering through the fall to help them recover and establish. Even if it’s cool outside or the shrub seems dormant, a lot is happening underground! Your plant needs lots of water to grow healthy roots.

💡Helpful Hint: How much water is enough? Water just until you see puddles that don’t soak into the ground right away. Do this at least twice a week during the fall and start again the next spring. After the first year, your shrub should be established enough to water on your normal schedule.

Information and most photos supplied by the National Garden Bureau.

6 thoughts on “Fall is the Perfect Time to Plant Shrubs

  1. This is particularly relevant in our chaparral climate with mild winters. New plants get soaked in slowly through autumn and winter, and are ready to grow in spring, but are not likely to be damaged by frost. If planted in spring, they get less time to disperse roots, so are more susceptible to aridity.

  2. Your note to take the plant out of the pot it came in reminded me of three large trees we purchased years ago. They were beautiful, expensive, and they died. Why? The crew that planted them left them in the plastic they were wrapped in for transport. 😦

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