Gardening Public Gardens

Visit Nurseries to Discover the Splendours of Fall Plants!

More and more temperate-climate gardeners are discovering that the flowering season in their garden doesn’t end with Labor Day. Indeed, with proper planning, you can keep your landscape in bloom and in color until snow falls. And if you doubt my word, just get outdoors and take a look! By visiting local gardens and nurseries, you’ll discover the splendors of Fall!

Bunchberry
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis). is just one example among many of plants that offer interesting autumn color you might be able to find in your local garden center. Photo: Ryan Hodnett, Wikimedia Commons

Look for What?

Attractive flowers, beautiful foliage, stunning fruits or other beautiful or beguiling features. (Plants that attract butterflies or birds, for example.) And some plants really are stars when it comes to their fall foliage rather than flowers. Leaves that turn brilliant reds, oranges, ochers, yellow, purples, etc. are part of their palette.

Plus, if summer is mostly bloom season, fall is mostly berry season. Yes, there are still many plants that flower right through fall, but even more with stunning autumn to winter fruits. Many are listed in the article 50 Berry Plants That Attract Birds.

There are even plants, mostly shrubs and trees, whose bark, once freed of its summer foliage, are a real standout: brilliant colors (red-barked dogwoods and willows); shredded bark (birches, ninebarks and seven sons flowers); twisted stems (corkscrew hazel, etc.).

So, there is plenty to see!

Look And Buy!

Annuals sale at end of summer in a garden center.
This garden center offers 25% on pansies in the fall… and yet they still have a good 2 to 3 months of bloom in them … then often come back for a second year of bloom in the spring! Photo: urban_light, depositphotos

But if you not only want to “peek at plants”, but also want to buy them in order to beautify your garden in the fall, go to a nursery or garden center. If you have specialist nurseries in your region, they especially may offer a wide range of exciting, yet lesser-known plants.

The Reasons for Fall Shopping

It’s surprising how many people go to garden centers only in the spring… but never set foot in one beyond June. Still, fall is a great time to shop for plants for the home garden.

Here are five reasons why it is advisable to shop for fall plants in the fall:

1. You’ll discover which plants are at their best in late summer.

panicle hydrangea in flower
Who would buy a panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) in the spring, when they look their best in September? Photo: James Steakley, Wikimedia Commons.

If you only visit nurseries in the spring and buy what is in bloom at that season, you’re practically ensuring that your garden will seem empty by the end of the summer. Fall-flowering perennials (coneflowers, hardy mums, grasses, asters, etc.) still look insignificant in the spring … but what a difference in the fall!

The same goes for many shrubs. Who would buy a panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) in the spring, with its rather mundane foliage? Yet when you see it in bloom in September, it’s love at first sight! And what about a burning bush (Euonymus alatus)? Sure, its dark green foliage is not unattractive, but its insignificant spring flowers would never win any show prizes. However, the plant can turn a flamboyant red in the fall: impossible to miss and hard to resist!

As for roses (Rosa cv), if you really want a specimen that blooms repeatedly in your climate, choose it in the fall. If it’s still in full flower at the nursery in September, you’ll know it’s been blooming for a long time.

Helpful Hint!

While you’re at it, always choose a rose hardy enough for your climate! Why complicate your life with tender roses that require special care in order to survive the winter when there are now so many truly hardy roses!

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Mildew on garden phlox
In the Fall and you’ll be able to immediately spot which varieties have serious health problems. Like this garden phlox with powdery mildew. Photo: apps.extension.umn.edu.

2. Foliage diseases are clearly evident in the fall.

When you buy a garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), a beebalm (Monarda didyma) or a rose bush (Rosa cv) in the spring—all plants well known for having a problem with leaf diseases (powdery mildew, black spot, leaf spot, etc.—how do you know if the one you choose is seriously susceptible to disease? These diseases aren’t apparent on spring foliage: they show up at various times throughout the summer, often not before August. That means that you only learn you have a problem after you’ve already planted the plant!

Take a visit to local nurseries in the fall and you’ll be able to immediately spot which varieties have major health issues. And often a serious offender is sitting right next to a variety with absolutely perfect foliage, totally resistant to the disease. That way you’ll know which plants to buy!

Smilling nursery staff
Nursery staff are more available in the Fall. Photo: depositphotos.com

3. The nursery staff is more available.

Try finding a garden center employee in May when you have a pressing question to ask! There are dozens of other home gardeners competing for their attention. Even if you do manage to catch one, it’s usually a young trainee who knows no more about plants than you do. In the fall, you can get personalized service from the most seasoned employees. Bring your list of questions! And take notes! You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn in 2 or 3 minutes when you talk to the right garden specialist!

4. There are great deals to be had.

Yes, almost all plants are on sale in the fall. Discounts of 20, 30, or even 50% in some cases. That’s because nurseries don’t want to have to deal with the added expense of caring for leftover nursery stock over the winter. When you know that you need several shrubs to complete your landscape plan, a 30% rebate becomes very interesting.

Fall garden planting
Fall is often the best time for planting. Photo: Katie Hetrick, flickr.com.

5. Fall is one of the best seasons for planting.

Sure, you can plant in the spring: It’s the traditional season for doing so … but fall is just as good and sometimes even better. (Summer is the more “difficult” of the seasons when it comes to planting, especially in hot, dry climates.)

Moreover, in the fall, the soil is still warm, but the air is cool at night. And in many climates, fall is not only cooler, but rainier. These factors stimulate the plants to produce many new roots rather than rushing to produce top growth; often the case in the spring.

A spring planting often yields more leaves or flowers than the plant’s roots can support, leaving it weakened after it blooms. As experienced gardeners say, “you need to start with a solid foundation.” In other words, a well-rooted plant is a happy plant.

Note that Fall planting is strictly identical to Spring planting, although adding a good layer of mulch is even more important. (It will prevent the root ball from being pushed out of the ground by the action of freezing and thawing during the winter, a phenomenon known as frost heave.)

Planting a rhododendron
Some slow-growing plants of marginal hardiness, like rhododendrons, are very slow to “root in”. Give them a full growing season by planting them in the spring. Photo: miraclegro.com.

Exceptions

However, there are exceptions. Certain plants are not good choices for Fall planting. That would include, in many climates, rhododendrons and magnolias. These and other sluggish plants, many of which are of marginal hardiness, are very slow to “root in”. They won’t have time to produce new roots if you plant them in the fall. Instead, give them a full growing season by planting them in the Spring.


So go ahead! First, take a tour of a public garden or two to take notes and discover new varieties. But then another at your local garden nursery. It will pay off big time… in ideas as well as new healthy and inexpensive plants!

Article sponsored by the Year of the Garden 2022.

Garden writer and blogger, author of more than 60 gardening books, the laidback gardener, Larry Hodgson, lives and gardens in Quebec City, Canada. The Laidback Gardener blog offers more than 2,500 articles to passionate home gardeners, always with the goal of demystifying gardening and making it easier for even novice gardeners. If you have a gardening question, enter it in Search: the answer is probably already there!

4 comments on “Visit Nurseries to Discover the Splendours of Fall Plants!

  1. For our mild climate, Autumn is the season for planting. I know that sounds a bit too generalized, and that there are a few items that would prefer to wait until the end of winter, but the majority of plants prefer installation in autumn. I prefer to wait until after frost for canna only because they start to grow prematurely, so can be damaged by frost. However, even they can start in autumn, and either stay dormant through winter, or do not mind a bit of frost damage. Heck, in some regions, they are evergreen, and must be cut back to get rid of their old foliage.

  2. Jt Michaels

    All good advice for planting from nursery containers. My understanding is that Autumn is not a great time to dig up and transplant trees or shrubs in the yard, though.

  3. Fall is often a more pleasant time to plant too. Spring is so harried. I frequently go to a local garden center searching for specialty dwarf conifers they bring in from Oregon’s Iseli Nursery. Great discounts at this time of year make my pocket book a little bit happier.

  4. You missed off autumn is the time to buy and plant bulbs for spring!

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