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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.)
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!