On the Cover 4

Autumn planting Poets and schoolchildren might sigh over autumn’s fleeting golden days, but in the garden there’s no time or space for melancholy. There’s plenty left to do, and it isn’t all cleaning up and putting away, yet. Simply put, in August and September, it’s time to plant.

Autumn is opportune planting time for much more than bulbs and the traditional mums and ornamental cabbages. Get these in the ground, but consider adding perennials, shrubs, and trees while you’re at it. Plants will quickly become established in autumn’s softening light, cooling air, and still-warm earth—and for you, these are pleasant conditions in which to work. You can also enjoy lower prices at garden centers and nurseries that want to clear out inventory before winter hits. Botanic gardens and arboreta often hold fundraising plant sales in fall, too, with stock propagated from their own collections. With the past spring and summer fresh in your mind, you’ll know what you need to improve your garden’s design. Maybe you have more midsummer shade than you imagined last spring. Maybe a thunderstorm knocked down a tree, damaging your perennial bed. Maybe all your plants bloomed in early summer, and you’ve been looking at a green scene since then. Whatever the reason, now is the perfect time to tweak your garden plans, go shopping, and plant.

Whatever you plant now will make for a fun and beautiful spring, when you can enjoy your flowering bulbs and new (but already in place) plants.

What to Plant

….to enjoy this autumn:

flowering annuals and perennials, including pansies, salvia, coreopsis, rudbeckia, mums, and asters; foliage perennials, such as ornamental grasses; and don’t forget about fall-blooming bulbs like autumn crocus and colchicum. The latter often blooms before you can get it in the ground.

….to taste this fall:

cold-weather crops, including brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower (grown from seedlings), plus spinach, lettuce, radishes, green peas, swiss chard, and carrots (grown direct from seed).

….to anticipate next spring:

spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils; biennials to bloom next year, such as foxglove, stocks, and hollyhocks; and why not try a fall sowing of sweet peas? Many northern gardeners claim the earliest spring blooms by jumping the gun.

Autumn Planting Tips

  • Attend the fall plant sales of local botanic gardens, arboreta, and garden clubs. Watch for end-of-season specials at garden centers and nurseries.

  • Spring- and summer-blooming perennials that have outgrown their spaces can be divided in late summer through early fall. Move the divisions to other areas of your garden or share them with friends and neighbors.

  • Plant trees and shrubs six to eight weeks before the ground begins to freeze; perennials, four to six weeks before frost. Plant bulbs as long as you can work the ground.

  • Mulch new plantings and transplanted divisions and keep watering them regularly until the frost.

  • Do not fertilize when planting in fall. Feeding may encourage a flush of new growth that in turn could be damaged by an early onset of cold temperatures.

  • Try planting early-blooming bulbs, such as crocuses and snowdrops, and spring ephemerals, such as bleeding heart (Dicentra spp.) and trout lilies (Erythronium spp.), in shady areas near deciduous trees. They will bloom in the sun that’s there in early spring.

  • Keep a record of the plants you add and their placement, particularly perennials that die back to ground level over the winter. Your notes will come in handy as plants emerge in spring.

Don’t Forget

Put some new plants into the garden this fall, but don’t forget the plants you need to take out. Begonias, caladiums, dahlias, and other tuberous plants must be dug and overwintered indoors if they aren’t hardy in your area. Vacationing houseplants should be brought inside as nighttime temperatures drop. Inspect them for insects first

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