If you’re ready to put your garden tools away and leave planting until spring, think again! Many folks are surprised to learn that fall is a great time to start planting, but it’s true! Cool temperatures, reliable rainfall, and short, bright days help plants make an easy transition to your garden. Instead of thinking of fall as the end of the gardening season, think of it as the beginning of the next one!
Here are a few reasons why fall planting is so beneficial:
Cool Air, Warm Soil
With cooler air temperatures during the day, plants get a welcomed break from summer heat stress. Likewise, soil temperatures stay warm from months of summer sun. Cool air temperatures plus warm soil is the perfect combination for fall planting!
Cool air and warm soil conditions cause plants to focus their energy underground, while their above-ground growth begins to slow. Protected roots will continue to grow until the ground freezes. This head start on root development results in strong, robust plant growth come spring. It’s best to plant or transplant plants about six weeks before the ground freezes. In Washington County, that normally happens in mid to late November – so September is prime for planting.
Consistent rainfall typically arrives with fall’s cool temperatures. Planting during soggy, unpredictable springs can be difficult and may even be harmful to your garden’s soil structure. Working wet soil will pack soil particles tightly, leaving less room for water and preventing roots from moving through the soil. But planting during the fall, when soil tends to be drier and more loosely packed, is much easier and more beneficial to your soil. Consistent precipitation also means less watering for you, so you can fit in one last summer BBQ before the weather turns! If rainfall comes up short, make sure to keep new plants watered until the ground freezes.
Fewer Weeds and Pests
Many garden weeds and pests are warm-season nuisances that slow down or disappear come fall. Actively growing weeds compete for water, light, and nutrients, contending with new plantings for every ray of sunshine and each drop of rain. By planting in the fall, new plants get a head start without having to compete with obnoxious weeds. Fall weather also brings a drop in insect activity. That’s a plus for gardens and gardeners so you can plant in peace – without having to swat mosquitoes or worry about your new plants getting devoured.
As always, we recommend planting native plants no matter the planting season. Where can you find native plants? Native plant sales of course!
Each spring and fall, many nurseries and conservation organizations hold native plant sales encouraging gardeners to incorporate native plants into their gardens. Proceeds from these sales help support community organizations. Our friends at the Backyard Habitat Certification Program have a list of plant sales happening around our region.