Fall is For Planting: Plant Smaller Perennials Now for Better Value

In summer design meetings, people often ask “should we wait until the spring to plant this garden? And the answer more often than not is No. In fact, with the exception of a small group of trees that are a Fall Hazard to plant, many plants will do better planted in the fall.

Regular readers of this column have heard again and again and again that fall planting allows plant material extra months of root development. Planting in September and October will not only give your plant material a jump in the spring as  planted material start developing roots well before new plants are available, but they will also get a couple of months of fall root development.

The great news however, is that you can plant smaller plants in the fall, and they will have developed into much bigger plants by the spring. For example, planting pint sized perennials in early September will get you plant material in May that is close to the size of 1 gallon material you might purchase at a nursery or big box store. Pints are a third to half the price of gallon material so the savings can be tremendous. If you’re really looking to be frugal as we all are with the price of gas and food being what it is, plant bare root or four inch perennials now for pint sized value in May 2009.

With this August having been so unseasonably cool, soil temperature is much lower than it normally would be this time of year, soil temperature is one of the prime determinants in when roots start developing. This means, that barring a September heat wave, you can plant perennials now  for real value.

Before you dig, the usual guidelines apply: test the soil and first, and amend to meet the needs of the plants you are selecting, for healthier soil, feed and emend organically, and work in as many natives plants as possible to encourage and support the local ecosystem. Plant smaller perennials as if they were bigger plants, keeping in mind what their mature size will be (generally space perennials 8”-12” on center). Check the mature heights of the plants to determine location in the garden. I can’t tell you how many “professionally” planted gardens I have seen this year that had smaller plants placed behind larger ones so that they were lost and not visible. Group plants by soil and water needs, and always use drip irrigation for these areas, don’t count on lawn sprinklers (which are designed for grass) to water perennials and shrubs.

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