WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- As you endure the hot, steamy weather of August, it’s hard to imagine that fall is right around the corner. While most homeowners reserve their planting for the spring, fall can be a perfect time to plant. As with most things, there are exceptions, but you can feel confident about fall planting, by keeping a few things in mind:
The warm days and cool nights of early fall are excellent for promoting root development. Fall conditions can be less stressful on plants than the mercurial weather of early spring. One killing frost in early spring can wreak havoc on newly planted perennials.
Aim for early fall planting to give new plants at least six weeks in the ground before hard frost or winter-like weather. When does hard frost occur in the tri-state area? That’s a moving target with climate change. Remember those heavy snow storms in late October? It can happen. Try to get planting done by mid-September. October can be fine, as long as the weather cooperates.
Most plants are suitable for fall planting, but some are better planted in spring. Broad-leaved evergreens, especially shallow-rooted plants such as rhododendron, mountain laurel and andromeda, are safest to plant in the spring. Conifers, including pine, spruce, fir et al. are also better planted in spring, when their root systems have more time to establish and winter desiccation is not an issue. Some spring-flowering trees, like Magnolias and fruit trees are also happiest when planted in the spring.
Plant selection is usually more limited in the fall, but you may find plants on sale. Some nurseries offer steep discounts when it’s too late to plant. Overwinter those plants in their pots – watering well until hard frost and sinking the pots into mulch to protect their roots from freeze and thaw cycles. Whatever you buy, at any price, make sure that the plants look healthy.
When planting trees and shrubs in the fall, favor well-grown containerized woodies over balled and burlapped plants (B&B). A woody plant grown in a container has 100 percent of its roots intact, while a B&B plant may have lost up to 90 percent of its root system when being dug. With any purchase, make sure the roots are not girdled (circling around themselves).
Skip the fertilizers and pass on the pruning when planting. Both can be very stressful on newly-planted plants. A small amount of compost in the planting hole can be helpful. Regular deep irrigation is the secret to successful fall planting. Make sure that you or Mother Nature are giving new plants a good soaking 2 to 3 times a week – possibly more for small perennials that dry out more quickly. Continue watering until hard frost. Plants should go into the winter well-hydrated.
Looking for native plants this fall? Head on over to the Native Plant Weekend at Westchester Community College in Valhalla – a benefit for The Native Plant Center - on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 12 and 13 at Rosedale Nurseries. Click here for more information about the event.
Kim Eierman, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial! www.ecobeneficial.com When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.
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