Why FALL Planting? Experienced gardeners prefer fall planting. Not for all plants, but for a great many that the beginner seldom thinks of setting out except in spring.
Unless you are in a very cold section of the country, roses planted in fall take hold better than do spring-set bushes. So do most fruit trees and bushes, other deciduous trees and shrubs and many evergreens. The majority of hardy perennials, too, respond best when moved in autumn rather than in spring. Fall planting is advantageous to the gardener too. Over most of North America spring is short, its days all too crowded. Despite carefully made plans and the best intentions, it is usually physically impossible to accomplish all the planting and other work that needs doing. This is true if you do the work yourself; it is so if you hire professional help.
In the mad rush of spring, skilled Gardeners and nurserymen seem to be almost as scarce as the proverbial hen’s tooth, and if you succeed in corralling one (or more), chances are he will be so rushed that your planting may be done less carefully than had you employed him at a more leisurely season. But plantwise, why is fall the best time to set out most material? The first point to recognize is that the operation we call planting is actually transplanting. It consists of moving a living plant from one place to another in such a fashion that it will become reestablished.
Roots of fall transplants are able to continue growth long after top growth has ceased, because the ground beneath remains warm and moist even after the upper inch or two is frozen. Therefore, new roots, generate readily from the cut and broken ends of transplants, enabling them to rapidly re-establish their root systems. Contrast this with conditions that prevail in spring. Then all factors that favor vigorous top growth (with its resulting heavier demands upon the roots) are at work. Days are lengthening, the sun strengthening. Winds are stealing water from every stem and leaf. And as the leaves increase in size and number, the demand for water and nutrients increases correspondingly. Are there any disadvantages to fall planting? Yes, in some cases there’s danger of winterkilling. Winter is the crucial period for plants on the border-line of hardiness in any given locality, plants which are so close to being tender and winterkilled anyway that the root disturbance tips the balance against them.
For such plants spring transplanting is safer, because in order to survive the winter, these borderline plants need a fully established root system. Planted in spring, they have a whole growing season in which to re-root before being called upon to face the rigors of winter. Transplanting done too late for the particular plant type may also result in winterkilling. In such cases there simply is not sufficient time for adequate rooting before the under soil becomes too cold. Then, too, heaving (soil movement due to alternate freezing and thawing) can tear and break roots, and with smallish items, such as rock garden plants and perennials, this may cause so much damage that serious harm or death results. However, precautions can be taken to minimize this danger. On the negative side, one other factor must be taken into account. Experience has proved that a few plants transplant better in spring (preferably late spring) than in fall. These include some subjects with more or less fleshy roots, such as magnolias and beeches. If you have any doubts about a particular plant, check with an experienced gardener.
In fall, use only slowly available fertilizers such as coarse bonemeal, pulverized sheep manure or prepared mixtures that have much of their nitrogen content in organic form. The details of preparing the soil depend upon the particular plants to be set out. In any case, see that the preparation is thorough and, if possible, have it completed well in advance of planting. This gives the earth time to settle somewhat and makes firm planting at the right depth easier. Roses require a little different kind of winter protection. After the top inch of earth has frozen, bill the soil high around the bases of the stems to protect the lower buds, and fill the hollows between the hills with loose manure or some other mulch material.
Let’s take a look now at the best fall planting times for the different plant types. Evergreens should go in first. These have to support a crop of leaves all winter and so need plenty of time to develop ample roots. Deciduous trees and shrubs, excepting those few kinds that move better in spring, may be safely planted considerably later than evergreens. Put them in any time between the start of natural leaf fall and the first hard ground freeze.
Roses should be planted as soon as obtainable, and planting may continue until frost makes it impracticable. Perennials and biennials should be planted as soon as possible after the first killing frost to enable them to root well before the soil freezes.