11 essential fall planting tips

Get it right in your yard this season by using these rules to grow by

At the nursery: Buy the best

Photo by Thomas J. Story

At the nursery: Buy the best

Look for plants that have healthy foliage and no roots creeping out of the nursery container’s bottom drain holes (which means they’re probably rootbound).

 

Small is smarter

Photo by Carmel Zucker

Small is smarter

When you have a choice, buy little plants (in 4-inch nursery pots); they’re less expensive (usually under $5), easier to handle, and will catch up to the larger ones with winter rains. Smaller plants are your best bet if you need multiples to fill out a bed. Gallon-size plants, on the other hand, start around $10 each but can provide instant effects.

 

Check plant tags

Photo by Emily Nathan

Check plant tags

Find out how big the plants will grow, and whether they need sun or shade. Then choose plants that will thrive in the spot you have in mind for them. “Full sun,” for example, means you should plant in a spot that gets at least six hours of sun a day.

 

Consider compost

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Consider compost

Unless you have your own compost pile at home, or perfect garden soil that drains well, buy bagged compost to add to the soil before planting annuals, edibles, and many ornamentals (trees and native plants generally do not need added compost). It’s often sold at nurseries in 1- and 2-cubic-foot bags, and in bulk at garden suppliers. Avoid bagged compost that looks as though it has been piled and stored in hot sun for months—it won’t do much for your soil.

In your garden: Improve your soil

Photo by Thomas J. Story

In your garden: Improve your soil

First, dig up the existing garden soil to a depth of about 10 inches, breaking up clods and removing stones as you go. Then (unless you’re planting trees or natives) spread 4 to 6 inches of compost over the area and dig it in. Rake the soil until it’s level and smooth.

 

Plan to water

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Plan to water

Set up a watering system if you don’t already have one. Drip is ideal for many plants, but soaker hoses or hose-end sprinklers work too.

 

Provide room to grow

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Provide room to grow

Allot plants enough space to reach their full sizes (when in doubt, read the label). It’s tempting to cram them closely together when they are small, but a crowded plant never grows well.

 

Soak 'em

Photo by Carol Von Zumwalt

Soak 'em

Water plants still in their nursery containers with a hose before planting.

 

Plant

Photo by Sunset

Plant

Slide the rootball out of the container and gently loosen the roots on the sides with gloved hands. Using a shovel, dig a planting hole that is roughly twice as wide as the rootball and about as deep. Set the plant in the hole. Trees, shrubs, and perennials should sit about an inch above grade to allow for settling; annuals can be flush with the ground. If your native soil is loam and drains well, backfill the hole with it. If it’s sandy or heavy clay, mix compost into the backfill (except when planting trees or natives).

 

Spread mulch

Photo by Rob D. Brodman

Spread mulch

To prevent weeds and help retain moisture, lay 2 to 3 inches of mulch (such as fine bark) over the soil around plants. Avoid piling it against trunks, crowns, or stems, as that can cause rot.

Nurture new growers

Photo by E. Spencer Toy

Nurture new growers

All young ornamentals—even natives and drought-tolerant choices—need deep watering right after planting. Irrigate them deeply and thoroughly with the hose, even if you plan to let drip irrigation take over later. Give them regular water through the winter if rains are slight, and then beyond until they reach maturity at a year or two.

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