The benefits of autumn planting.

All things green.
Sept. 22 2008 6:45 AM

"Autumn Is a Second Spring"

The advantages of planting a garden in the fall.

Fall gardening. Click image to expand.
Fall gardening

The landscape around us is obviously winding down as the days grow colder and the nights get longer. Mid-to-late fall sees most of the plant world going from mellow to muted to moribund. But, contrary though it seems, this is the best time of the year to plant new things and to work in the garden.

The reason is simply fall weather, which, up until the ground freezes, is kind to human beings as well as to newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennial plants.

Advertisement

In autumn, there are many more good days to be outside than there are in spring. Serious gardeners love November; they're happy working up a sweat inside their hoodies and gloves when everyone else is starting to huddle indoors. The season fits the typical gardener's temperament—moody, melancholy, prepared for doom, and happily surprised when something does well. (This was typical among my gardener colleagues at the New York City Parks Department. But that may have just been a result of the city stressors.)

At first thought, spring, with its explosion of buds and shoots and sprouts seems like the best time to put new plants in the ground. But spring in much of North America has quite a small window for planting—between the last frost and the onset of hot weather. Some of the days in that window will be rainy, making the soil muddy and hard to work with a lot of the time. The soil takes a while to warm up from a winter's worth of cold; a new plant's roots grow slowly in chilled earth.

In fall, the soil still holds summer's warmth, which encourages root growth up until the ground freezes. Fall planting gets perennials, shrubs, and trees off to a faster start the following spring. In mild-winter parts of the country, fall is even more emphatically the superior season for planting because roots can keep growing all winter.

Plants shift their objectives when the sun wanes and the temperatures go down. They stop the spring and summer work of making leaves, shoots, flowers, berries, and fruit. All their energy goes into establishing roots.

Trees, shrubs, and perennials put into the ground in fall don't have to deal with heat and drought early in their young lives. By late next spring, when things begin to heat up, the plant's roots will be up to the job of absorbing and circulating nutrients and water. The class of October 2008, in other words, will be better equipped next summer than their brethren freshly planted in April 2009.

If these climate factors aren't enough, consider that fall planting can save you money. Many nurseries mark their perennials and shrubs 20 percent off in the fall. They'd like to unload plants so they don't have to water them through the winter.

A couple of cautionary notes: When you walk the garden center aisles, the perennials may look sad. Remember that their life force is in the roots and crown—the place where the base of the leaves meets the roots. This time of year, you don't want a lot of leaves. Look at the picture on the plant label and have hope.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.