What to Plant This Fall
Grab your trowel! Fall is the perfect time to plant. We'll explain what you can safely plant in autumn.
Photo By: Photo courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company
Photo By: Julie Martens Forney
Photo By: Photo courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company
Photo By: Photo by Julie Martens Forney
Fall is the right time to get spring flowering bulbs into the ground. This includes tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinth and giant allium. Less common bulbs, like fritillaria, snowdrops, glory in the snow and grape hyacinth, should also be on your autumn planting list. When is the right time to plant bulbs? When night temperatures are reliably in the 40 to 50 degree range. This usually happens when crickets stop chirping.
‘Casablanca’ Oriental Lily
Think beyond the coolness of fall to summer heat—and get busy planting summer-blooming bulbs. This group includes many lilies, like Oriental, Asiatic, trumpet, Turk’s cap, Orienpet and Martagon. Or try summer hyacinth (Galtonia candicans), which brings a sweet fragrance to the summer garden.
Pansies at Garden Center
Nothing adds color to fall settings like perky pansies. Pick up your favorite hues at a local garden center. Pansies hold their own in containers or planting beds. Look for trailing pansies for urns and hanging baskets. Violas resemble miniature pansies and suit smaller pots. In northern regions, use tighter plant spacing for pansies because growth will be slow in cooler temperatures. If you want a full look in a container, you need to plant pansies closer.
Flowering cabbage and kale bring bright hues to the autumn landscape. These eye-catching plants combine beautifully with sweet alyssum, viola, nemesia and garden mums. Best of all, flowering cabbage and kale stand up to temps as low as 5°F and light snows. Keep an eye out for cabbage looper caterpillars on plants in early autumn. Where frost comes early, buy these plants in the largest size you can find, because cold air won’t fuel rapid growth.
Few plants can turn up the color in fall like garden mums. These autumn favorites ignite a landscape with a blaze of bright petals. In containers, plant garden mums as long as they’re available for sale. If you want garden mums to survive winter in the ground, get them planted as early in the season as possible.
‘Coral Charm’ Peony
Fall is the best time to plant peonies, and specialist growers ship bareroot tubers at this time. The trick with peonies is not to plant them too deeply. Just cover tubers with soil 2 inches deep. If you want to transplant existing peonies, fall is the time to do it.
‘Cheyenne Sky’ Red Switch Grass
Slip ornamental grasses into the ground as early in the season as you can for best winter survival rates. In zones where winter is serious business, you can safely plant ornamental grasses, like this switch grass (Panicum virgatum), up to six weeks before the ground typically freezes in your zone. Remember to water the grass as the season winds down. Don’t clip foliage until early spring, right before new growth appears.
‘White’ Little Snow Pea
Cool weather is perfect for growing sweet snow peas. Even seedlings of these productive plants tolerate light frosts. For best fall harvest, sow seeds 8 to 10 weeks before your area’s average first frost date. Provide supports for vines to climb and to make picking easier.
Lettuce and Pansies
Fill a pot with pretty pansies and tasty leaf lettuces, many of which tolerate light frost. Start sowing lettuce seed in pots or planting beds eight weeks before your area’s average first fall frost. Make staggered sowings two weeks apart. At the four-week mark before frost, sow the most cold tolerant lettuces only: romaine and buttterhead.
‘Gwendoline’ Sweet Pea
In mild winter regions, plant sweet pea seed in fall for spring flowers. This includes places like Texas, Florida, Southern California and much of the South. Remember to sow seeds in a spot where they’ll be protected from afternoon sun. In regions with cold winters, plant seed as soon as you can in spring, about a month prior to the average last frost date.
First Editions Honeybelle Honeysuckle
Get woody nursery stock into the ground, including vines like honeysuckle and trumpet creeper. Plant woody vines until the ground freezes, but planting earlier gives roots time to establish. Cornell University research has shown that root growth stops when soil temperatures dip below 40°F. Monitor soil temperatures online to ensure your plants will have time to root in after planting.
You’ll harvest bigger garlic bulbs when you plant them in fall. Spring-planted garlic produces, but the best harvest follows fall planting. The trick to planting fall garlic is to get bulbs into soil in time to let roots start growing but not so early that tops sprout through soil. Aim for about four to six weeks prior to the ground freezing. After planting, add a thick layer of straw to insulate soil and promote worm activity and further root growth.
Globe Blue Spruce
Plant nursery stock, including needled evergreens, like globe blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Glauca Globosa’). You can safely plant until the ground freezes, although in coldest zones, it’s best to get plants in about four weeks before soil freezes. Make sure you water new plants until the ground freezes and during any winter thaws that occur.
‘Diamond Crimson Picotee’ Dianthus
Annual dianthus splashes color into fall scenery. Use it to fill out container gardens, or tuck it into planting beds for an even longer show. Some annual dianthus overwinters in regions as cold as Zone 5. The trick is to plant it early enough to allow strong root establishment and to site it in well-drained soil. A mulch layer plus subsequent snow cover helps increase the odds it will survive winter.