What to Plant This Fall

Grab your trowel because fall is the perfect time to plant. From veggies to spring bulbs, discover when and what you can safely plant in autumn.

August 27, 2020

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Radishes

Cool-season veggies thrive in autumn’s chill, yielding a second round of homegrown goodness. Radishes are a great candidate for a fall crop because they're ready for picking in just under a month. Edible green tops withstand early frosts, and roots are safe from frosty mornings since they’re snuggled in soil. ‘Garden Party’ radish seed mix produces a rainbow of flavorful roots with crunchy white flesh. Other good candidates for an autumn veggie patch? Try peas, kohlrabi, rutabaga, bunching onions or carrots to keep your garden growing well into fall, even in northern regions.

Discover More: 15 Vegetables You Can Plant Now for Fall Harvest

Bleeding Heart

Fall’s cool, rainy weather provides ideal conditions for tucking perennials into the landscape. You can often find BOGO deals on perennials as garden centers try to winnow the number of plants they have to overwinter. One of the best bargains you’ll find at this point in the year is dormant spring perennials. The list includes things like bleeding heart (this red one is Valentine), Virginia bluebells or Oriental poppy. When sold in fall, these plants look like a pot of dirt with maybe a few dead stems. The roots are alive and will sprout and flower in spring, but that dead-looking plant means you can usually get them for a steal.

Learn More: How to Grow Bleeding Heart

Hydrangeas

Think spring as you plan your autumn planting. Plants that are typically sold in flower in spring can often be found at a discount in fall. Hydrangeas fit that category. This hydrangea is Endless Summer, which blooms on new and old stems. This hydrangea lets northern gardeners enjoy the lush beauty that’s typical hydrangea fare in southern zones. Hardy in Zones 4-9, Endless Summer grows 3 to 5 feet tall and wide and comes in several colors, including raspberry red, white, purple and pink.

Learn More: How to Plant, Grow and Care for Hydrangeas

Winterberry

Increase the winter interest in your landscape by adding holly shrubs. Choose a traditional evergreen type or one like winterberry, which loses its leaves to reveal jolly berried branches. Winterberry is a native plant that’s a wildlife magnet, luring birds seeking a beakful of berries in the winter. It’s a great plant to grow if you like to fill containers with mixed evergreens for winter displays. Like all hollies, winterberry holly does require a male pollinator to produce berries. Male hollies produce small inconspicuous flowers required for pollinating a female holly but do not produce berries. Seen here is Berry Poppins, a smaller variety that grows 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 3-9.

Learn More: In the Weeds: Winterberry Holly

Dwarf Iris

Fall is the time to plant spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils. This year devote some of your garden space to a chorus of small performers, such as dwarf iris shown here (Iris reticulata), windflower (Anemone blanda) or Siberian squill (Scilla siberica). These spring bloomers grow no taller than 6 inches but deliver a big color show that slowly increases over time as bulbs multiply and spread. Use them in beds near walkways and entries — locations where you won’t miss the miniature display. If you can’t find these beauties at your favorite garden center, search online for companies that specialize in bulbs.

Learn More: Iris Flower: Varieties to Grow and How to Care for Them

Sweet Alyssum

Sweet alyssum is a cool-season favorite for flowers and fragrance. Seen here is a newer variety, Clear Crystal, which has larger plants, bigger blossoms and outstanding fragrance. Plants tolerate heat and shrug at early frosts, surviving when temps tumble in the mid-20s. Count on this old-fashioned annual to provide steady color through fall and winter in the warmest zones. In colder regions, it makes a terrific container plant that can spruce up your outdoor living areas until winter arrives. Use it as a groundcover in planting beds or in containers and hanging baskets.

Learn More: Winter Annuals

Butterfly Weed

Turning a corner of your yard into a butterfly garden is as easy as planting butterfly weed (Asclepias). As the name suggests, this native plant beckons butterflies by the dozens. Bright, nectar-rich flowers fuel monarch butterflies on their long autumn migration. Butterfly weed is in the milkweed plant family, which is the primary food for monarch butterfly caterpillars. Plant a patch of it this fall, and you’ll be rewarded with fluttering wings next year. Remove bloom stems after the first round of blossoms fades to encourage more flowers to form. Perennial butterfly weed is hardy in Zones 3-9.

Learn More: How to Create a Butterfly Garden

Arugula

If you can’t get enough of Italian arugula’s peppery personality, take time to sow seeds of this spicy green in early fall. Seedlings should appear within 2 weeks, and in just a short time, you’ll be picking leaves for your salad bowl or sandwich. Arugula is just one of many frost-tolerant greens that thrive in autumn’s cool air. Other great choices include leaf lettuces (look for winter-tolerant types for longest harvest), collard or mustard greens, bok choy and spinach.

Discover More: 9 Fall and Winter Greens to Grow Other Than Kale

Apple Trees

One of the best autumn bargains at places that sell plants are fruit trees. You can often get trees for half price or less as plant sellers try to reduce inventory. Choose classic apple varieties, like ‘Granny Smith,’ if your family loves apple pies and dumplings. Or maybe you want a fresh eating apple, like ‘Gala’ or ‘Liberty.’ Focus on dwarf trees and disease-resistant varieties for the easiest maintenance. You’ll get the best pollination if you have more than one tree in your home orchard (or if a neighbor has an apple tree). You can plant apple trees until roughly six weeks before the ground freezes in your region, but the earlier in fall you plant, the greater your chances of success.

Learn More: How Far Apart Do You Plant Apple Trees?

Fragrant Viburnum

Fill your spring with a spicy-sweet floral perfume by adding Judd viburnum (Viburnum x juddii) to your fall plant shopping list. Pink buds open to reveal snow-white blooms on this heirloom shrub, which flowers in early spring. Blossoms release a captivating fragrance that makes it a perfect bush to tuck near a door or patio — somewhere you’ll be sure to encounter the scent. Judd viburnum has a dense growth habit that makes it an ideal choice for a hedge. Flowers fade to form red berry-like fruits in summer, while leaves shift to purple-burgundy in fall. It’s a great shrub for year-round interest. Aim to get it planted in early fall for best success, and look forward to those perfumed blooms in spring.

Learn More: How to Grow Viburnum

Liriope

Take advantage of autumn’s cooler temperatures to get groundcovers into place, including tough-as-nails liriope. This evergreen perennial offers many sizes and leaf colors (green, black, variegated). All of them deliver strong performance in a low-maintenance package. This variety is ‘Big Blue.’ It grows in full sun to full shade and isn’t picky about soil. Deer and rabbits tend to leave it alone, and a quick clip or mow in early spring before new growth appears is all that’s needed to keep it looking fresh. Purple flower spikes appear in late summer. Plant it from early fall to roughly six weeks before soil freezes in your zone. ‘Big Blue’ is hardy in Zones 5-10.

Learn More: How to Grow Liriope

Spring Bulbs

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°F range. This usually happens when crickets stop chirping.

Discover More: Spring Bulbs to Plant This Fall

‘Casablanca’ Oriental Lily

Think beyond the coolness of fall to summer heat, instead. Get busy planting summer-blooming bulbs in the fall. 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.

Learn More: After-Care for Lilies

Pansies

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, plant pansies closer for an eye-catching display.

Learn More: Growing Tips and Planting Ideas for Fall Pansies

Flowering Kale

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.

Learn More: Garden to Table: Kale

Garden Mums

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.

Learn More: Mums 101: When To Plant and How To Grow Chrysanthemums

‘Coral Charm’ Peony

Fall is the best time to plant peonies, and specialist growers ship bare root 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.

Learn More: Peonies 101: How to Transplant, Grow and Divide Peonies

‘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.

Learn More: Ornamental Grasses for Every Situation

‘White’ Little Snow Pea

Cool weather is perfect for growing sweet snow peas. Even seedlings of these productive plants tolerate light frosts. For the best fall harvest, sow seeds eight to ten weeks before your area’s average first frost date. Provide supports for vines to climb and to make picking easier.

Learn More: How to Grow Peas

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 butterhead.

Learn More: Cool-Weather Greens

‘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 the 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.

Learn More: Sweet Peas

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 the 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.

Discover More: 18 Valuable Vines to Plant in Your Garden

Garlic

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 the soil in time to let roots start growing but not so early that tops sprout through the soil. Aim for about four to six weeks prior to the ground freezing. After planting, add a thick layer of straw to insulate the soil and promote worm activity and further root growth.

Learn More: Planting Garlic: The 411

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.

Learn More: Branching Out: A Guide to Conifers

‘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.

Learn More: How to Grow Dianthus Flowers

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