After a steamy summer, autumn's cooler air temperatures are easier on both plants and gardeners. But the soil is still warm enough to allow roots to grow until the ground freezes. Fall showers are generally plentiful, but it's easy to deeply water plants if it doesn't rain at least an inch per week. Pests and disease problems also fade away in the fall. Plus, the late season is usually bargain time at garden centers that are trying to sell the last of their inventory before winter. Look for deals on spring-blooming bulbs, perennials, trees, and shrubs, which can all be planted in the fall, up until your area gets hit with a hard frost. And don't forget your lawn—cool-season turfgrass can be seeded this time of year, too. Here are a few examples of each of these plant types to inspire new plantings in your garden.
1. Spring Bulbs
All spring-blooming bulbs such as tulips and hyacinths need a period of cold to bloom, which is why they need to be planted in fall even though we won't be able to enjoy them until the following spring. Many bulbs come in a wide assortment of varieties, so you can choose colors, heights, and bloom times that work best in your garden. If deer or other critters frequent your yard, plant bulbs they don't like to nibble, such as daffodils, grape hyacinths, and alliums.
2. Pansies and Violas
Fall is the best time to plant pansies and their smaller cousins violas because the still-warm soil temperatures give their roots time to grow enough to survive the winter. Plus, by planting them in fall, you'll get two seasons of enjoyment out of these cool-season favorites because they will often start blooming again when weather warms up in spring. If you live where the ground freezes, look for more cold hardy varieties such as Cool Wave. To help them overwinter, add a thick layer of mulch around them once your soil is frozen—this insulates them from alternate freezing and thawing cycles that can heave these small plants out of the ground.
Fall is the best time to establish new turfgrass and do most lawn chores. If you live in the North, cool-season grasses such as bluegrass, fescue, and ryegrass should be fertilized in early September and again in late October or early November to give them a boost for earlier spring green-up. In the South, avoid fertilizing dormant warm-season grasses unless they have been overseeded with winter ryegrass.
4. Trees and Shrubs
Fall is an ideal time to plant trees and shrubs. The weather is cool but the soil is still warm enough for root development. Before digging, check with your local utility companies to locate any underground lines. Always plant trees and shrubs at their natural soil lines. Keep newly planted trees or shrubs well watered until the ground freezes so they get a good start before going into full dormancy during winter.
Fall is an ideal time for adding to your collection of perennials. You can also divide and replant existing perennials such as hostas and astilbe in your garden. Keep any fall-planted perennials well watered until the ground freezes to encourage them to grow new, healthy roots before they go dormant for the winter. Protect them from frost heaving with a blanket of shredded leaves or other mulch, layered about 3 inches thick around them. When spring rolls around, they'll be ready to fill out your garden beds with fresh foliage.