Well, when Andy Williams said, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” he was talking about Christmas – and I suppose he has a point. But for landscapers, horticulturists, and home gardeners in the Midwest, fall is the most wonderful time of the year. As a landscaper, I’m often asked when is the best time to plant trees, or shrubs, or just about anything. The answer for me is easy: fall – and here are the reasons why.
Fall Soil Temperatures Are Warm
First, and perhaps most importantly, the soil temperature is warm. Warm soil means plant roots have a favorable environment in which to begin their growth. Contrast this with early (and even mid-spring) soil temperatures which are downright cold and inhospitable. Second, fall brings warm daytime temperatures and cool nighttime temperatures which are perfect for plant growth. And third, fall rains generally come in the form of light, consistent, prolonged showers, as opposed to violent eruptions and heavy downpours that often characterize spring rains.
Active Growing Gives Plants Time to Establish
Additionally, trees, shrubs, and perennials planted in the fall are actively growing, giving them an excellent chance to establish, before slowly going to sleep and storing up energy for the coming spring. Again, contrast this sequence with what happens in the spring to plants – dormant or semi-dormant plants have their roots thrust into cold, soggy soil, and then have little opportunity to prepare for scorching Midwest summer heat. It’s easy to see why fall planting is easier on plants and preferable to most gardeners.
Planting Early in the Fall Is Best
While fall is a great time to plant, there are guidelines to remember. It’s best to plant evergreens and broadleaf evergreens early in the fall so they have time to establish before the onset of winter. Broadleaves like azalea, holly, rhododendron, and laurel can have a difficult time in our dry winters, so it’s best to plant these before late October. Pines and spruce are more adaptable, but it’s best to plant these before soil temperatures are too cold. Late season planting difficulties can be overcome with careful watering, mulching, and the application of anti-desiccants, but early fall planting makes the process much easier.
Nursery Plant Selection May Be Reduced in Fall
The only significant downside to Fall planting is lower plant inventories and reduced selection. There simply may not be as many plants available in the fall to choose from, but most nurseries make a great effort to have excellent supplies of fresh inventory in September. So, take advantage of nature’s gift to gardeners, and improve your landscape this fall!