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Next Year's Garden Starts This Fall
by Vanessa Gardner Nagel, APLD

For gardeners, fall planting can be as much fun as a child falling into a huge pile of leaves.  Accompanied by Canadian geese honking hello as they wend their way to southern climes, we can allow our imagination to conjure next year’s garden while we lean on our rake during the mild and moist days of autumn.

During our plants' winter nap, we don’t see much happening above ground for many of our plants. Beneath the soil, however, plants are slowly expanding their root systems.  A fall-planted shrub will have an easier time enduring next year’s dry summer days than its spring-planted cousin.

With this in mind, here are a few tips for maximizing your autumnal garden experience:

  • Attend large plant sales, like the fall sale for the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon, because it gathers many vendors into one area on two days, providing a great selection.  Vendors like to hawk the plants that are looking their best in autumn, too.  For buyers, this means that you will have a good idea of what the plant will look like during coming year.  This is not necessarily true when buying a plant in the spring.  Also, because vendors want to reduce their inventory, their prices may be more enticing than earlier in the year.  And if you are especially savvy, you might find a root-bound plant that you could divide and get three plants for the price of one.  At the very least, you should have a plant with a substantial root system to get started.

  • Buy plants, including bulbs, that are knowingly hardy.  Minimally hardy plants are better planted in the spring, when they will have the entire growing season to ready themselves for winter.  If you must buy and plant, be ready to take extra precautions to assure the survival of your warm climate pal. 

  • Use compost or nutrients that support good root growth at planting time, rather than high nitrogen fertilizers which would encourage new top growth that would be susceptible to killing frosts.  Don’t depend on autumn rains for the plant’s first watering.  Give the plant plenty of water after planting.

  • Finally, enjoy those wintry days gazing out the window and sipping hot cocoa, while you look at the plants you selected for winter interest and envision new plant combinations for your spring garden.

Fall PlantingRhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ or Tiger Eyes Sumac makes a dramatic autumn statement.


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