in fall-invest in the garden

February 6, 2024

Plant and Prepare For The Future

Fall in the garden is the perfect opportunity to contemplate the direction the garden is taking and to invest wisely in its future. Having devoted a lot of time to the investment world, I notice a lot of useful parallels in the garden. The time, energy, money, and thought we spend now in the garden and its perennial plantings will pay off over many years.

“Invest-to make use of for future benefit”


Spring is busy and filled with new wonders. It is an active time to do and to marvel. Use the slower pace and extra time we have in the fall to build the garden’s future.

The Gardening industry emphasizes spring because we react with enthusiasm to the season. If you appreciate the benefits of gardening, expand the season. Enjoy those benefits as long as possible, not just in the few predictable weeks of spring!

Why Plant Perennials In Fall?

The Featured Image was chosen to set the fall stage as I write this in late July. Here, in South Florida, where we garden, there is not much fall.

The image is a true fall scene in a four-season climate. This remarkable natural scene is a hillside in front of Krasna Horka Castle, near Roznava in the eastern end of Slovakia. Travel adventures right now are a distant memory, here is one worth remembering. The castle was first opened in 1318 and was famous as one of Slovakia’s few fully preserved castles. Sadly, in 2012 it suffered a devastating fire (due to a single carelessly discarded cigarette, it is believed.) Considerable restoration is ongoing, and it is hoped that it will reopen in 2021.

In spring, our local retail garden center’s are full. There is an exciting hum in the air, the carts are overflowing, the checkout lines, long and the cars are packed with both mulch and optimism. That is all good. But consider the advantages of the fall garden.

Advantages of The Fall Garden

  • In the fall-the the mature garden is visible. Look around, what worked well this year, where are the gaps? Would we like to expand, are we happy with the form of the garden, the colors, the seasonality? It is the perfect time to plan our next steps.
  • The soil is warmer than in spring and the weather more consistent. The roots of the new plants have the perfect opportunity to entwine with the soil, reach out, and develop.
  • Less water is lost in the cooler weather. There is little waste when heat or wind is not causing rapid evaporation.
  • Weeds are under control and bugs become less of a problem in cooler weather
  • We can coordinate the perennial plants with the bulbs we plant for early spring
  • There is more time to plant carefully in fall
  • Fall planted perennials appear more mature in spring, they bloom sooner, more vigorously, edibles are useable far earlier
  • Prices of plants are often far lower, the bargain offers begin in late July, I see them right now

Observe The Garden What To Look For

In late summer, examine the garden visualize the improvements that it needs.

  • Where is height needed?
  • What spots need better ground cover?
  • Are seasonal blooms needed?
  • Select what additions you want to make and order early
  • Ensure that you will be planting six weeks before a hard freeze

Shopping For Fall Plants

The growers all offer products in the seasons appropriate to plant them and provide shipping schedules for each season. Search by name for the plants you want and make your selections. The fall shipping schedules will look somewhat like this.

Shipping By Hardiness Zone

zones 2-4- ship early September

zones 5-6-ship mid to late September

zones 7-13- ship late September

In some plants, the schedule slips a few weeks, but this is the general procedure. Note also that as I write this in mid-August I check each plant and find a few sold-out notices. It is best not to wait too long if you have made your decision.

I appreciate those vendors who try to ship early in the week whenever possible. This tends to avoid the problem of your plants stuck in transit over a weekend. Track your shipment!

How To Plant In Fall

Start with four basic principles when making a planting plan.

  1. Plant on Time
  2. Water well as you plant
  3. Do not fertilize in fall
  4. Mulch

Plant On Time

The early half of fall is delightful garden time, but the cold will come. Ensure that your plants are in the ground six weeks before your ground is frozen. In most areas, plant until mid-November.

A September Garden At St Michael’s Chapel, St Elizabeth’s Cathedral in Kosice, Slovakia

A September Garden

This website is about my favorite vices, “Gardens and Travel,” however, just now, I am gardening in South Florida in late July, during COVID 19, and trying to create a picture of a changing season. I feel justified in taking a little poetic license and slipping in some wanderlust as a September scene.

This lovely early fall garden is at the St. Michaels Chapel of Slovakia’s largest Cathedral, St Elizabeth’s in Kosice. This is a place inhabited since the late Paleolithic era. Kosice is a place for history, interesting day trips, and Central European charm. This is also one of Europe’s most eastern Cathedrals. We are enjoying the homely feel of a typical municipal garden.

This is part of the fun of both gardening and traveling; something exotic, something familiar!

How do I find Frost Dates?

My average first frost dates. This is a tool from the National Gardening Association; you enter your zip code for the average dates for your area. I garden in a very warm climate, but it does tell me that my first frost date is January 9, and I have a 10% chance of reaching a low of 28!

This is only a disappointment if I want to swim, but in other climates, this information is priceless. Try it for your garden.

My USDA Hardiness Zone

Here is My USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. This is the standard by which a gardener will know which plants are likely to thrive in their garden. Again, just enter your zip code. I am in zone 10, so I want to select plants that grow in my garden. The hardiness zones are found on the labels on the plant containers you buy and on seller’s websites and other sources.

Hardiness zone information tells me that it is not enough that we love peonies. They are rated for zones 3-8 (in some cases 9). Peonies need 6+ weeks of temperatures below 40! Our garden cannot provide that!

Keep being aware, though. In our early days as Florida gardeners, we would never have considered hostas. Now, however, we have a green and white variegated hosta in a shady spot! It is one of a few new varieties bred for hot climates.

Use Your Hardiness Zone To Help With Planting Decisions

  • Zone 3-5 plant early in the fall
  • Zone 6-7 plant by the end of September to ensure the plants are in the ground 6 weeks before the first fall frost
  • Zones 8-11 plant essentially anytime

What If I Waited Too Long?

Betliar Castle, In November with its Garden “Put To Bed”

Late In Fall

This is November in the gardens of Betliar Castle in Eastern Slovakia. Originally a hunting box, it is now a charming art-filled Manor House located in an English-style park.

November In The Garden And Running Out Of Time

If the season has gotten ahead of you and have plants in those plastic grower pots, just plant them! In the ground is safer than outdoors in the uninsulated pots.

Water Well As You Plant

Water the plants deeply (potted, wrapped, or bare root) before planting, allow the plant roots time to fully draw up the water.

Do Not Fertilize

In fall, the plants are beginning their dormant period. During the last growing weeks, we require the plants to focus entirely on extending the root system deeper into the soil. Avoid encouraging any new growth that will remain tender into the cold period.

Mulch Well

Initially, the new plants can benefit from the sun; however, when the night temperatures approach 32 degrees, apply mulch as protection from cold. Use leaf litter, straw, or other organic material. Do not permit the mulch to touch the plant stem, but make sure to mulch to the end of the drip line.

The Steps In Planting

  1. Amend the soil with organic material, remove any weeds or debris, particularly anything from damaged plant material.
  2. Pick a suitable day if you can. The best day to plant is cool, cloudy, and a day or two after a light rain. The next best? The day you need to plant!
  3. Prepare first. The night before planting, place the pots in their desired locations. Is this where they should be? Water the plants deeply and water the garden area where they will go.
  4. Dig a wide hole (two times the size of the pot) and deep enough that the plant stays at the height of the ground when planted. Do not dig deeply, or add additional organic material if you have prepared the soil, first.
  5. Carefully remove the plant from its container. If roots encumber the holes in the pot you can cut them. Squeeze the container to remove the plant without damage.
  6. Place your plant in the hole, carefully and spread the roots to make it as easy as possible for them to enter the soil
  7. Replace a small amount of soil around the plant and add water. Continue this process as you fill the hole. Complete the process with more water. Use a straight edge to ensure the top of the plant is equal to the top of the soil. Do not allow it to sink below the soil.
  8. Add mulch when the days begin to become cold. The plants should be mulched by the time the nighttime temperature reaches 32 degrees. During the early warm days, the plant will benefit from the sun warming the soil.

Protection From Frost Heaves

Frost heaves occur when a freeze and thaw cycle occurs in the fall. This can result in compacted soil which does not allow adequate airflow or drainage—cracks in the soil result, which exposes the new roots to cold. Mulch is the best protection from this damaging cycle. You can also add evergreen boughs over new planting areas.

What Are Good Plants For Fall

  1. Bulbs that bloom in the spring- require a cold period in order to bloom. These will offer a wide variety of color, size, and bloom times. This will allow you to extend your spring bloom period.
  2. Spring and summer blooming perennials. This is also time to divide and replant those which have been in the ground 3 or more years.
  3. Shrubs and trees-This is a perfect time to plant. Water until your first freeze
  4. Violas and Pansies-these will overwinter as far north as zone 4. They will provide all winter blooms in zones 8-10 and bloom through light snowfalls in zones 7-4.

What Would I Not Plant In Fall

In cases where the climate is extremely harsh and/or the plant very cold-sensitive, wait to plant until spring even if you lose the first season of blooms.

Very Delicate Plants

If your climate can overwinter citrus, you still might like to wait because of its extreme cold sensitivity. Planting in spring will provide more warm months to become acclimated.

Evergreen Plants-plants lose water in winter. In deciduous plants, this is not an issue. In evergreens that hold their needles all winter, this can lead to dropped and dry needles in spring. Waiting till spring can be helpful.

The evergreen plants most affected by cold are the broad-leafed variety. These would include holly, rhododendron, Azalia, and boxwood. Sun and wind cause transpiration where the plant loses water and cannot replace it from the frozen ground.

Dividing And Transplanting In Fall

Just as fall is an ideal time to plant perennials, it is also the perfect time to divide them and make the parent plants more healthy while making new plants for yourself. Perennial plants perform best when divided. The rule of thumb is to divide them about once every three years.

There are exceptions; chrysanthasums are divisible every year. Some environments cause faster or slower growth.

Why do we divide them? As the plants grow they, produce new shoots and new roots around the original plant. The different parts become crowded and competitive. The entire root ball can be bigger, but the individual roots are getting smaller because of crowding.

Signs That It Is Time To Divide Perennials

Signs that a plant is ready to divide include smaller than usual flowers, a bald spot in the middle of the plant, and flopping branches. As a plant becomes overcrowded, its parts need to compete for water and nutrition.

Which Perennials To Divide In Fall

In fall, divide spring and summer blooming perennials. (Divide fall bloomers in spring.) Do this 4 – 6 weeks before a freeze should be anticipated. (The colder your climate, the more important this timing is.) The objective is to divide plants after they have finished blooming and are putting energy into root growth.

Any perennials with fleshy roots are best divided in fall. This would include peonies, oriental poppies, and Siberian iris.

How To Divide Perennials

Pick an ideal day; overcast and cloudy is perfect if you expect such a day early in the fall, water the plants the night before.

  • Use a spade or the fork, and dig up the plant.
  • Carefully lift it out of the ground and remove loose dirt from the roots.
  • Separate the plant into smaller divisions, sometimes this is easiest to do by hand, otherwise cut them with a knife.
  • How big? Each divided section should have three to five healthy stems and roots

Plant the divisions as soon as possible, Plant in holes twice the size of the new plant, water deeply if you are giving some of your divisions as gifts, place them in pots with moist soil.

Perennials To Plant In Fall

What Are Perennial Plants?

What are perennial plants? Perennial plants are those that live more than two years, growing and blooming in warm weather, dying back in the cold, and growing again in spring. They develop far-ranging roots, which allows them easy access to nutrients, long lives, and less work for us. They bloom in profusion, often for long periods and in succession throughout their season.

How To Use The List

This list of perennial plants is designed for convenience. At a glance, you can find plants listed in alphabetical order, with hardiness zone, light requirements, and soil conditions. These are factors impossible or difficult to change, which should make it easy to select only plants useful for your garden.

These are the headings

  • The plant name and important features
  • The hardiness zones in which it will grow
  • The required light conditions
  • Soil conditions

When using the list: ask these questions?

  • Is this a plant I want to grow?
  • Will it live where I garden?
  • Do I have the light conditions the plant requires?
  • Do I have soil that the plant can live in or can I amend my soil to suit the plant (or plant in containers)?

Perennials To Choose From

Plant Name Hardiness ZonesLight Requirements

Soil Requirement

Alliums4-9 varies by varietyfull sun, in warm climates some p.m. shadewell-drained
3-8Full Sun/Part SunLoamy
3-9Part Sun/ShadeLoamy
Balloon Flower
Platycodon grandiflores
3-9Full Sun/Part SunLoamy
Bee Balm
Monarda didyma
3-9Full Sun/Part ShadeEvenly Moist/Rich
Bergenia cordifolia
3-8Sun/Part ShadeWide Soil Range
Bleeding Heart
3-9Part ShadeRich/Moist
Campanula (Bellflower)
Campanula portenschlagiana
4-8Full SunWell Drained, moderate
4-8Full Sun/Part ShadeWell /Drained
Dry, Medium
4-9-vary by varietyFull Sun/Part SunWell Drained Sandy
4-9Full Sun-6+hrs. Wide Range
Dianthus plumarius, superbus ,deltoids
3-9Full Sun/Part SunWell Drained, Rich
Echinacea (Coneflower)
5-8, some to 3Full SunLoamy
Ferns5-10Part Shade/Full Shade
Garden Phlox
Phlox paniculata
4-8SunWell Drained, Moist
Hardy Geranium (Cranesbill)
Geranium bohemicum
5Full Sun/Part SunWell Drained/
Fertile, Moist
6-9Part Shade/Full ShadeRich, Moist
Heuchera (Coral Bells)4-9, some 3&11VariousWell Drained, Moist, Rich
5-8Full SunWell Drained, Average
Peony2-9Full Sun (some shade in warm climatesWell-drained
Salvia5-10Full SunWell Drained
Scabiosa (Pincushion Flower)
Sedum3-10Full Sun/Mostly SunNormal, Clay, Sandy
Viburnum2-9Full Sun/Part Sun/ Some in ShadeWell Drained, Moist

Summary, The Fall Garden

I hope that you can benefit from not putting away the shovel too soon. Fall gardening can give us more months of pleasure in the garden and make spring a time to appreciate and the workload not be hectic.

An important effect of planting in fall is that the plants can concentrate entirely on root growth, and this makes them so much advanced on the next growing season.

Don’t store that shovel just yet!