Fall Is Great Time for Planting
October 3, 2014
Photo by David W. Marshall: Fall is a great time for planting shrubs and trees as well as winter annuals such as these pansies and diascia flowers.
By David Marshall
Since I retired as an Extension Agent and have been doing landscape consultations, I have been impressed by the seasonal cycles of interest of homeowners when it comes to gardening. It seems that everyone has an interest in spring. The garden centers and landscapers get slammed with customers. But as soon as the summer heat arrives, the number of customers drops off dramatically. Considering North Florida’s summer weather, this is understandable. But the part that surprises me is that interest doesn’t pick up to the same level again in the fall, though fall is one of our best seasons for gardening and landscape projects.
Most of the shrubs, trees, and groundcovers that we use in our area will certainly go through the North Florida winter just fine if planted in the fall. In fact, just as for us humans, our summers are much more stressful for most plants than are our winters are. Plant an azalea, for example, in the fall and it has fall, winter, and spring to grow roots before facing the hot Tallahassee summer. Fall is a great time to take on landscape and planting projects.
There are just a couple of things to remember, though, before you start planting in the fall. First, the plants will need water. Even though it is cooler in fall and winter and perhaps plants need less water, they still need water. The root ball of new plants must not dry out excessively. So make sure you are either prepared to hand-water or that you have a simple micro-irrigation system set up that will supply water to the root balls. Even if you have an underground sprinkler system that comes on a couple of times a week, that usually won’t keep new plants watered sufficiently. You can buy inexpensive, do-it-yourself micro-irrigation systems in most garden centers.
Second, in terms of flowering annuals, make sure that you plant cool-season annuals for the cooler weather ahead. Nemesia, diascia, dianthus, erysimum, snapdragons, petunias, verbena, flowering cabbage, dusty miller, pansies, violas, and sweet alyssum are good choices. These should hold up well into spring under normal conditions. All these flowers need sun for most of the day. If you don’t have sunny spots in the garden, most of these do well in containers too.
Besides the advantage of the milder weather for fall plantings, if you need help with planting or design, the nurseries and landscape companies are much less busy than in the spring. So you can get work done much sooner and probably get more personal attention. It’s the “zig when they zag” approach. You have work done in the fall when everyone else is getting theirs done in the spring.
Don’t forget that fall is a good time to plant cool-season vegetables and herbs, too. For example, cilantro can be grown now to spice up many of your dishes in the kitchen. Vegetables to plant now include beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collards, kohlrabi, mustard, bulbing onions, radishes, spinach, strawberries and turnips.
David W. Marshall, landscape consultant with Esposito Garden Center, is author of the books, Design & Care of Landscapes & Gardens in the South, Volumes 1 and 2, and is Extension Agent Emeritus with University of Florida IFAS Leon County Extension. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov