Embrace Fall Planting in the Coming Weeks
THINGS LIKE COOL WEATHER VEGETABLES, PERENNIALS ALONG WITH TREES, SHRUBS, AND BULBS CAN ALL GO IN THE GROUND NOW
By Doug Oster
September 8, 2022
A soft orange glow streams through the trees outside the garden at the end of the day, peeking through the petals of a pretty pink rose. The angle of the sun has changed and although it’s been a gradual change, there’s one afternoon when the realization sets in, the second part of the season is fading away. The start of what I call the third season is thrilling though, only the anticipation of spring brings more excitement.
Although many gardeners feel like kicking back, do yourself a favor and embrace fall planting. Things like cool weather vegetables, perennials along with trees, shrubs and bulbs can all go in the ground now. As garden centers are bringing in new stock, they are discounting the plants that have been on the shelves for most of the summer. There are great deals on perennials and since they are coming from a good nursery, they have been taken care of with proper watering and fertilizing. It’s a game of patience with planting perennials, they come back year after year, often growing bigger each season.
Last year I found a sweet autumn clematis, which needed some TLC — it was only a few dollars. The planting hole was dug and then filled with compost and as soon as the clematis was in place, it was watered immediately and then a thick layer of mulch was added. The plant is filled with flowers now and the vines are expected to cover the arbor it’s planted next to over the next few years. That’s part of being patient, enjoying the plant as it grows through the years.
As the nights get cooler, it’s the perfect time to plant trees and shrubs, too. It’s imperative though that the right plant goes in the right place. Always know the mature width and height of the plant. Read the plant tag and trust what it says, when it says a tree will be 20 feet tall and wide, that’s what’s going to happen. I see daily examples of planting mistakes made 10 or 20 years ago, which can only be rectified by removing the plant or butchering it into something embarrassingly unrecognizable. The other big mistake gardeners make is planting a tree too deep. Learn to recognize something called the root flare of a tree. It’s the area where the trunk meets the ground — it needs to be above grade when planted. Stewartia is one of my favorite trees, which doesn’t get planted as much as it should. It has pretty, peony-like flowers in June, a nice shape, good fall color, and a pretty, exfoliating bark.
Shrubs also enjoy being planted in the fall using the same details for trees. Look for plants, which are more than one trick ponies. Breeders have added variegation to the foliage of many shrubs, which gives them a longer season of interest. One of my favorites is ‘My Monet’ weigela. It sports green and white foliage from April through October and beautiful pink flowers in mid-May. By choosing the right plants, the vegetable harvest can continue well into winter and beyond. Things like bunching onions, Swiss chard, lettuce, radishes, kale, collards, mustard greens, mizuna, other greens, and much more can be planted right now. Some can be sown directly in the ground, for others, the plants are available at local nurseries. These varieties don’t care about frost, they can grow uncovered well into November.
In the coming weeks, I’ll detail many ways to give the plants enough protection from winter temperatures to harvest many of the varieties through the season and into next spring. It is also the start of bulb planting season. This is the tool I use for planting — the Power Planter Bulb Auger is made to last and no one is paying me to say that. It’s basically a giant drill bit used to drill planting holes. It makes bulb planting fun and even though there’s no instant gratification, spring is so much better with these ephemeral flowers.
The most popular four bulbs are tulips, daffodils, crocus and hyacinths, but there are many other, lesser known types which can be planted too. Take a look at alliums, glory of snow, snowdrops, corydalis, and many others. The smaller bulbs don’t need to be planted as deep, so the job is pretty easy.
It’s fun to plant as the days get cooler, and things put in the garden now can make next season even more wonderful.
The Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, East End Food Co-op, PASA Sustainable Agriculture, and Grow Pittsburgh are hosting the 6th annual Pittsburgh Urban Farm Tour on September 17, 2022. This self-guided tour will highlight 12 urban farms and gardens. You can purchase tickets and find more info here.