Now’s the ideal time to get a head-start on next year. When done properly, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful colors now and a little extra scenery during those cold winter months.
When we think of fall, it’s easy to think of those outdoor essentials, like raking the leaves and hosting bonfires. And what about the rest of your landscape?
While it might seem as though the cooler weather means gardening season is over, this is a prime season. The cooler weather, coupled with some additional rainfall, makes this an ideal time for planting next year’s garden. The best part? If you get those plants in the ground now, you’re in for a colorful spring.
Bringing the Shade
It’s a fall tradition for many families: going to the apple orchard and picking fresh fruit. But what if that apple orchard was right in your own backyard?
Sean Ducey, plant manager at Whispering Hills Garden & Landscape Center, in Cary, is seeing more home gardeners looking for fruit trees they can grow on their own. Now is the perfect time to get it in the ground.
“Autumn is a fantastic season for apple trees, as they look great and are ripe for the picking,” Ducey says.
“Varieties like Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Red Delicious and other varieties thrive in northern Illinois and dovery well in a home landscape.”
Apples aren’t the only sort of fruit-bearing tree with a big payoff. The Kwanzan Cherry is a showy specimen that bears luscious fruit and looks attractive in any season.
“During the spring, a Kwanzan Cherry will sprout beautiful pink flowers contrasted by deep green leaves,” Ducey says. “During autumn, Kwanzans will transform into a striking orange-red, making it almost unrecognizable from months before.”
In general, this time of year is ideal for planting any kind of tree, whether it’s fruit-bearing, deciduous or evergreen. Cooler temperatures and some additional rainfall help the tree to start setting roots in advance of the winter hibernation. Then, spring rains will fuel a burst of new growth.
“Summers can be a scorcher, and as such, soil becomes dry,” Ducey says. “When temperatures begin to fall, take that as a signal to plant the trees that you’ve been wanting in your yard. More frequent fall rain will help your large trees take root and ensure that they’ll be salient for seasons to come.”
A Splash of Color During Winter
Like trees, shrubs do well when transplanted this time of year. They’ll add character and charm after other plants have lost their leaves, and they continue to show off during the winter months.
“Shrubs that hold their leaves and foliage over the winter are a great addition to mix into a landscape, as they’ll show signs of life in the dead of winter,” Ducey says.
Hollies, dogwoods, yews and boxwoods show beautifully in warmer weather and bear an array of colors late this season.
“The deep, red branches of a dogwood shrub will last through the winter, and show a beautiful display during the cold months,” Ducey says.
Shrubs aren’t the only way to add some afterseason color. Ornamental grasses look beautiful in summer and bring many benefits into the winter.
Unlike the grass that’s spread across your backyard, ornamental varieties have a lot of flashiness. Their leaves, stems and seed pods come in many shapes, sizes and colors. Ornamental grasses look great in a summer landscape, and if you leave them alone in the fall they’ll provide plenty of interest through winter.
“Colors and flowers are an initial thought when choosing plant life, but if you consider how a plant will appear during the winter months, you can create texture and contrast within a snowy garden, while also providing shelter for wildlife to keep you company during the cold,” Ducey says.
Along those lines, there are ornamental vegetable plants that bear plenty of color this time of year. Ornamental kale and peppers are big sellers, says Ducey. Be careful, though: Unlike their better-known cousins, these plants are bred for their color and foliage, not their fruit. So, most ornamental types are not edible.
And who can forget that classic fall flower, the chrysanthemum? Mums truly come alive in the fall season and are a staple in many a home landscape. Plant them now for amazing fall colors, and keep them out for a little extra color in winter.
Plant With Care
No matter what you plant when the weather cools down, the fun can extend well into late November, says Barb Kindinger, a landscape designer who’s been with Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery and Garden Center, in Crystal Lake, since 1980.
“This is an easy time of year to install plants because watering demands are less,” she says.
Early in the season, particularly early October, is a great time to divide perennial plants like peonies, daylilies and hostas. Dividing those plants now prepares them for a successful spring and summer, while also allowing the roots to take hold before the plant goes dormant for winter.
“Perennials grow around themselves, and they need to be spilt up and moved every so often,” Kindinger says.
Whether you’re setting new plants or tending to existing plants, this is a good time of year to add mulch to the garden, she says. In addition to creating a neat and tidy look, it also acts as an insulator against winter’s chill. Think of it like an extra blanket to help your plants through the harshest winter temperatures.
That mulch also has another advantage, one that’s easy to forget about. Our harsh winter temperatures, combined with moisture in the soil, can cause pressure in the soil and result in what’s called heaving. This effect exposes plant roots to danger.
“Soil temperatures are warm during the day, causing the plants and soil to rise, and when it gets cold again, the plants stay up and the soil goes back down,” says Kindinger. “Mulching evens out this temperature change and helps prevent the heaving.”
Colder temperatures also signal that it’s time for the planters to head into storage. If there’s something in a container that you’d like to save for the winter, now’s the time to make that adjustment to the indoors.
Kindinger suggests using a bit of insecticide here, just to ensure no unwanted pests come inside with the plant.“Once they’re inside, these plants need a space with plenty of sun and a limited exposure to heat vents,” she adds.
Just because summer is behind us, it doesn’t mean the garden is totally done for the year. Now is a busy season with lots of opportunity to jump-start next year’s landscape.
“Spring and summer may be what you think of when it comes to colorful plants and flowers, but if you plan ahead, you can create a landscape that’ll show beautifully throughout the year,” Ducey says. “Autumn is a wonderful time to take stock of your yard and plan ahead for the next year.”