Cool, damp and stress-free: fall offers perfect conditions for planting.

Fall is a time when many gardeners regroup. By October, most of us have sown the last of the late-season annuals and are babying remaining vegetables with one eye on the thermometer. We’re also thinking ahead to next season. That’s because fall is a great time to plant varieties that need added moisture, heat relief, and the long period of dormancy offered by the winter.

What you can plant in fall depends on where you live and what nearby factors influence your region. Read on to learn about the unique offerings this time of year brings.

To begin, know your growing zone

Growing zones (also known as plant hardiness zones) are a designation given to geographic regions based on average minimum temperatures. The US Department of Agriculture organizes the United States into 13 zones, with most of the Lower 48 falling between zones 3 and 10. Enter your zip code into this map to find out what zone you’re in.

Once you’ve narrowed things down, consider your elevation and rainfall levels to further refine the limitations and benefits of your area. Mountainous locations, along with coastal regions, are the most likely to experience microclimates that may affect their zone limitations. Plants in the following categories will survive in most growing zones after the fall equinox, but knowing your zone can help you pick the best varieties.

1. Garlic

Red Russian garlic
Almost every location in the Lower 48 supports fall plantings of garlic. The goal is to get root growth–but not top growth–before temperatures drop and a hard freeze sets into the soil. For most people, that means planting sometime between mid-September and the beginning of November. Californians can plant garlic as late as February, as long as their bulbs have experienced at least 40 days at or below 40 F.

Planting tips: To plant garlic, amend the soil with finished compost, adding bone meal or rock phosphate to help with bulb formation. Be sure to use certified seed to avoid introducing white rot–a dreaded and persistent disease–into your soil. Use a narrow tool like a Classic Hori Hori to make a deep, narrow hole and deposit your bulbs, pointy end up. Cover with soil and mulch to protect them over the winter.

Related: Fall is the Time to Plant Garlic

2. Spring-blooming bulbs


Image by Hans from Pixabay

Who doesn’t love an early spring display of tulips, crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths? While we commonly associate these flowers with Easter and other springtime holidays, they must go in the ground now. They need a mandatory chilling period, along with time to lay dormant in the soil, gathering nutrients, before they’ll burst out with their spring display.

Planting tips: Planting bulbs is simple as long as the ground is warm enough to work and there’s at least six weeks expected before a hard freeze. If you live in a warmer zone and don’t anticipate 12 to 16 weeks of cold during the dormant season, pop your bulbs in the fridge for that time period before planting. When you’re ready to plant, add some compost and rock phosphate into the hole along with the bulbs. They’ll reward you with a beautiful display as soon as the weather warms.

3. Fruit trees

red apples on tree branch

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

While there might be a better selection of fruit trees in nurseries come springtime, there are often good savings in the fall. If you do have access to fruit trees, fall is a great time to get them in the ground before winter’s chill sets in. This is especially true where trees can establish their roots before the temperatures plummet.

Planting tips: Dig a planting hole 2 to 3 times larger than your root ball and fill halfway with finished compost and soil. Place the tree in the hole and refill, taking care not to damage the roots if planting from a bare root variety. Keep watering your tree until it rains or until the ground freezes hard. This will help the tree’s roots find their way and will help buffer it against the winter ahead. For more information, see our guide about planting fruit trees.

4. Raspberries, blueberries and grapes

Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev on Unsplash

Several fruits do well if planted in fall, particularly in growing zones where they can reach a guaranteed number of chill hours (the number of hours a plant received between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit).

Planting tips: Plant red raspberries in fall as dormant, mature canes with healthy roots. Mulch to protect the soil and the plants, and don’t apply fertilizer until spring. When the weather starts to warm, dress with finished compost or manure. Summer bearing raspberries will take two years to produce their first crop, since berries only form on two-year-old canes.

Blueberries also do well when planted in early fall, preferably before mid October in colder zones. Since there are so many varieties and types available, (including highbush, lowbush, and half high bush) select one common to your area or specifically rated for your zone. Amend your soil to ensure it’s acidic enough (blueberries like a soil pH around 4.5), cover those roots, and mulch to preserve your soil through the winter months.

For grapes, ensure you have six weeks before the first expected frost date. Plant into well-drained loam or sandy loam soil. They’ll also need a trellis and do well growing up the sides of buildings or fences.

5. New lawns

Wildflower Meadows Eco-Lawn seed growing in basket

Eco-Lawn, a drought-tolerant fescue blend, is one low maintenance lawn best planted in fall.

Although spring feels like the time to pay attention to our lawns, planting a new lawn is best done in fall when consistent moisture is readily available and competition from weeds is declining. Seeds, such as the popular Eco-Lawn, establish well in autumn temperatures. They’re also less likely to be disturbed by the frequent foot traffic of spring and summer.

Planting tips: For most growing zones, wait for temperatures of approximately 65 F or 18 C before seeding. Start with healthy soil amended with compost or sow alongside turf starter fertilizer. Californians can plant drought-tolerant grass seed mixes like Eco-Lawn between November and January.

6. Cover crops

crimson clover cover crop

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

Since we’re fans of preserving soil integrity, cover crops are a go-to come fall. Not only do they add nutrients to the soil as they grow, mature and break down, their roots also keep soil in place during the rainy season, preventing erosion and compaction.

If you have empty garden beds, sowing a cover crop will do all these things while keeping weeds away. In the springtime, you can simply mow or clip the crop without having to turn it in. It’s that simple.

Planting tips: Broadcast seeds over a raked, prepared bed. Dust with a layer of soil or compost about twice the thickness of your seed. Press gently and water well.

Related: Plant a Fall Cover Crop to Improve Your Garden Soil

7. Cool season annuals

Annual vegetables

If you live in zones 9 or 10, you’re one of those lucky people who can still plant annual vegetables in fall. Your latitude will determine which ones, because daylight is all important for plant growth, but in general, the increased moisture and lack of intense heat makes fall a perfect time to establish vegetables that would otherwise struggle to grow in these zones. Brassicas like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, turnips, cabbage and cauliflower do well when started in early fall and into October. Carrots and beets are other popular favorites for fall planting in this area.

Zone 7 and 8 residents can also plant some hardy annuals in early fall, but they will have better prospects inside a greenhouse or cold frame. These structures will help your plants get some roots and leaves established before dormancy sets in. And while they won’t grow during the cold season, they’ll be available for harvesting.

The Farmer’s Almanac has a planting calendar for fall vegetables depending on where you live.

Related: 7 Ways to Extend the Growing Season

Flowers and ornamentals

Add pansies, rudbeckia, asters and coneflower varieties as plants to your fall landscape and watch them bloom until the first hard frost. These perennials will return again in spring, maturing and blooming throughout the season for a long-term display. For more blooms next season, scatter any saved seeds from sunflowers, calendula and cornflowers in select garden areas. Seedlings will sprout as the weather warms, giving you a head start on the season.

Planting tips: Check days to maturity for vegetable seeds, counting back from the first known frost date in your region. Ensure perennial plants receive adequate water until dormancy sets in.

Autumn is here

While autumn may feel like it’s all about the harvest, take some time to envision what new plants you can add to your yard and garden while the weather is right. A variety of other perennial shrubs also benefit from a fall planting, including laurels, viburnums, privets, rhododendrons, camellia, spirea and more. Check with your local nursery for varieties that perform well in your area.

With cooler days and more moisture ahead, autumn provides perfect planting conditions for many favorites. Get plants established ahead of the spring rush–you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor earlier, with less work.

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