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Fall Planting

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 7 September 2001

Early fall is a great time to plant perennials, shrubs and trees, grass, and most bulbs. Summer’s heat stresses plants. But with fall’s cooler weather, they perk up just like we do — and have more resilience to tolerate the shock of being moved, with its inevitable damage to the microscopic root-hairs that are the plant’s intake system for water and soil nutrients.

When you plant in the fall, the plant has more time to build a healthy root system, before it must meet the demands on its energy made by growing new leaves and flowering. As a result, you are likely to get more flowers. Roots grow unless the ground is completely frozen. The roots of a mature tree, which reach below frost, can grow all winter. But don’t plant too late; give those roots time to really get established before the ground freezes.

Lawns sown in the fall do better because top-quality grass is perennial, and the coarse annual weed grasses don’t germinate in the fall. So the good grass has a chance to get established and thick enough that in the spring it will shade the weeds seeds from getting enough sun to germinate.

For some reason most people are used to thinking in the fall about planting tulips, daffodils, and all the rest of the spring-flowering bulbs. But we don’t as often think of planting the rest of the garden. As a result, bulbs are less often on sale in the fall (until it’s really rather late to plant) and there are great bargains on everything else. But our lifestyle turns our energy to other pursuits in fall: the kids go back to school, we finish our vacations, and tend to think of the cool weather as time to get back to “real work.”

But I know that the planting of a garden, as well as being hard labor that can put muscles on you just as well as lifting fancy weights, is also valuable work. Can you imagine coming home to a place where astonishing beauty welcomes you? Walking out of your back door and experiencing the feeling some people only get from chocolate or being in love? Do you know what it does to a neighborhood, to have that gift?

It’s easy to get around to planting in spring, but a smart gardener takes advantage of fall planting. Or an inspired one.

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark