Fall planting tips from the Henrico Master Gardeners

Now that the first frost has occurred and the garden has started dying back, it’s time to start planting!

“Planting now gives trees and shrubs and spring-flowering perennials a jump on the game,” said Henrico Extension Agent Lisa Sanderson.

“Your plants have the opportunity to get established before the heat and stress of late spring and summer.”

Sanderson says that even though the plants are dormant during the winter, roots continue to grow, producing a more robust plant in the spring that is better able to withstand heat and drought.

Fall can also be a good time to purchase new plants.

“Some things aren’t as readily available at other times of the year,” said Sanderson. “If you want balled-and-burlapped trees and shrubs, you’ll find the best selection now. They are dug in the fall when dormant and may not be as readily available for spring planting.”

You might find some good bargains, too. Many retailers don’t want to hold their plants over the winter so they’ll reduce prices. But Sanderson says fall gardeners need to “shop well.”

“You still need to evaluate the health of the plant,” she said. In addition to looking at the plant above the soil, Sanderson said it’s a good idea to look at the roots to make sure the plant is not root-bound, a condition that occurs when the plant has been in the container too long and the soil ball is a solid mass of roots.

“And don’t forget to consider where you want to put the plant,” said Sanderson. “How much sun do you get? How much space do you have, and how large is the plant going to get?”

“Avoid those impulse buys,” she said.

The procedures for planting in fall are basically the same as for spring.

Start with a soil test to determine what soil amendments will be needed in the spring. Soil test kits are available at all Henrico public libraries or the Extension Office in the Human Services Building of the Henrico Government Complex. Henrico citizens are eligible for two free soil samples each year.

Test the planting site for good drainage by digging the hole for your plant and filling it with water. If it doesn’t drain within 24 hours, you’ll need to install a raised bed or find another location.

After planting, monitor your garden to make sure your plants are getting enough water. “These plants need an inch of water a week throughout their first season,” said Sanderson. “Even during the winter, you should monitor moisture.”

Mulch, applied no more than 2-to-3 inches deep, can be beneficial by helping to slow water loss from the soil and preventing alternate freezing and thawing.

Planting now can give your spring garden a head start!
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