Planting for Fall

Planting for Fall

Planning your autumn garden and yard.

Katia Goffin suggests mixing grasses with evergreens when planning a fall yard.

Katia Goffin suggests mixing grasses with evergreens when planning a fall yard. Photo courtesy of Katia Goffin Gardens


Autumn is the perfect time to plant evergreen shrubs.


The fading colors of hydrangea blooms add subtle color to a fall landscape.

As the first few weeks of fall unfold, carrying with them the promise of rich and vibrant colors, many local residents are starting to plan their fall gardens, both ornamental and edible. Pruning and and overall garden cleanup will make way for fall plants. In fact, this is the perfect time to clear away summer foliage and plant, horticulture gurus said.

“Because the ground is still warm and air is cool, there is less transplant shock for plants when you take them out of the container to plant them,” said Kelly Grimes of Good Earth Garden Market in Potomac, Md. “Now is a great time to put in a landscape.”

The first step is preparing the ground. “You have to amend the soil; that is mixing in compost and soil so the plants’ roots can grab a hold of the soil with compost,” said Grimes. “That really helps any planting.”

Katia Goffin of Katia Goffin Gardens in McLean, Va., likens planning a garden to putting together a puzzle. “Everything has to [look] like it belongs,” she said. “It’s about designing your bed line so it enhances your property, versus ‘I stuck this in my garden and doesn’t it look good?’”

Take a few minutes and actually plan out your garden because no matter what you decide to plant for fall, an aesthetically appealing garden starts with an effective strategy. “It is getting a good plan together,” Goffin said. “It is a question of scale and putting it together right. You have to look at your plot of land and decide where you want plants to go and how you want it to look.”

FOR DECORATIVE GARDENS and yards, mums and pansies are among fall’s best flowering plants. “Mums need full sunlight to open and come in obvious, bold fall colors,” said Grimes. “Pansies will take part sun, are a great color and will continue to bloom through spring.”

Yarrow, asters, sedums, Lenten roses, and coral bells are among the fall plants that Jonathan Storvick, natural resource manager at the Office of Sustainability at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., recommends.

“Fall is a great time to plant larger-sized perennials and container shrubs,” said Storvick. “It also happens to be the time of year when nurseries are trying to get rid of a lot of their stock, so you can find some great deals.”

For example, said Joel Cook of Merrifield Garden Center, in Fairfax, Merrifield and Gainesville, Va., “Burning bushes have beautiful fall colors like orange and fire red. As far as trees, maples like Japanese maples, sugar maple or black gum maple have beautiful colors.”

Another eye-catching option is the yellow twig dogwood. Its “bright yellow branches and twig color … are also fantastic for winter,” said Mark White of GardenWise in Arlington, Va. “This shrub develops in great clumps and is a wonderful contrast against any red twig. Oval-shaped green leaves turn to orange-red in fall, followed by white fruit tinged with green.”

Grasses, added Katia Goffin, are ideal for fall and can be mixed with other foliage. “You can put evergreens in your yard and add some grasses. There are tons [of grasses] that are flowering and look [good] with evergreens.”

One plant that is often associated with cooler weather is a holly tree, but Eric Shorb of American Plant in Bethesda, Md., offers a caveat. “As we get closer to the end of November and the beginning of December you want to careful about planting such broadleaf evergreens,” he said. “If they haven’t had time to develop a sufficient enough root system they can become susceptible to wind burn because the roots will not be able to absorb moisture.”

Instead, he recommends deciduous trees and fine leaf evergreens. “A Leland Cyprus or an Arborvitaes that don’t need as much moisture will survive better as the weather gets colder.”

ORNAMENTAL VEGETABLES also work well in fall and beyond. “There is decorative cabbage and kale, which will grow anywhere and are deer resistant, which is a big factor these days,” said Grimes. “As the temperatures get cooler, they get more color and last in winter.”

Then there are the edible vegetables. Good options are spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, mustard greens and red lettuces, said Storvick, who also suggested “root crops [like] carrots, radishes, parsnips and beets. You can also plant garlic and leeks now for spring harvesting.”

There are a few common mistakes that homeowners make, however: “Planting plants that deer eat and not thinking about the critters that come though your yard is something I see a lot,” said Grimes.

Giving a garden too much water is another frequent mistake, according to Storvick. “Overwatering, especially when the weather starts to get colder, [and] leaving new plants unprotected … are probably some of the most common mistakes I’ve encountered. Mulching around the base of plants helps protect them from cold and wind, as well as keeping in moisture.”

Also, take care when pruning spring-blooming shrubs and trees, he cautioned: “While a lot of plants prefer winter pruning, a lot of our great spring-blooming shrubs, like azaleas, for example, will only produce flowers on the previous season’s growth, so by pruning in the winter, you eliminate all of the flower buds. For these plants, it’s best to prune them immediately after they’re done blooming for the season.”