Find out why fall and winter planting is so good for plants

One of the best kept secrets of gardening is fall and winter planting. Take advantage of an “old farmer’s trick” and get your plants in the ground at the end of the season.

Why does fall and winter planting work so well?

The combination of warmer soil and colder air forces your plant to focus only on producing new roots in the fall and winter, which gives your plants a jump start on spring. Your new plant won’t make flower buds, flowers or seeds if it’s planted late in the season.

Growing those critical roots helps your new plant get itself established in your landscape. And that is just what you want!

Planting in fall through winter allows the roots to develop and affords a head start going into the active growing season in spring. Our horticultural team has put together great tips and tricks for success by Growing Zone. 

FIND YOUR ZONE 

In Zones 7 – 10, Fall Is Prime Planting Time 

When high temperatures start dropping for fall, you’ll want to purchase and plant your trees, shrubs and perennials. Get them in the ground before you miss out on free water from winter rains.  You’ll love saving money on water required to establish new plants.

In Zones 7 – 10, planting in fall and or early winter helps your plants establish their root system. This enables your plant to withstand both fluctuating spring temperatures and the early summer hot and dry conditions. Add a good mulch in the late spring and your plant is off to the best start one could hope for.

Regional Overview

Temperate Zones 7 and 8 such as middle Washington, Oregon and Western Nevada are beginning to get cold, but the ground is still workable. Get your plants in the ground in fall and early winter. 

Sometimes the only problem to fall planting is limited availability. Today though, Nature Hills offers year-round availability and the fall availability gets better each season.  See Zones 3 – 6 information if you get a rare freeze. 

Dry Zone 7 regions of middle Arizona and New Mexico, the lower Panhandle of Texas and much of Oklahoma and Arkansas are all known for dry fluctuating spring temperatures. This can be hard on establishing plants early in the spring. Plant in fall or winter to get a big head’s start on developing a root system that will protect your new plants in the unpredictable spring season.

Humid Zones 7 and 8 in many of the southeastern states such as Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina have wide temperature fluctuations in the spring and early summer. All of these areas benefit from fall and winter plantings to establish root systems. A healthy plant in the spring will help to avoid some spring diseases and give your plants a vigorous head start going into the summer. In these areas, it is possible to plant all throughout the winter months

Zones 9 and 10 include areas like California and Southern Nevada and South Eastern Texas. These are prime fall and winter planning areas, where water is more expensive or has a higher pH. Planting in spring during the active growing period requires frequent watering, which can really add up. 

Getting plants established in areas where the water has a pH of 8.5 or higher can pose problems.  Plant in fall to develop root systems and you’ll benefit from the free fall and winter rains that are most often pH neutral or slightly acid! Both container grown plants and bare root can be planted directly into the ground as soon as they are purchased throughout the winter months in these areas. 

Special Considerations for Fall and Winter Planting in Cold Winter Zones 3 - 6

Trust us, the experts at Nature Hills have planted trees in the middle of snowstorms. While not exactly “fun”, the plants did just fine and flowered the following spring. There are real advantages to fall and winter planting, even in the cold winter Zones of 3 – 6.

As long as the ground has not yet frozen, you can still plant!

If possible, it’s a good idea to “pre-dig” your holes for your new plants from Nature Hills. You’ll be ready to go once they arrive. Holes can be dug several weeks in advance. Simply mound up the dirt next to hole and cover it with straw or even a tarp, as needed. Gardeners who plan ahead save themselves hassles!

Ground Conditions Overview

Every day can bring fluctuating ground temperatures. When you get your shipment from Nature Hills, determine how much frost there is in your ground. Can you get your shovel into the ground? It’s best to get your plant in the ground right away. Use several trips with a watering can, if your hoses have already been winterized.

If there is a thin crust on top of the soil that can easily be broken through, use your shovel to break through that crust. Dig a hole that will accommodate the root system, and plant that plant. Make sure to water the soil completely once you are finished.

If the soil did freeze before you had a chance to plant your new plants, you could try pouring a bucket of warm water on the spot that you are planning to dig.  Wait a few minutes to see if it thaws and you can still plant into that soil.  Water well to settle the soil in around the roots. Add mulch to cover the top of the soil.

Expecting a warm forecast after a cold snap? You might want to wait and see. If the weather does allow it, break through the frozen ground and get those plants put in the ground. Water them in well.

Storing Plants in Zones 3 - 6

If the ground is frozen, and there is no way to dig a hole, you can store your plants very successfully. It’s easy, just follow these steps. 

Storing a Container Plant

Grab a large garbage bag and open the box in an unheated garage. Take your plants out of the box and water the soil well, allowing the excess to drain out.  Place the plant pot in a large garbage bag to keep the soil and pot inside of the plastic bag. Leaving the top uncovered. 

Leave inside your unheated garage or unheated porch and you should have complete success overwintering these dormant plants until they can be installed in the spring. 

Please note that Lilacs and Viburnums do not like wet soil, so if the soil in the container is moist on arrival, there is no need to add more water.  

Storing Bare Root Plants

Grab a large garbage bag. Take your plants out of the box on your unheated garage or porch and remove the small plastic bag from around the wrapped roots. You’ll keep any packing material around the roots but remove the plastic bag.

Next, soak the packing material wrapped around the roots in water and allow the excess to drain out.  Then place the wrapped roots inside of your garbage bag. 

Allow the plant tops to be open and uncovered. When you are done, the packing materials and roots will be the only thing inside of the garbage bag.  

Set those bare root plants inside of your unheated garage or unheated porch. You should have complete success overwintering these plants until they can be installed in the spring.  

Additional Tips and Tricks for Plant Selection and Planting

It is important to select the right plant for the right location. This means looking to see that it is recommended for your USDA Zone and the sun or shade requirements for the plant are satisfied in the location you would like to plant it in. Too little sun and the plant may have trouble growing, flowering or producing fruit. Too much sun and the plant can sunburn or wilt.

Study the Plant Highlights on every product page to learn what the growing requirements are. You can also filter by your specific site conditions and see what your options are. 

Most plants need a well-drained soil. It’s critical to choose a location with good drainage. 

Doing a drainage test can help to determine if there is a reason for concern.  Dig a hold 12 inches wide by 12 inches deep in the location you want to plant. Fill it with water and time how long it takes the first filling to drain out, then fill it again and time that second drainage. If the second filling takes longer than 3 hours to drain off, you may have a drainage issue. 

Where poor drainage is suspected, build a raised bed or mound to 24 inches above the lay of the land. The idea is to develop a portion of the root above the soil line so the entire root is never completely under water during the winter when the amount of water your plant receives is out of your control. Without good drainage, many plant roots suffer from poor oxygen penetration and can rot and eventually die. 

Mulching a plant at least 3 to 4 inches deep and 3 feet outside of the canopy of the plant helps to cut down on surface evaporation, shade the roots from summer heat, cut down on weeds and eventually begin to feed the soil and the plants naturally. In high humidity regions of Zones 7 and 8, it is recommended that you pull back the mulch in the winter months.

Look to place your order as soon as possible to ensure availability. Many new fresh bare root plants are available the first part of the winter often ready for order as early as October with delivery beginning in January (weather permitting). Often fruit and shade trees are over wintered in containers for fall and winter planting. Check to see if your favorite variety is currently available for planting. 

Take advantage of Mother Nature’s generosity. She’ll provide free rain and snow in fall and winter. Plant in fall and winter to allow your plant the chance to develop a well-established root system that it will need before the stresses of the summer come around. Plant in fall and winter to enjoy a healthy, vigorous plant going into the spring and summer months

Nature Hills Planting Map