What to Do When Planting in the Fall

What to Do When Planting in the Fall

Planting in the Fall

What to Do When Planting in the Fall

It’s that time of year for most of the country. The weather is causing plants to go dormant. So please excuse their appearance! Right now we can almost hear them saying:

“We're old and we're tired - So plant us and leave us alone (until spring)!”

It’s fall and many plants are so done with this year! (I think a lot of us agree!) So you can understand why some trees, shrubs and perennials are being shipped to your door this time of the year without leaves and maybe looking a bit bare!

That’s because they are, like… literally … so done with this year!

What to Expect from Container Plants in the Fall!

After the first few cooler nights and shorter days, plants are triggered - literally and chemically - to signal the all-stop. By now their leaves are more than ready to call it quits. That foliage has been out in the sun, beaten up by storms, hail, and rain, had a few bugs fly by and have a sample, and are well … old! They’re tired and ready to get rid of that old leafy wardrobe that’s ‘so last year’. While roots and/or stems go to sleep for a much-needed winter's rest. Container plants

Deciduous perennials, trees, and shrubs are coming out of their delivery boxes with brown spotted, tattered leaves and looking less than fall splendor-worthy. Many are already tan, brown, or bare. 

New gardeners may be aghast when that potted Peony or Iris arrives as a container of stubble. Or when a pot of bare, brown sticks arrives that’s supposed to be a perennial Coreopsis or Hosta. You may think we lost our minds and just shipped you a pot of dirt! 

Don’t worry! It’s dormant and a completely normal look for those plants that have been grown in pots out in the field!

Where Are My Leaves?

“Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.”

- Unknown

No, we didn’t give your perennial Bee Balm or Columbines a buzz cut to save on shipping costs! Those stems and leaves were already dead or dying, as they do anyway, naturally, whether in the ground or not. So there is absolutely no need to ship them to you! 

Once your perennials go dormant, you’re going to need to prune those leaves off and dispose of them in the fall anyway. Pruning fall

Through a process called abscission, deciduous plants get rid of their old leaves. Very few plants and perennials, like some species of Oak, keep those brown, dead leaves on their stems all winter. 

Our nurseries are busy cleaning up some of the plants that are already going dormant as we continue to ship as long as the weather allows us to! Those dormant plants are more than ready and willing to get in the ground and establish themselves in their new homes all winter.

Plants get rid of those old, dead leaves for the same reasons our nurseries are trimming perennials back once they turn yellow or tan. They’re discarding anything that might harbor disease or fungal issues, help pests over-winter in the litter, or break the plant's stems under the weight of snow! Those leaves have done their jobs for the year and its time to let them go! For herbaceous perennials, that means the stems too!

Once dormant, a perennial plant, bulb, rhizome, or shrub's energy has now been stored deep in the ground in its roots. There’s enough energy there for it to make roots all fall, through mild winters, and in the spring once the ground thaws - ready to jump out of the ground with a fresh new leafy wardrobe and bloom for you in profusion!

Shipping dead leaves and stems would be like us saying, ‘Here … You throw this away!’

The Nursery Environment

Nature Hills growers don’t pamper and coddle your landscape plant material. Your plants are grown out in the sun, rain, storms, and nature! We do this to toughen up your plants so they will be able to handle anything your garden can throw at them! Plants in containers at nursery

Grown under overhead sprinklers to keep them cool and watered, they may develop spots on the leaves from leaf burn in the hot sun. Have a few tatters from being whipped in the wind. The container's soil mixture and their young age also mean these plants won’t have the perfect conditions for that lovely fall color you may have bought them specifically for. So on arrival, you may be disheartened to see brown or absent leaves. 

Don’t worry, a year or two in the ground will fix that!

What To Do With Your Pot of Dirt and Stems

Dormancy means that plants are shutting off moisture and nutrients going to their soft tissues in preparation for freezing temperatures, dry weather, or water and nutrient shortages. Fall dormancy in terms of herbaceous perennials means their tops have done their job for the year and are no longer working as efficiently as possible, let alone looking their best. 

So it is time to dispose of them and get ready for next spring's new leaves!

Plants grown in containers and in the field typically go dormant sooner than plants in the ground, or plants in different growing zones! (PS: they may take a bit longer to come out of dormancy their first spring too!) They may also be grown somewhere colder or have different weather than your growing zone has experienced. So it’s for good reason that they arrive a little ahead of the game compared to other, established, plants in your landscape. 

Without foliage to support in the fall and early spring, your plant can focus entirely on adapting to its new home, establishing a new root system beyond the confines of its pot, and acclimating so it can be ready to pop next year.

Fall Planting 101

  • On arrival - Soak your roots, soil, and container in a bucket until bubbles stop rising Planting fall
  • Let drain as you prepare the planting site
  • Gently remove the plant and inspect the root system
  • Trim away circling roots and tease them to loosen
  • Plant at the same depth they were in their containers and backfill with native topsoil
  • Tamp down gently as you water it well
  • Continue to water until it pools, let drain, then water until pools form again
  • Top the root zone with a 3-4 inch layer of arborist mulch bark chips
  • Check daily to see if it needs water and water well until the ground freezes in your area

Maybe place a plant name tag or marker in the area so you remember what that patch of mulch with some stubble in it was. If your memory is like mine, you’ll thank yourself in the spring when you are scratching your head trying to remember what those new green leaves are supposed to be. 

Good Things Do Come In Small Packages!

Nature Hills has been in business selling and shipping plants since 2001, so we know a bit about this! Let the experts calm your worries and fears when you receive your next bagged bareroot tree, or pot of soil and stubble - knowing that you have just received an established, quality plant with loads of potential next spring!

As always, if you ever have any questions or concerns about new plant material that just arrived from Nature Hills Nursery, first check the instructions that came with your new plant, or with our Planting Guide Here, or our Garden Blog for Planting Information. Then, if you still need more advice, reach out to our knowledgeable staff for everything you need to get your plant off to the best start possible!

We love photos! Do you have a transformation you’d like to show us or have a specific question about your plant? Snap a picture and send it our way! We love seeing our plants in your landscape!

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