Why Fall is the Best Time to Plant!

Why Fall is the Best Time to Plant!

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The leaves are starting to turn color and the veggie garden is winding down. But now is not a time for heading indoors to sulk! Autumn is the time gardeners get a boost of energy and optimism as they begin to prep for a bigger and better spring next year! 

It’s so nice to work in the yard with the crunch of the leaves beneath your feet, the relief of not mopping sweat from your brow or overheating in the sweltering summer sun. While the temperatures are cooling above ground, giving you an easier time performing all that Fall Clean-up

It’s also the best time for optimal root formation!

It’s Fall Planting Season!

Your plants may be going to sleep above ground, but below - their roots are hard at work! With the lack of growth topside, all of a plant's energy goes to establishing a strong, healthy root

bareroot treesystem. 

It’s also the perfect time for establishing bulbs, containers, and bareroot plants! It takes a long time for the cold temperatures to creep down into the soil and newly planted plants are going to take advantage of this extended root-producing season. Those fall-planted ornamentals will be producing new roots all fall and even throughout mild winters! 

A Successful Fall Planting Starts With Expert Grown Plants!

Nature Hills plants are being grown throughout the country, and this broad range of growing conditions allows us to offer a massive variety of plants for sale. Our nursery production areas are outside in the field, growing in the natural elements so plants are better prepared for anything your landscape might throw at them! Nature Hills understands the need to have these plants produced where they will be planted so they will acclimate quickly to their new homes no matter where you live. 

What to Expect for Fall Delivery

With fall shipments, please know that our plants can be in varying stages of going dormant. A tree or shrub may have some spotted, tired leaves from a year in the elements, or some flowering shrubs may have brown flower heads and no leaves at all. It’s completely normal in the autumn for fruit trees to arrive with no leaves at all!

Herbaceous Perennial plants are typically pruned down, perhaps all the way to the soil, so it may appear we’ve shipped you a pot of dirt with some stubble. Nope! You have a power-packed root system that is ready to leap out of the ground in spring!

Fall Planting By Growing Zone

In some areas of the country, there are other advantages to fall planting! Hot or dry regions of Zones 7 and up, find planting in fall provides a head start on protecting new plants in the unpredictable spring season and later hot summers. Dry climate gardeners are always looking for ways to save money on water! So, purchase and plant your landscaping now to get them shipped right on time! Get them in the ground this fall so you will save money with all the free late-season rains. 

Mid-Western and Eastern USDA Zone 5a – 7a enjoy dependable amounts of rain, so the concern for moisture is not typically a problem. However, early fall freezes and wet springs can delay getting plants into the ground before summer. This can add to the amount of time that it takes to get the tree established after planting, so fall planting is optimal. 

Sometimes the only problem with fall planting is temperature fluctuations. Zones 3 – 6 can get tricky shipping safely to your area, and for you to plant in should you get an early freeze. 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. So there are still real advantages to fall planting, even in the cold winter Zones of 3 – 6. 

As long as the ground has not yet frozen, you can still plant many plants with complete success!!

cold climate prep infographic

Cold Climate Prep

As unpredictable as weather can be, being prepared is key! In cooler climates, it's a good idea to "pre-dig" your holes (up to several weeks in advance) so that when they arrive, you’ll be ready to go once they arrive. Simply mound up the dirt next to the hole and cover it with straw or even a tarp, as needed, so no one falls in or twists an ankle!

When you get your shipment from Nature Hills, determine if you can plant.

  • Can you get your shovel into the ground? Plant in the ground right away
  • If there is a thin crust on top of the soil, use your shovel to break through that top layer
  • Use several trips with a watering can if your hoses have already been winterized
  • Add mulch to cover the top of the soil

If the soil did freeze before you could plant, 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 and mulch.

Or try one of the following methods of storing your plant material until an opportune moment arrives.

Storing Plants in Zones 3 - 6

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

Storing a Container Plant:

Unpack your plant in an unheated garage and soak the soil well, allowing the excess to drain out. Place the plant - pot and all - in a large garbage bag, leaving the top uncovered. Keep inside your unheated garage or unheated porch. 

These plants do not like wet soil, so if the soil in the container is moist on arrival, there is no need to add more water for now. Just check on them weekly and add water as needed. You will have complete success overwintering these dormant plants until they can be installed in the spring.

Storing Bareroot Plants:

Take your plants out of the box in your unheated garage or porch and remove the small plastic bag from around the wrapped roots - keeping any packing material around the roots, just remove the outside plastic bag.

Next, soak the packing material wrapped and the roots together in water overnight and allow the excess to drain out (some material may fall away, but that’s ok!). Then place the wrapped roots inside 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 the garbage bag.

Set those bareroot plants inside of your unheated garage or unheated porch. Check moisture periodically. You will have complete success overwintering these plants until they can be installed in the spring.

Methods of Fall Planting

Bulbs, container, and bareroot plants continue to form new roots very late into the fall or even early winter. It takes a long time for the chill to creep down into the soil and those newly planted root systems are going to take advantage of that long extended root-producing season. Maybe it hasn’t cooled much where you live just yet, but those shorter days, cooler nights, and in many areas more frequent rainfall is a great benefit for your plants.

Nature Hills offers dormant bulbs, rhizomes, as well as perennials, trees, and shrubs year-round. Here are a few tips and tricks to ensure the successful fall planting of Container-grown and Bareroot plants.

Fall Planting of Bareroot Plants

The beauty of bareroot planting is that the plants are less expensive, easy to handle, and easier to plant. Plus, those plants will take off next spring like they have been in the ground for a whole year! 

Bareroot are already dormant and acclimated to winter temperatures and establish fantastic in the autumn! Bareroot plants arrive with no leaves and without soil on the roots. They are dug from the field after they have been exposed to frost and remain dormant until they are shipped to you.

Stored in controlled temperatures just above freezing and in controlled very high humidity. So bareroot plants can be shipped from autumn through mild winters. All bareroot plants will be carefully wrapped to keep the roots covered and moist at all times during shipment.

Establishing a bareroot plant in the fall is simple: root booster

  • Soaking your bareroot plants in water while you dig the hole, or even overnight
  • Keeping even moisture at the roots - right up until the ground freezes for the winter
  • Plant with Nature Hills Root Booster for lifelong symbiotic support at the roots
  • Check soil moisture often and add water as needed

Keeping even moisture at the roots is the key to a successful transplant. Water at the time of planting, then a good soaking the next day, and then use the finger-test to feel if the soil needs additional moisture at the roots. 

Remember that fall-planted plants will not grow until the following spring. Need to check on their health? Try a scratch test!


Always be sure to install your plants at the same depth they were grown at the nursery. You will see a change in color and/or texture where bark changes to roots, and will see where the soil used to be before digging at the nursery. Please pay special attention to the planting depth as so many tend to plant those plants too deep!

Fall Planting - Container Grown Plants

container plant

Container-grown plants can be shipped anytime as long as we are shipping to your area based on temperatures. Getting your newly planted container plants established as quickly as possible is to your advantage!

  • Upon arrival, completely submerge into a tub of water until it stops bubbling
  • Then allow it to drain while you dig the hole
  • Gently loosen the soil on the bottom of the root ball to separate the roots
  • Backfill around the root ball with the soil that was excavated from the hole 
  • Again completely saturate your plants and surrounding soil right away
  • Add 3-4 inches of arborist bark chips
  • Then, use the finger test to know if your plant needs watering or not


Always be sure to plant your container plants at the same depth they are growing in their pots. Dig the hole no deeper than the pot it was growing in – but twice as wide or even more. Loosening the soil wider than the size of the pot allows the new roots to easily develop as they spread and re-establish the plant in its new home. Pay special attention to the planting depth so you don’t smother surface roots or expose them to the air, cold, and sun.

Planting your plants too deep in the ground is probably the biggest mistake that people make. Trees, even when young, still have a wider trunk right as the trunk goes into the ground. If you are unsure, be sure to pull the soil away from the trunk of the tree in the pots and find the first set of roots - then plant the tree so those roots are just under the soil surface.

abba tulip

Fall-Planted Spring Bulbs!

There is still plenty of time to plant spring flowering bulbs this time of year as well! Nature Hills has an enormous variety of Peony roots, Iris rhizomes, and a dizzying selection of Tulips, Daffodils, Narcissus, and more for you to plant now and enjoy their cheerful flowers in the spring! 

For the same reasons as above, you’ll enjoy big healthy plants that shoot up out of the ground as soon as the temperatures warm in the spring because they’ve been hard at work forming those foundation roots all fall!

Don’t forget too there is still time to plant Garlic and plant them about 2-3 inches deep in a sunny location for an excellent crop of garlic next June. Check out all the varieties Nature Hills has available to you here!

about face rose

Fall Rose Planting

Planting Rose crowns in fall is incredibly easy, just don’t heap the mulch over their crowns just yet. Keep your plants well-watered at the roots. Then after a few touches of killing frost, then you can winterize your Rose canes. Plant container or bareroot as noted above and mulch well.

You can read all about Winterizing and Un-Winterizing Roses in our other #ProPlantTips Garden Blogs!

Fall Lawn Care

The fall time of the year is outstanding for establishing newly seeded lawns, getting a jump start on winterizing fertilizer and weed control, and spreading compost or topsoil for insulation. Again, the warm soils, cooler air, and better moisture benefits lawns in the fall.

Preparing your lawn properly and lawn care maintenance for the fall and winter months takes a bit of planning. The last shortcut mowing should be performed in late summer and you need to start thinking in terms of the lawn going dormant and allowing the grass to grow a little bit longer for the fall and winter months.

The Importance of Fall Watering

watering hydrangeas

Attention to watering is crucial for success for both newly planted plants and established plants, those in hot, dry, and arid climates and in the summer through heat and drought. So before you wind up the hose for the winter and put it in storage, give your plants one last drink! 

That water is saturated with dissolved nutrients and minerals that the plants are storing and using for disease and pest defense next year. Plus water is insulating, protecting their buds from cold and the branches from drying out.

Soil type, temperature, and time of the year all make a big difference as to how much water a plant will take up! But it is not just about how much water the plant will take up – it is about keeping the roots of your newly planted plants just moist enough without overwatering or underwatering. Remember, the plants themselves are using less moisture in the fall, this can lead to overwatering quickly!

Well-maintained roots eventually grow to seek out food and water on their own, then your plants become less dependent upon you for additional water. It can happen in a little as a week or sometimes as much as a month or more. Once the ground freezes, you can also stop watering, unless the winter has a long period of unexpected warm weather and the ground isn’t frozen.

Don’t Overwater – Use the Finger Test!

You’ve read it a few times above already - but we can’t stress this enough! For trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs alike, proper moisture maintenance is crucial for a successful planting and healthy plant next spring!

New roots are best initiated when you are attentive to the soil moisture at the roots of your newly planted plants. That does not mean you just water it every day or once a week. It means you use the finger test to feel the soil daily at the start, so you KNOW when your plants are needing additional water. As new roots form you will notice the plants will need you less frequently and that is the key. This goes for houseplants in the winter too!

If you just add water every day to your plants, it could cause those roots to rot which can kill the plant too. Even soil moisture is best achieved by what we call the finger test:

  • Stick your finger up to the 2nd knuckle into the soil and feel
  • If it feels moist – skip water that day
  • If it feels dry - then give it a good drink

Importance of Mulch in Fall

hands with soil

Adding a two to three-inch layer of shredded arborist mulch or bark chips over the roots of the plants after planting this fall extends that root development season even longer. The addition of mulch prevents the cold from going into the soil as it insulates the soil a bit later into the season. The mulch also conserves moisture and can prevent some weed growth even this fall.

Get Fall Planting!

There is no better time to renovate or update your landscape than this fall by getting a jump on the spring planting! There is a good reason that fall planting is so great!

Warm soil, cooler air, and more moisture! Finally, a bit of relief from the sweltering summer days. We are ready to usher in the new fall season, how about you? Cooler nights are welcome and give your AC bill a break too. 

The fall planting season is upon us. Take advantage of this incredible time of year when Mother Nature is on our side! 

Happy Planting With Nature Hills Nursery!

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