Autumn Planting Brings Spring Rewards

Filed in Gardening by on September 17, 2014

When the Midwest turns red and gold, it’s time to get out a garden spade. Autumn is the ideal time for planting trees, shrubs, and bulbs.

japanese red maple

Japanese Red Maple

Early-Autumn: Trees and Shrubs

Plant trees and shrubs in early autumn to give these plants a change to get established before a hard freeze. Nurseries often have trees and shrubs on sale at the end of the gardening season, so you can get them at a good price. Because they’ve been in pots all summer, though, they may need a little TLC when planting.

The first step in planting trees and shrubs is to select the right place. Site selection is important for any plant, but it is particularly critical for trees and large shrubs. An American arborvitae by the front door, which can grow 40-foot tall, or a snowball viburnum that matures to a 14-foot spread in a 4-foot bed won’t work. Plants look so cute in 1-gallon pots, make sure you know how big they can get.

Another consideration in selecting the right place is a tree’s or shrub’s needs. Plants vary in light, soil, and moisture requirements as well as in cold hardiness. Pick the spot you want to plant a tree or shrub, take note of your climate zone, sun and shade patterns, soil type (e.g., clay, sandy, loam), and whether the site tends to be wet or dry, and then choose a plant that fits those characteristics. A nursery will have someone who can help you choose the right place for the location you’d like a tree or shrub. Plant labels are a wonderful source of information as well, listing size at maturity as well as plant requirements.

To ensure the tree or shrub makes it through the winter and goes on to thrive, you’ll need to get it off to a good start. Refer to a tree/shrub planting guide to learn how.

Late-Autumn: Spring-blooming Bulbs


Crocus Mix

All spring-blooming bulbs need a period of cold before the bloom, so the Midwest is a perfect place to grow them. Bulbs should be planted in the fall once the ground has cooled down to around 55 degrees, usually after a killing frost in October or early November.

Crocus, narcissi, tulips, allium, and other spring-blooming bulbs are planted in the fall for a spectacular spring and summer garden display.

Crocus is the earliest blooming bulb, often coming up through the snow. At 4- to 5 inches tall, they are great planted in rock gardens or as colorful drifts in early garden beds. They naturalize well and can even be planted in grass as long as it’s a place that doesn’t need early mowing.

Narcissus bloom early spring and are also great for naturalizing. An added bonus is that deer don’t care for narcissi, and so the cheerful blooms will last awhile. Most people think of the familiar yellow cup-and-saucer flower on a tall stem when they picture narcissus, but the yellow daffodil is just one of the many classes of the narcissi genre. Within the Narcissus family there are hundreds of cultivars, so whatever color or size you prefer, you are likely to find one that suits you.

Tulips come in many colors, shapes and sizes. Bloom periods vary depending on the variety. Single early tulips, for example, bloom mid April, while others like parrot tulips don’t bloom until late May. Plan your tulip display according to bloom time and you can have tulips blooming for six weeks.

Fireworks Allium Mix

Fireworks Allium Mix

Alliums, also known as “flowering onions”, are exotic, unique and great fun. They extend the flowering season into August with dramatic color and unusual, show-stopping shapes. Allium are rodent resistant and are seldom affected by disease. not only are these globes showy in the garden, they are beautiful in fresh or dried bouquets. Although purple is the classic color, they also come in pink, white and yellow.

All bulbs need to well-drained soil and good sunlight for optimum performance. Prepare the ground for planting by loosening soil to a couple of inches below the depth required by the bulb. The depth to plant depends upon the size of the bulb and larger bulbs obviously need to be planted deeper than smaller bulbs. Although planting instructions will come with your bulbs, the rule of thumb is to plant bulbs 2 to 3 times as deep as the bulb is tall. For example, large bulbs like the Giant Darwin Hybrid tulip which are about 3 inches tall are planted about 6 to 8 inches deep, whereas smaller bulbs like the 1-to 2-inch crocus are planted at a depth of 4 to 5 inches.

Water the bulbs following planting. This will help settle the soil in the planting bed plus provide needed moisture for the bulbs to start rooting. A 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch over the plantings will help minimize temperature fluctuation and maintain an optimal moisture level in the planting bed.

Come spring you will reap great rewards for time spent now planting beautiful new trees and shrubs and colorful blooming bulbs.

by Reba Gilliand 

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