Gardening in Fall

In Fall, Feature, Gardening by Megan Nichols

Finally! Gardeners, here it comes, the sunny days (but not sweltering) and cool nights (but not freezing) that we love so much, and of which we’ve been so deprived this hot, sticky summer. This is THE BEST gardening weather! So, is it still OK to plant? Sure it is, and BONUS: it’s Customer Appreciation Days Saturday, September 8th and Sunday, September 9th! That means ALL perennials, trees, and shrubs are 50% off.

For your best gardens ever, here are some tips and tricks to give your perennials, trees, shrubs, and lawn the best chance at being beautiful specimens this season and next. After all, 2019 starts now!

Trees and Shrubs

For existing trees and shrubs, especially those that have been planted just this year, be sure to keep watering. Fall can be a dry time of year, and is often still sunny and warm, all of which can dry out the soil and roots. In the absence of rain, water one inch per week.

Fall is the best time to plant deciduous trees and shrubs. Evergreens can still be planted, but the sooner the better at this point. Why is it such a good time? There’s still time for roots to become established even as the plant begins to go dormant, and the cooler weather causes less stress. In spring, the tree or shrub will reap all the benefits of being in the ground as it starts to wake up, such as the snow thaw and rain.


Cooler weather is good planting time for perennials, too. (It’s hard enough adjusting to a new home!) There is still plenty of time for new roots to get off to a good start. For best results, here are tips for fall planting success:

  • Dig hole 2x the diameter of the pot
  • Add Espoma Bio-tone and back-fill hole with 1/2 planting mix or compost and 1/2 original soil
  • Water well until the ground is frozen (1 inch per week)
  • Cover plantings with straw or marsh hay after the ground freezes
  • Some of our favorite fall bloomers include Black-eyed Susan, Sedum, and Chelone. Chelone is also known as Turtlehead (isn’t that cute?), and it’s a bee magnet!

Dig and Divide

Wondering when to divide and replant peonies and iris? The cool weather of fall is perfect, and now is the right time for these plants.

In the Lawn

Now is the time to plant grass seed! Before mid-September is best, but a little beyond is okay, too.

Bonus: Now is the best time for weed control, too! Plants are greedily taking in nutrients in order to overwinter, so weeds like Creeping Charlie quickly absorb herbicide, too, making the solution that much more effective. We recommend Bonide’s Weed Beater Ultra for myriad different weeds, and Bonides Stump Out Stump and Vine Killer for Buckthorn.

Winter Over Plants

Any plant has a better chance with some winter protection, but fall-planted perennials really benefit from extra help.

So what’s the deal? Usually there is adequate snow cover and temperatures stay cold throughout the winter. Last winter is a good example of the unpredictability of Minnesota weather, though. Unseasonably warm temps are fine, if we have snow cover, which acts as a natural mulch. Without snow, the ground can go through a freeze-thaw cycle that can kill newly planted roots that haven’t had a chance to get established. Last winter caused plant death even in well-established, supremely hardy plants (Hosta! That almost never happens).

What do you do? Wait until the ground freezes solid. Then cover perennials with straw, marsh hay, or fallen leaves. Remove the covering in spring once night time temps show above freezing for at least 10 days.

Before the covering needs to happen, though, the beauty of the garden may become questionable. So to cut, or not to cut?

Consider “not,” and leave plants that provide winter interest or something of value to the birds. Stalks of plants and stems of shrubs can provide shelter. Plant such as Coneflowers, Black-eyed Susan’s, and Asters provide food for birds. Mounding and bunching grasses can provide overwintering sites in bare soil under the blades. Tall grass blades left uncut provide winter interest for us humans, too, and snow collecting on seed heads and browned hydrangeas blooms are quite attractive.

Remember to keep enjoying your gardens all through fall and winter, even as you plan for spring!