by Janet Woody, Librarian, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
It’s been a long hot summer, but hang in there a little longer and it will be fall planting time. Fall is the best time to put in new trees, shrubs, and perennials. And there is still time to grow and gather more vegetables of the cooler variety such as cabbage, lettuces, and chard. You can plant these now for fall harvesting.
You probably have areas in your yard that need more plants, or different plants. The summer heat teaches us which plants are happy in our yards, and which ones are too delicate or needy to make it through a hot Richmond summer. Maybe the bare or boring areas of your yard need more of the tougher plants, and fewer of the weaklings. Now is the time to decide what stays and what goes.
Why is fall the best time for planting? It’s cooler and plants can strengthen their root systems without the stress of worrying about lack of water and scorching temperatures. High temperatures are stressful for plants just as they are for humans. We all feel better in the fall, don’t we? Plants need a strong root system to store nutrients to make it through the winter dormancy; fall planting allows them time and energy to focus on root growth.
If you are going to plant in new areas where you haven’t planted before, plan to add organic matter to the soil. You want the planting area to be porous and moist to give new plants a good start. New plants will require regular watering, even with the cooler temperatures.
Fall is also a good time to divide perennials. Cut back the spent foliage and divide root balls with a sharp knife. Dividing hardy perennials such as daylilies and liriope is an inexpensive way to start new beds and spread color and foliage while you think about new shrubs and trees to add later in the fall. Visit your local nursery now to see what’s available. They will probably get new stock in September, so ask what’s on the way. Ask questions about size and habits of shrubs and trees so you can make good purchase decisions. You don’t need to rush to purchase these now, as we can safely plant into late November and early December in the Richmond area. Recently we have had very mild winters which extends our planting opportunities. Just remember to keep up the regular watering even when the temperatures begin to drop.
I’m getting excited about fall planting just writing this. I have selected an Amelanchier* or serviceberry tree for my yard and I am anxious to get its space ready for planting. I haven’t had one of these before and I am excited to be adding more fall color to my yard. This is a modest sized tree with pretty white flowers early in the spring. It tolerates partial shade or full sun, can take average, well-drained soil, and doesn’t have any bad habits that I know of. I have read that it does make suckers, so I will have to keep an eye on that. These are the little shoots that grow out of the base of a plant and can turn into a thicket if not removed.
We’d love to hear what plants you have selected for your fall planting. Or tell us what plants did well in the summer heat this year. Gardeners are always looking for new plant suggestions, and we look forward to your comments. Funny how we can always squeeze in one more plant, isn’t it?
Reminder: Mark you calendar for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s Fall Plant Sale, run by our dedicated volunteers – Friday and Saturday, September 21 (10 a.m. – 6 p.m.) and 22 (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.)
*Amelanchier laevis or Allegheny serviceberry can be found in the West Island Garden