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Fall Planting: How Late is Too Late?

Category: Presenting "The Curious Gardener"

Fall is a great time to plant and divide perennials and shrubs.  This is because, as in Spring, temperatures are cooler and there is usually plenty of rain. If you are in the market for new plants in fall you can usually find sales at garden centers when they are trying to make room for holiday trees and greens. Also, blooming plants will get a head start by being planted the previous fall.  Even if the ground is frozen for much of the time between planting and blooming, roots begin to grow in early spring before it’s optimal to start working the soil. Remember in early spring the ground is usually wet as it thaws, and the best time to plant is after the soil dries out.

Watering newly planted Amelanchier
Watering newly planted Amelanchier in Pawling, NY, November

But the question so many people ask is: how late can I plant?  The answer is you can plant as late into the season as you are able. That is, as long as you are able to get a spade into the ground you can plant or divide. Where I live in New England, Zone 5b/6a, our ground usually doesn’t freeze until December or early January. Even if you have had several nights with frost, the soil will not freeze hard until you’ve had continuous days and nights where temperatures stay below 32°F.  And if you have had an early season snowfall,  when the snow melts the ground should still be workable. Get those bulbs planted!

Here are some tips if you are planting in late fall:

-After planting, water generously.  Even if you have already shut off your outdoor water valves, turn them back on for a generous watering of any new plants. Keep watering until the ground freezes to keep your plants from drying out over the winter. Once the ground is frozen you don’t need to be concerned with watering them again, except perhaps during a January thaw.

-After the ground is frozen lay some lightweight evergreen boughs over new perennials or at the base of any shrubs. Shredded bark mulch serves the same purpose. This is to protect your new plants from thawing in the winter sun, and then freezing again, which can cause them to heave out of the ground. More established plants are less susceptible to this, but young plants need protection from thawing and freezing.

-Wait to fertilize until strong new growth appears in Spring. At that time a light dressing of a balanced fertilizer is beneficial.

– If you have planted evergreens that deer like, be sure to protect them because winter is prime deer foraging time.  Either put a deer fence around your new plants, a burlap wrapping, or spray them with an organic fertilizer. Granular deer repellants are effective and easy to apply for just one or two plants. For large shrubs and trees you might want to contact a local service that will come to your house and spray two or three times a year.

-When tending to plants in cooler weather, wear a pair of Womanswork lined gloves to keep your hands warm!


11 thoughts on “Fall Planting: How Late is Too Late?

  1. Kit Reece says:

    I’ve been planting bulbs like crazy for 3 weeks and searching the internet at night. Then I found you!!

    This is a WONDERFUL site and I thank you for sharing all your knowledge. You answered ALL my fall planting questions on one page!

    I have never in my life written to someone like this but I just had to saw how fabulous your site it. Thank you!!
    Kit Reece
    Troy, MI
    Zone 6

    P.S. Happy planting! My husband is THRILLED (not) that I can still ask him to dig holes to transplant. HA. It will make spring a lot more fun and less work for me. thx again

  2. Linda Bullock says:

    Great information! Thanks!

  3. Yvonne c Talley says:

    Hi, We live in zone 7 in NC. Can hosta’s be planted in mid November -December? My daughter is buying a house. The previous owners had not planted a shrub or twig. By the time paperwork is completed it may be mid Dec. If the ground is not frozen could we start on some landscaping? Will it be to late to work in grass seed in the existing lawn if an aerator is used? She really wants a head start!

  4. We may be selling out home in spring/summer. We recently removed all the ugly bushes in front of the house. What can I plant now (November) that will be pretty and add curb appeal, and easy to take care of. I’m less than good at this! I’m open to bushes, flowers etc.

  5. Patti, first of all where do you live? Any recommendations would come from knowing that.

  6. Carol muir says:

    Can I plant some catnip…they look dead.
    Also, can I plant 3 plants..they have a red stalks and velvet plumes that come back. It’s November and feels cold..can I try and see if they will come back in the spring.

  7. Carol, yes you should give it a try. Put a little marker where you planted them so you know what they are in the spring. If they don’t come up you’ll know they didn’t survive the winter.

  8. Carol muir says:

    How long do I have to plant before the ground’s getting quite chilly to get out there in the garden..nov.26

  9. Carol muir says:

    Can I grow catnip indoors..I have a tall thin window facing south. How about growing rosemary and a mini yellow rose that looks dead..what other plants are easy to grow indoors. Any tips for my Christmas cactus.

  10. I have enjoyed reading some of the questions. Thank you for your answers

  11. Can I plant perennials Daisies this late it’s November 18 here in Central Ohio?

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