Fall is the Best Time to Plant

Fall is the Best Time to Plant

Fall in the Pacific NW is the perfect time for planting native plants. As the days shortens, the weather cools, and the humidity increases, the growing conditions become perfect for perennial plant establishment.

Most gardeners don't invest energy into their gardens until February & March, and don't find the time to order and plant until April or May. But, by this time, your plants only have a few weeks to settle in before they are blasted by the Summer heat and drought. You can keep them alive with irrigation, but in those conditions, they are unlikely to thrive the first year.

As we learn and grow as native gardeners, we realize that Fall gardening often yields the best results for new plantings. The warm soils of September and October allow root systems to establish themselves. Plants begin making the transition from pots to your backyard soil half a year before normal Spring planting dates, and by the time Summer heat comes, they are much more resilient.

In addition, there are various other reasons to plant in the Fall. There is less weed competition and less need for irrigation, not to mention it's more generally more pleasant to be outside before it gets wet and muddy again.

All the native plants we carry are well-suited for Fall planting. However, they each require specific care and consideration to be grown successfully and reemerge in the Spring. Please consider the native range, soil needs, moisture needs, etc. before purchasing and planting in your yard (read the plant page on the website). And when they arrive this Fall, plant them as soon as you can!

For example, native bulbs need to be kept consistently moist until planting in the Fall, but also planted into well-drained soil (add sand or pumice to very heavy soils). They need protection from gophers, rats, mice, etc. who are very attracted to their smell and taste. These details are important, as they'll make it most likely you'll get an early and hardy sprout emerging in February, one that establishes itself for coming years.

Everything stated so far holds true outside of the Northwest, at least in USDA zones 7-11. However, if you find yourself in a colder zone, proceed with Fall planting with greater caution - especially under Zone 5. Extreme low temperatures can kill the tops or even roots of various young and tender native plants.

Applying deep mulch or plant coverings is the easiest way to keep the temperature a few degrees warmer. However, if your region experiences persistent cold that permeates several inches down into the ground, you'll need to take additional measures. Utilizing heated greenhouses, garage sawdust storage ("heeling in"), or indoor container growing methods may be necessary for first year Fall-planted natives - while still allowing you to get a head start on Spring.

(Note that we can only hold bare root plants until March at the latest, so if you are in a zone 5 or below, you will need to be prepared to apply one of the above methods to keep your bare root plant happy until your ground thaws. Or, just order potted plants, and request delayed shipment until April or May.)

Wherever you are, thank you for taking the time this Fall to offer your new native plants that extra care! Restoring our natural environments, bringing native beauty, and increasing our local food (& medicine) resiliency are all so important at this time.

Justin Michelson

& the Native Foods Nursery crew