Successful Fall Planting

By Steven V. Philips –

It’s Autumn. I can tell. Super-max-mart has Santas for sale. Hmm, Santa would be able to tell you what and what not to plant this time of year. He knows everything.

But why Santa, is the Fall better than Christmas for planting? Well elves,  plants are starting to slow/cease growth and go into hibernation. Thus root stress is less. And there is still enough warm weather left to let their tense roots relax into the new soil. So, plant something this month.

You’re ready to do it. You finally decided on that left-leafed, rough-bark, Swiss thistle-bush. Your garden club is agog over your horticultural intent. OK. First decision. When that lovely “whatever” grows to full maturity, is it going to uproot the sidewalk? Plunge the whole house in inky darkness? Wrap its roots around the water line? Strangle your mother-in-law? Grow skyward to change flight paths? Moral = Select the site carefully. Select a plant or tree that will be in scale with your house when the tree is fully grown. A single-story ranch? Then you do not need an Italian cypress tree or a Norfolk Island pine.

And oh yeah, in this planting process try not to cut the cable line, power line or water line unless you like having tense meetings in the yard with hostile utility people.

In your case, the perfect location is out on the lawn. Good. Less grass fulfills my mantra of minimal lawn/much mulch. Stake “the spot.” Then draw a three-foot radius, making a six-foot diameter circle. As you can see, this requires higher math. Why this dirt doughnut? So you won’t have grass close up to plantings/trees. Instead, this circle will be either mulch (or possibly ground cover) post-planting. This allows for plant expansion, fertilizing and less mowing  – or mooing, if you keep cows. Cut grass really short (I mean r-e-a-l-l-y?) and then spray the stubs in that circle with Roundup (4-oz per water gallon is enough).

Wait a week. Use an iron-rake. Rip up the dead grass and roots and trash them. Next, dig the plant’s new home leaving six inches all round. Three inches of compost (or removed dirt/peat moss mix)in the bottom and soak it. Set in the specimen with top of ball (or level of dirt in pot) level with yard. Then fill in all round using the layer cake style. Layer of compost, layer of the dirt you took out, layer of compost and finally, a layer of dirt. Soak each layer as you go. Then bake in 350-degree oven for an hour. Ha! Just checking to see if you’re paying attention.

Then build a three-foot diameter, four-inch high dam of dirt all around to hold water because you’re going to keep this plant damp for a week. Or two. Damp (not sodden) roots mean happy plants. Water every day for a week and every week for a month. And outside of the ring, goes the layer of mulch on your six foot circle. That’s it.

Other than coming over to do it myself, these are the SVP rules of planting. Valid for trees, bushes, perennials. Everything said comes from my experiences in both New England and the deep south. There are other approaches and other thinking. Naturally, they are so wrong.


  • Buy your serious (often means expensive) stock from serious nursery people. Comedy Central Nursery is out. Authentic plant experts know what your specimen will do in the future and where it’s the happiest. Take their advice.
  • You can buy your annuals, however, from anyone.
  • Remember tree shade on the house reduces the a/c bill.
  • Bushes screen the house from prevailing winds.
  • Don’t plant stock that blocks your view unless you’re Howard Hughes.
  • Generally, plant not too close to the building for air circulation.
  • Note the use of compost. Gee, have I ever suggested making your own compost?


4 thoughts on “Successful Fall Planting”

  1. Thanks to tropical storm Debby I need to plant. But I’m holding off until the threat of tropical storms or hurricanes is over. I also need to mulch but again waiting on the storm season.

    Need to find some salt tolerant plants. Apparently I didn’t have tolerant enough plants before!

    My compost container is ready for the new plants. It has been “baking” all summer.

    Great advice and good reminders. Thanks SP 🙂

  2. Thank heavens for WalMart’s specials on annuals. One quick trip in a U-Haul, fill up and then distribute all those lovely annuals around the ranch. DONE! Water the hell on those delicate petals and my gardening is complete. When they are gone, their off the property and it’s back to WalMart.

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