If you think spring is the only season to do major yard work, think again. Fall is the best time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials in our region. That means the next few months are the perfect time to work on landscaping. The weather is cooler, making it more enjoyable to work outdoors and less stressful on new plantings.


If you think spring is the only season to do major yard work, think again. Fall is the best time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials in our region. That means the next few months are the perfect time to work on landscaping. The weather is cooler, making it more enjoyable to work outdoors and less stressful on new plantings. 





Benefits of fall planting



Landscape plants installed in spring and summer face many challenges. Heavy rainfall like we experienced this summer can make planting difficult, especially on poorly drained sites. More often as summer arrives, we experience a sudden onset of hot, dry weather. Because their roots have not yet grown out into the native soil, trees and shrubs planted in the spring have a limited ability to absorb water.  Just a few days of neglect can result in a dead tree when the weather turns hot and dry, making frequent watering imperative for plant survival. Planting in the fall avoids many of these challenges, resulting in healthier plants with less work.



Better root growth



Cooler temperatures place less stress on newly transplanted trees, shrubs, and perennials while mild winters allow root growth to continue well after top growth has stopped. By spring, fall-planted trees, shrubs, and perennials will have larger and more established root systems, resulting in better spring flushing and flowering. When planted in spring, plants are forced to attempt to establish new root, shoot, and flower growth simultaneously, with roots usually losing out.



Fall is also the time when plants naturally shift their energy from top growth to root growth. This helps plants establish faster. Perennials planted in fall translocate energy from their leaves into their root system, resulting in a stronger plant next year. Another benefit of fall planting is there are fewer weeds to compete for nutrients and moisture, allowing more of the water and nutrients you add to be absorbed by plants instead of weeds.



Less watering



Along with autumn’s cooler temperatures often comes gentle, soaking rainfall, which means plants set out in fall usually require less watering. In addition, plants naturally need less water in fall due to the cooler, shorter days. This is particularly true for deciduous plants that lose their leaves as winter approaches. While it’s still important to water plants well immediately after planting and for the next few weeks, within a month or two you should be able to rely on natural rainfall to provide all your plant’s moisture needs.



Planting in fall reduces the need for additional watering both now and in the future by equipping your trees, shrubs, and perennials with a deeper, more established root system. Deeper roots are able to find more water, which they will need to survive the heat and drought that is sure to come next summer. When leaves unfurl and expand in spring, plants with deeper roots are better able to access the reservoir of water in the soil, reducing the need for supplemental watering.



Less disease and pest infestations



Other benefits of fall planting include fewer insects and disease problems that could damage your new plantings. If you’ve ever had a plant fall victim to a disease or insect infestation, you know how severe these problems can be. Spring and summer are the months when pest and disease problems are most active, but fall is not. Since young plants are most vulnerable to attack, avoiding infestations by planting in the fall means you’ll have a better chance of success.



Arboretum fall plant sale



Now that you know fall is an excellent time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials, there’s no reason to wait. Visit the New Hanover County Arboretum’s fall plant sale Oct. 18 and 19, or your local nursery, to choose a plant that fits your needs and growing conditions. The Arboretum’s fall plant sale will feature new and unusual varieties of trees and shrubs for our region, including ‘Ruby Falls’ weeping redbud, ‘Cherry Dazzle’ dwarf crape myrtle, ‘Crown Jewel’ Gardenia, ‘Vintage Jade’ Distylium, and purple leaf mimosa. Plants can be pre-ordered or picked up during sale hours, 9:30 – 3:30, Oct. 18 and 19. Visit http://tinyurl.com/nanskc4 to download an order from or call 798-7660 to learn more.



Learn more



For fall gardening advice, visit http://ces.ncsu.edu where you can submit questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact us by phone: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610.



Susan Brown is the consumer horticulture agent with the New Hanover County Cooperative Extension-New Hanover County.