If you think spring is the only time to do major work in your yard, you just may be surprised. Fall is actually the perfect time to work on landscaping. The weather is cooler, so it is more enjoyable working outdoors.

If you think spring is the only time to do major work in your yard, you just may be surprised. Fall is actually the perfect time to work on landscaping. The weather is cooler, so it is more enjoyable working outdoors.  

Landscape plants installed in March, April, and May benefit from generous rains and the long growing season that stretches ahead. But more often than not, we receive too much rainfall that makes planting difficult, especially on poorly drained sites. Then there is the sudden onset of hot, dry weather that typically displaces an often too-short spring, which can injure tender new plantings. Trees planted in the spring or summer our actively growing and moving lots of water throughout their canopies. Because their new roots have not yet grown out into the native soil, they can dry out quickly, necessitating fairly frequent watering. This is especially true for trees grown in containers. Just a few days of neglect can result in a dead tree when the weather turns hot and dry.

What are the benefits of planting in the fall?

Better root growth

Cooler days and nights place less stress on the new transplants already-stressed system while our mild winters mean root growth will continue.  By spring these fall-planted trees and shrubs will have more roots established and really be ready to get growing.  This early establishment before the growth spurt generates better flushing and flowering as opposed to planting a flowering shrub in the spring. When planted in the spring it has to go through its reproductive cycle (production of it flowers) and establish new root growth simultaneously. Also, since perennials often go dormant in the fall and winter, they use this energy to create a stronger root system.  Fall is also the time when plants naturally shift their energy from top growth to root growth. This helps plants establish faster. In addition, annual weeds that compete for nutrients and moisture are finishing their life cycle, which reduces this competition. 

Moisture from fall rains

Cooler, wetter weather is the perfect time for tree planting. With an increase in rainfall and cooler temperatures in the fall, less watering is needed.  As tree shoot growth halts, the trees require less water because the days are cooler and shorter and the rate of photosynthesis decreases.   Fallís ample rainfall encourages roots to grow more deeply. Deeper roots are better able to find water now and next spring.

Equipped to deal with heat and drought

Another great reason to plant your trees and shrubs in the fall is to provide them with the establishment they will need to be equipped to deal with heat and drought in the following season. When leaves unfurl and expand, the increased roots are better able to access the reservoir of water, and the stress of transplanting is drastically reduced.

Less disease and infestation

Other benefits from fall planting are fewer insects and disease problems that could damage your new tree or shrub. If youíve ever had a plant fall victim to a disease or infestation, you know just how severe these problems can be. Spring and summer are the months when these problems are most active, but fall is not. Since young trees are most vulnerable to attack, youíll have a better chance of avoiding infestations when planting in the fall.

Final benefit

Savvy shoppers know that plant prices come down as the year comes to an end. Perennials are an especially great bargain because most people see a perennial that has passed and assume it is dead. Fact is planting perennials in the fall means youíll get a great price, and the plant will have the fall months to grow a strong root system. Next spring youíll be rewarded with a fantastic, established plant and some extra money in your pocket to boot.

Now that you know that fall is an excellent time to plant a tree, thereís no reason to wait. If you found that something was lacking in your yard this year, or that you want more privacy or shade next summer, visit your local nursery and choose a tree that fits your needs.

Learn More!

For help interpreting soil reports, weed identification and control, and other fall gardening advice, visit ces.ncsu.edu, where you can submit questions via the ĎAsk an Expertí link, or contact us: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238. In New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660. In Brunswick County call 910-253-2610. 


Susan Brown is the consumer horticulture extension agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in New Hanover County. Contact her at susan_brown@ncsu.edu or 910-798-7476.