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What can I plant in the fall? Ideas to extend the garden season after summer winds down

by Trish Rudder

Now is the time to think about planting tulips and daffodils that will bloom next spring. But in addition to bulbs, planting shrubs, other perennials and trees can go in the ground before the first frost.

In zone 6 where Hancock is, the first frost is generally around November 1. So, based on that general rule, plants can safely go in the ground between September 18 and October 9 before the ground freezes.

Hardy shrubs can be planted well into October, master gardeners advise.

Bulbs that will come up in the springs like hyacinths, tulips and daffodils should be planted in the fall. In addition, gardeners can plant hellebores like the Lenten Rose and Christmas Rose.

Hellebores are evergreen, so green leaves will be seen year-round.

Another favorite is hybrid daylilies, which can be trans-planted after blooming.

Fall is a good time to plant hardy shrubs and perennials, but not tropical ones in zone 6. Fall is the best time for new plantings and trans-plants.

Fall soil temperatures make it a solid time to move plants without fears of having them dry out.

The transplants can be moved any time and you don’ t have to worry about lack of water like you would with a new plant because the transplant roots are well established to the soil.

The website said the cool-down period in zone 6 starts around the end of September, about six weeks before the first frost.

“This is the ideal time to start your fall plants,” the website said.

“While you might not think of fall as a time for planting perennials, it actually presents a golden opportunity to do just that. Not only is it bargain time for many perennials at the garden center, the growing conditions are perfect for establishing roots,” the website said.

According to, trees and shrubs should be planted early in the fall to allow the root system to develop.

“By planting your trees in September or early October, you are giving the trees and shrubs enough time to grow deep strong roots before next spring,” the website said.

The Maryland Extension office said fall planting gives plants a jump-start on the growing season, which results in more robust plant growth.

“Trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials have plenty of time to establish their roots, which continue to grow at a slow rate at the low temperatures of 45 and even 42 degrees Fahrenheit. By spring, the transplanted or newly planted plants will have a sufficient root system developed in the fall in a previous season,” say the extension plant experts.

Planting should be done about two months, and a minimum of six weeks, before the first average frost date. This will give the plants enough time to repair and develop new roots before the ground freezes.

Less stress on the plants

According to GFL, “one advantage of planting perennials in the fall is that it’s less stressful on the plant.” When you plant in the spring, the plant has to put all its energy into growing roots and leaves. But when you plant in the fall, the plant can focus on growing roots “because it doesn’ t have to worry about leaves,” and since the weather is cooler, plants will need less water and need to be watered about once a week because there is less evaporation, the website said.

In addition, fall planting gives perennials a chance to develop strong roots before dealing with the stress of drought or extreme temperatures.

“As a result, perennials planted in the fall are often more resilient and longer-lived than those planted in other seasons,” the website said.

Also, fall rains ensure good plant establishment. If there is a dry fall, watering the new transplants is very important. About an inch of water per week will need to be added to keep them well irrigated. Adding mulch preserves soil moisture and facilitates root growth and mulching helps to prevent rapid cooling of the soil. Moist soil tends to stay warmer longer.

Fall is also an “ideal time to divide some of the spring and summer blooming plants. The new plants/divisions will be able to establish themselves enough for a good start in the spring,” according to the website.

If people have questions about a particular tree, shrub or perennial, the University of Maryland Extension will connect home gardeners with experts to answer questions.

Look on the “Home and Garden Information Center” of or send questions via “Ask Extension” on the website.