Carolyn Singer: Fall planting season is only just beginning |

Carolyn Singer: Fall planting season is only just beginning

Carolyn Singer
September arrives with sweet autumn Clematis paniculata in full bloom.
Photo by Carolyn Singer

The weeks ahead are inviting for garden activities, with a gradual cooling and perhaps even the rain we have longed for through the heat of summer.

Fall seems to me to be a gentler season, one that offers a definite seasonal advantage for gardening and landscaping.

Why fall?

Plants are headed toward winter dormancy.

The clay soil prevalent in the foothills holds warmth for weeks, allowing initial root growth that is not possible in the colder soils of spring. This early growth is especially critical for native and non-native trees and shrubs to establish.

Groundcovers, too, have a spring growth advantage when fall planted.

Plants added to the landscape in fall will not be as demanding of irrigation next year. Transplant shock is minimal.

Right now days are still warm and dry. Any plants going into the ground will definitely need irrigation. With adjacent soils dry, water delivered to the new plant, whether a young kale or a tree from a large nursery container must be applied not only to the root ball but the soil area surrounding as well.

Drip irrigation may be inadequate at this stage.

Even early rains, while welcome, will do little to moisten the soil. Especially with larger landscape plants, native and non-native, remember that a plant grown in a container for months probably received daily watering by the grower.

A combination of drip plus a weekly soaking of the root ball and adjacent soil will enable roots to grow.


Covering the soil surrounding each precious plant is as critical for fall planting as it is in the summer for retention of moisture.

As winter approaches, protecting the soil from heavy rains will prevent root exposure. Mulches settle, so check your plants routinely, and add organic material (leaves, chips, decomposing straw) as needed.

Local fall plant sales are an opportunity not to be missed. First on the calendar is the annual plant sale the UC Master Gardeners will be holding at the Nevada Irrigation District demonstration garden from 9 to noon Saturday, Sept. 29. This will be a good source for the cool-season vegetable plants you thought about seeding back in July. Perennials available from local gardeners are a rare opportunity to select healthy starts for your own garden.

In a few more weeks, on Saturday, Oct. 13, our local Redbud chapter of the California Native Plant Society will host their annual native plant sale at the North Star property.

Beginning with your edible garden, focus on soil preparation. The effort and amendments you put into the earth before planting will reward you at harvest time.

Fall is an opportunity to build the soil the most economical way possible with a cover crop. Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply has the perfect mix of seed in their “winter soil builder.” Seed any areas of soil that will not be used for growing vegetables during the winter months.

Garlic will soon be available for planting. While planting these bulbs is not as critical as getting your winter greens into the garden, try to plant the garlic while the soil is still warm. Soil should be fertile, with good winter drainage and sun exposure.

I add two inches of “Carolyn’s Mix Plus” and a light application of Sustane 4-6-4, both from Rare Earth, to prepare the garlic bed.

Capturing the warmth of the soil in September is valuable to optimize availability of nutrients. Bulbs and young seedlings do much better this month and next than they do when soils are cold. Too bad we cannot plant our tomatoes and other summer heat lovers this month!

Irrigate the seed bed every other day, soaking the soil to a depth of at least two inches. Too many plantings of fall-sown wildflowers have failed when early rains brought germination, but a dry period following prevented young roots from growing.

Fall is an opportunity not to be missed!

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom,” and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. Send your gardening questions and comments to Check out her website at

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.