Fall planting for spring flowers need not be restricted to bulb planting. Most herbaceous perennials, even the fall flowering ones that traditionally go into the ground in spring, are happier when they get a head start over spring planting. Under a layer of mulch their roots continue to grow and establish themselves while their crowns get some rest before the warm weather prods them into putting out new growth.
So plant some perennials before you hang up your garden gloves and spades.
Here are a few must-haves for every garden:
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) Zones 3-9
These beauties grow about 2 feet tall with multiple branches, each one invariably holding out a dense tuft of bright orange flowers in summer. Aptly called butterfly weed, now is the time to welcome this native plant into your garden when the declining population of monarch butterflies is a becoming a worry. Not only butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds too are attracted by the sweet nectar.
You can get different cultivars from nurseries that stock native plants or get them by mail-order. Plant them in a sunny position; they are not fussy about the soil. If you are growing Asclepias from seeds, sow them in fall and you’ll have baby plants emerging in spring.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) Zones 3-10
Chives grow in low grass-like clumps, throwing up delightful little globes of pink and lavender. They can do much more than add color to your garden though, attracting bees in droves, while keeping harmful insects away. They provide an endless supply of flavorful leaves and pretty flowers for your bowl of soup too.
When you buy chives for planting in your fall garden, a small clump will go a long way. Divide the clump into several sections, each with not less than three bulbs. You can plant the clumps in soil with added organic matter. A staggered planting of chives will sprinkle color here and there in the garden, while a row of them will make a neat and protective border to your flower beds.
Strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa) Zones 3-10
The focus is on edible garden plants now more than ever. A strawberry patch should find a place in even the tiniest of gardens. If you don’t think you can use up all the berries of summer-bearing varieties that give a single large crop, go for the ever-bearing type that staggers the yield from late spring to late fall.
In zones 7 and above, fall is the time to plant strawberries. In zones 3-6 the small pups go into the ground in spring itself, but established plants can be planted in the fall. So if you’ve missed out on spring planting, get grown plants now.
Strawberries like slightly acidic soil with good drainage. Select a sunny spot and plant them on a raised bed, 1 ½-feet apart, with their crowns just above the soil.
Hydrangea (Hydrangea macropetala) Zones 5-9
Fall is the ideal time to plant these large bushy plants with stunning flower heads. With their naturally manicured habit, the mop head hydrangeas put up a continuous flower show from mid-summer until late fall. The flower heads are keepers too; they stay fresh as cut flowers and also look great in dried flower arrangements.
Plant the hydrangea in partial shade, and in well-draining soil, in such a way that the crown is just above the soil. They love moist soil but need good drainage too.
Peonies (Paeonia suffructicosa) Zones 3-8
Peonies are old favorites that deserve to be reinstated into our gardens. The beautiful, lush foliage offers a beautiful backdrop to the delicate blooms that have inspired many an artist. You can leave these long-lived perennials as your footprints on earth when you move on, so give them a good place in your garden.
Though peonies love lots of sun, they will manage in partial shade too. Set them 2 inches deep into rich soil with a bit of bone meal for long-term sustenance. Once settled, they don’t demand much care, but they hate being disturbed.