Planting Points for Autumn

September 14, 2010

By William Thrift
Photography by Lisa Willson

Special Thanks to Rebekah Cline at Rebekah’s Garden, Rob and Josh at Case Plants, and Joan Binns of the South Carolina Midlands Master Gardeners Association.

Just because the air’s getting chillier, it doesn’t mean that a gardener’s work is over for the year.  While many people trade their gardening tools for Mason jars, there are still things that can be planted and done outside.  Embrace and enjoy the cool months and look forward to a vibrant spring to come.

Thinking Ahead

Clustering bulbs like tulips and Narcissus (daffodils) will cut down on the amount of work needed to produce a dynamic springtime flowerbed.  Petunias are also a good option for fall planting because they generally revive and bloom in the spring.

Fall is a good time to plant hearty trees and shrubs.  The lower temperatures will make it easier on your water bill because you don’t have to nurse them along like you do during the hot months.  Also, the root systems will strengthen during the winter generally making for a healthier plant the following spring.  When planting, make sure the hole is two times as big as the container that the plant comes in, and one-and-a-half times as deep.  Mix organics in with the loosened soil to entice your plant’s roots to seek out the nutrients.

Beacons of Light

Yellow and white pansies are popular because they help to illuminate the edges of driveways and sidewalks when night comes early through the cold months – and they’re solar-powered!

Tired of the same old cute little pansies?  Try a Plentifall trailing pansy, which works well in containers because as it grows, it cascades over the sides with a variety of colorful blooms.

Take It Outside

When cold air chills the Midlands, don’t stay cooped up inside.  Fall may be the time to consider installing a fire pit or chimney to enhance a patio, providing a comfortable outdoor option for the family to spend quality time.

Kids Enjoy This

Pumpkins are plentiful, especially as Halloween approaches.  While the jack-o’-lanterns are being carved, try cleaning out some small pumpkins, filling them with planting soil, and planting pansies or violas in them!  Let the kids choose from a wide range of color options.  The pumpkins will eventually degrade, but if they’re placed strategically in a flowerbed, the remaining shell can be broken up and gently mixed in with the surrounding soil, providing future nutrients.

Put Some Hair On It

Medusa ornamental peppers can make a comical topper for your jack-o’-lantern!  Although not very flavorful as far as peppers go, they come in the perfect Halloween colors.

Don’t Forget Your Veggies

There are a variety of kales and cabbages that work well as complements to cold-weather flowering plants, creating a backdrop in rich green or red hues.  Most of these are for show only, so you don’t have to eat them!

Grandmothers Know Best

Coleus varieties are popular for their autumnal colors.  When planted in the fall, they will last through a few early frosts.  Rob’s grandmother only ever bought her first batch of them.  After that, she would root them in large test tubes and move them inside over the coldest months and re-plant them outside in the spring – the ultimate in sustainable gardening!

Lasagna Composting

Also known as sheet composting, this technique for preparing a planting bed dates back to ancient times, but recyclables like cardboard and newspaper make it easy for the modern gardener.  It also makes good use of other household debris like coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, sawdust, and leaves.  The process is slow, taking up to six months, but the payoff is super-rich soil that can be used for spring planting of vegetables or enlarging perennial borders.  Joan Binns, of the South Carolina Midlands Master Gardeners Association, says the technique transformed a barren area of her yard into a place she now grows a variety of plants.  Watch their website,, for upcoming seminars on this and other planting topics.

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