While most gardeners think of planting new garden plants in spring when the weather warms, the very best time to plant those native plants you’ve been meaning to put in is fall. Autumn planting of natives has many benefits for the gardener, the plants and the soil. Our native plant nursery at Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center has many beautiful native grasses, perennials, shrubs and trees for you to plant in late October for establishment over the winter months. And as an added bonus, we will be selling them on Saturday, October 14th from 9 am to 2 pm. Yes, this is shameless self-promotion, but we want EVERYONE to plant a native this fall!
Plants that go into the ground in mid-to-late fall have an advantage over those planted in spring. Because native plants use the first several months in the ground growing their root systems, they can take advantage of the soil warmth, even after air temperatures drop to the point that top growth becomes dormant. It may look like nothing is happening, but those roots are growing and moving down in the soil, making associations with the mycelial organisms that will help them grow faster in the spring, and helping to infiltrate the rain that falls on your property. When planted in the spring, native plants will often appear to not be growing at all, as they race to get their roots established. By taking advantage of fall planting, and cool season root growth, you can see faster growth in spring of the above ground vegetation.
Of course, benefits to the gardener include not having to water through dry hot seasons while the plant establishes itself. Native plants require less water and pruning maintenance in comparison to non-natives, but like any young plant, if planted in spring they will require more watering to ensure survival. Fall planting just makes sense to keep both the plant and the gardener from stressing!
Benefits to the soil abound as well. As long as the plant can photosynthesize – that is, build carbon body parts using sunlight and carbon dioxide through above-ground vegetation – that carbon is being absorbed out of the air and into the root systems. Carbon in the form of root tissue can stay in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years. Think of our native prairie soils, made rich and black by millennia of native bunchgrass roots. The exact same thing happens in your garden when you plant our deep-rooted native plants. Soil organisms that evolved with western native plants abound where natives grow, and add to the richness of the soil ecosystem.
Plant some native plants in your yard this fall and you will see the ecosystem benefits: healthier soil, more abundant and diverse wildlife, more pollinators and butterflies, more breeding birds, better water retention and less need to irrigate.
This fall, GARDEN FOR LIFE!