Why you should Plant Perennials in the Fall

Why You Should Plant Perennials in the Fall

When should you plant perennial plants? It may seem counter intuitive, but late summer and fall is actually the best time to plant perennial plants. When you plant perennials in the fall, you are working with nature. Keep reading to learn more about why planting perennials in the fall is your best choice. Plus, get some tips on how to successfully plant your perennials.


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If you want to grow with nature, perennials are the bread and butter of your cultivation efforts. But knowing when to plant is key to enjoying abundant harvests from your new plants.

Perennial Vegetables

We usually think of perennial fruits, but did you know there are perennial vegetables? Here are some posts all about perennial vegetables. Check them out to learn how to grow these awesome vegetables:

Whether you are sowing seeds or planting small plants, late summer and fall is the ideal time to plant your perennials. When you plant perennials in the fall, you’re working with nature.

Here are 3 reasons why planting perennials in the fall is best.

3 Reasons Why Planting Perennials in the Fall is Best

  • 1
    More time for roots to grow.
  • 2
    Work with the cold to help perennial seeds germinate.
  • 3
    Spread out your planting.

Keep reading to dive into these 3 reasons so you can get the most out of your perennial plants. But before you do, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print checklist that outlines the steps to take so you can start planting perennials in the fall.

More Time for Roots to Grow

plant perennials in the fall to give your plants a boost

These native perennial plants were all planted in the fall. While they died back over the winter, they quickly popped up the following spring and are now doing great! Thanks to the fall planting and a thick layer of mulch, they did not need any watering during their first year.

One of the great things about perennial plants is that they can grow without regular watering or fertilizer.

At least once they are established.

Often, we still end up watering our perennial plants during the first year or 2. But as people who want to grow with nature, we are always looking for ways to water less, not more.

This is why planting your perennials in the fall is best.

When you plant in the fall, you give the plants time to get their roots established both in the fall and also in the spring, as soon as the weather starts to warm up.

This could mean several months of additional root growth before the summer heat.

With a good layer of mulch to help keep the ground from freezing, you can give your plant even more time to grow.

Plus, in warmer climates like mine here in western Washington, where the ground never permanently freezes, you can plant all through fall and winter.

Wild Tip:

If you live in an area where the ground freezes during the winter, make sure to plant your perennials a month or so before your ground freezes. Try to balance it so the fall rains have returned, but the ground is not yet freezing. You will want to plant when the ground is moist, but not frozen. Add mulch around your plants to give them more time.

How do you know when things will start freezing? Look up your average first frost date here.

When you plant perennials in the spring, they just don’t have a lot of time to get their roots established before the summer heat. This makes them more dependent on watering. So make sure to plant your perennials in the fall to ensure abundant growth and harvests the following year.

Here are some final tips for when to plant different types of perennial plants:

  1. Woody plants: Plant when the rains have returned, but the ground is not freezing. Ideally, plant when the plants have gone dormant.
  2. Non-woody (herbaceous) plants: Plant them before they go dormant. This way you will be able to see the top growth, which will make it much easier to do other plantings in that area come spring.
  3. Bulbs/Tubers: Same as for woody plants—Plant when the rains have returned, but the ground is not freezing. Ideally, plant when the plants have gone dormant.

Work with the Cold to Help Perennial Seeds Germinate

Plant perennials in the fall by seed

Lupine seeds can be soaked overnight to get them to germinate, or you can just sow them dry in the fall. I have used both techniques, and either way seems to work just fine. Why work harder if you don’t have to?

A lot of perennial seeds need what is called stratification to successfully germinate. This is essentially the process that tells the seeds to wake up and start germinating. Often this requires a cycle of wet cold time followed by some warm times, and some more cold time, before finally waking up.

Kind of sounds like what happens over fall and winter, and into spring!

Instead of trying to follow a complex schedule requiring you to keep your seeds in your fridge or freezer for weeks, you can just work with nature and let nature handle this step.

When you sow your perennial seeds in late summer through fall, you are mimicking what happens when a plant naturally drops its seeds.

The seeds fall to the ground and sit through the fall and winter, and then wake up in the spring. This is how perennial plants evolved to grow.

Instead of trying to recreate this process indoors, just sow your perennial seeds in the fall and walk away. This way nature can take care of the seeds and you get to relax.

The only downside to this method is that the seeds will be vulnerable to being eaten by birds and other critters in need of a wintertime snack. Make sure to cover the seeds with a light layer of soil or mulch and potentially protect them with chicken wire covers.

When I’m planting seeds in the fall, I also try to over-plant, anticipating that birds will sneak some of the seeds I’ve planted.

Spread Out Your Planting

Spread out your work by planting perennials in the fall

With vegetable gardens, food forests, hedgerows, and many more planting areas, it would be too much work if it all had to be planted in the spring. Planting perennials in the fall is a great way to spread out this work.

Let’s face it—there is a lot to do in the spring when it comes to gardening and managing your property. Finding time to plant perennial crops during this time might just seem like too much.

But most likely, the fall is a time where outdoor tasks are winding down for you. You may still be preserving your remaining harvests or managing a fall garden, but often planting is not on the list.

So let’s change that!

Planting your perennials in the fall will let you spread out your planting efforts. This will give you more time to focus on each of your plants in turn. If you like planting, this will give you another time of year to plant.

Every fall and winter I’m planting perennial plants on my property. Then I get the joy of watching all these plants come to life the following spring!

Wild Tip:

Planting perennials in the fall is such a good option that I made up a rule for myself—I never plant perennials after March or April in any growing season. This lets me focus my springtime efforts on my regular vegetables and annuals. Plus, this way, my perennials should be well enough established that I can either skip watering entirely or water very little.

Often the fall and winter can be a dreary time. It’s great to be able to do some planting during this time of the year to liven things up.

Start Planting Perennials in the Fall

Get started with planting perennials in the fall

Planting perennials in the fall or winter lets you work with nature and spread out all your planting work. Take some time to find nurseries that provide perennials in the fall/winter. I like to get bareroots in January and non-woody plants in early October.

So are you ready to start planting your perennials in the fall? Uh oh, I’ve got some bad news for you—some nurseries won’t sell perennials in the fall.

This has always seemed strange to me, but they’ll often only ship in early to mid-spring.

Not all of them are like this, though.

So when you get ready to order or purchase your perennial plants, make sure to check that the plants you want will actually be available in the fall.

Fruit trees, shrubs, and other woody plants are the easiest to find in the fall. Non-woody plants like perennial vegetables can be more of a challenge, but you can still find them.

Sometimes, you'll need to order your plants in late August or early September and have them shipped before the fall. You should still plant these plants even if it’s a bit early—just make sure to give them some water until the rains return.

It’s not ideal, but it works. And you still get most of the benefits of planting perennials in the fall.

The easiest option is to get seeds. Seeds are often sold year-round, making it fairly easy to get them in time for a fall planting. Bulbs, roots, and tubers are also fairly easy to find in the fall.

Wild Tip:

Some woody plants can also be grown as live stakes. This is where you take a cutting from an existing plant, stick it in the ground, and watch it grow. Click the link to learn more about this great way to get free plants.

Despite the issues with timing at nurseries, you can still plant perennials in the fall. I have been doing this every year since my family and I moved to our property. In just a few years, I’ve planted a couple thousand perennial plants this way.

It really is the best way to plant perennial plants.

Ready to get started? Before you go, leave a comment to let us know what kinds of perennial plants you're going to plant on your property this fall!

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Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

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