Fallscapes on Cape Cod - Cape Cod LIFE Publications

Fallscapes on Cape Cod

Planting in the autumn can give homeowners a great head start on year-round beauty.

Photo By: Anthony Dispezio

It may seem like a strange idea to plant trees, shrubs, and perennials in the autumn, just when Mother Nature is slowing down and about to take a long nap. But the truth is that planting in September and October is often a very smart idea on the Cape and Islands because the soil is still warm from the summer sun, air and water temperatures have moderated, and water levels in the soil are neither too great—as is often the case in New England springs—nor at hot summertime lows.

Just like children, young plants thrive best in a consistent nurturing environment without highs and lows, which can stress tender roots leading to disease and poor performance for the plant in general. In fact, some plants actually perform better when planted in the fall, especially conifers like pine and spruce trees, which prefer higher soil temperatures than are often found on the Cape and islands in our cool springs. Certain deciduous trees like maple, ash, honey locust, crabapple, and elm also do well when planted in the fall.

Unlike many areas of New England where the fall planting window is quite small, Cape soils often don’t freeze until January, which means that trees or shrubs planted in September or October get a good, long growing season in before winter arrives. Come spring, these autumn plantings will have a head start on spring installations, which are frequently delayed for months due to late snowfall, heavy spring rains, or cool temperatures.

Anyone who tried to plant new trees, shrubs, or perennials last June on Cape Cod knows just how frustrating it is to be dreaming of a gorgeous new landscape in early summer only to be frustrated by temperatures stuck in the low 40s with wind chills occasionally dipping into the 30s at night. Far better to hit the nurseries (which often have sales at this time of year) in the early fall and get started on your landscape remodeling now.

Fall planting, just like spring planting, still requires careful consideration of each tree or shrub’s particular likes and dislikes as well as those crucial first steps for planting at any time of year: good soil, adequate hydration, sensible fertilization, and protection from environmental hazards like high coastal winds or exposure to salt water. Landscape professionals agree across the board that with fall planting, the right size hole for each plant is a critical first step. Or as the famous gardener’s quote goes: “Always a $10 hole for a $5 plant.”

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