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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fall Planting

Our Garden Helpers

It seems like every year about this time we get involved in a big garden project.  Last year we created a new moist woodland garden that I am still in the process of planting.  It hasn’t been easy with two young dogs who consider the area their personal romping ground.  It is an ongoing battle of wills but l have high hopes that the garden will prevail.

Our native wild iris, Iris tenax
This fall we wanted to find a place to feature our growing collection of Pacific Coast Iris Hybrids and species.  I was considering creating another new garden space but that is so much work!  I finally realized that I already had a great spot - the dry woodland garden under a large and thirsty pine tree.  The area has become overgrown over the past few years and it is a prime candidate for cleaning out unwanted plants, amending the soil and replanting with native irises and other drought and shade tolerant perennials.

Pacific Coast Iris 'Rincon'

While many gardeners prefer to do their planting in the spring, I would rather plant in the fall.  The weather is mild and the rainy season has not yet begun in earnest.  The soil is easier to work because it is not sodden as it is in the spring.  Some gardeners worry about the cold hardiness of newly planted hardy perennials but we find that they generally do very well when planted in the fall.


Drought tolerant plants in woodland garden
Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana
Another advantage of fall planting is that the soil temperature is still warm and this encourages plants to develop good root systems.  Fall plantings that have a chance to sink their roots deeply into the ground will need less water next summer.  We regularly add plants to our rock gardens and dryland gardens each fall.  These areas receive minimal summer water and we find that fall plantings need no extra care the following summer.  In contrast, spring plantings must be regularly monitored throughout their first season in order to survive in low water areas.


  1. As always, a bit of new information and a bit of reminding. This can be a time of feeling some regret about projects not completed or advanced as far as we wanted, so it is nice to get a reminder that there is still time to do beneficial things. Thanks!
    I am thinking of creating a pool of cyclamen in one of our large, more level, pockets toward the shady end of our rock garden and wonder if there is something I could plant with it that makes its show and goes domant at opposite times from the cyclamen. Is this whimsy on my part?

  2. We try to embrace the idea that gardening projects are never done. It makes us feel more successful! After all, gardening is a verb and the garden is always changing and evolving both with the seasons and over time.

    I think the pool of Cyclamen is a lovely idea. Keeping in mind that they prefer a drier summer, they should be planted at the edge of the irrigation zone. If you choose fall blooming C. hederifolium, spring flowering companion plants could be Western natives such as Trillium, Erythronium or even native iris grown as though on the edge of the "pool". If the area is under deciduous trees where there is more early season light, you will have better flowering and also have the option of spring blooming bulbs. It could be a lovely spot!