Fall Gardening: Establishing Native Perennials

Wednesday, September 1, 2021
We are 20 days away from the first day of fall. It is hard to believe, summer has flown by, as always.  A lot of us put our green thumbs back on each spring to create gardens, hopefully with local wildlife and biodiversity in mind. Something often overlooked is the benefit of planting in the fall, especially native perennials that will come up again in the spring.

Planting natives in the fall can be really beneficial, as it gives time for improved establishment and therefore flowering in the following spring. In the spring, we have to wait for the ground to defrost to plant anything. In the fall, the soil will continue to hold heat even after above ground temperatures begin to drop and can lend time to growing and establishing new root systems. 

Giant Swallowtail on Cardinal Flower. Photo by Shayna Hartley

You’re doing future you a favour, as these perrrenials will go dormant once the colder weather arrives but pop back up in the spring without further work! 

Tips for best establishment of native perennials in the fall: 

1. Get plants into the ground ~ 6 weeks ahead of first frost. This is a guessing game for sure but we are in a great period right now for getting some more native plants into  the ground. Plus, if you pick plants that are currently still flowering such as Black-eyed Susans, you can provide some extra resource to pollinators such as butterflies while they are still here! 

2. Avoid giving fertilizer to native plants you are trying to establish, this tends to encourage a lot of top growth and can be detrimental to root establishment. 

3. For establishment it’s best to let plants dry out between waterings. Best practice is to water deeply a couple times a week. Watering should stop once we experience a frost. 

4. Introducing compost or mulch around the plants will aid them in overwintering successfully. Another great tip- gather your fall leaves and instead of bagging them for pick up, use them to protect your garden beds! 

Something else to consider is planting varieties that will bloom at different times throughout spring, summer and fall to make sure your garden stays beautiful and full of life. 

Ontario Native Perennials by Species Benefit: 

Pollinator Friendly: 

  • Canada Goldenrod- blooms summer/ autumn 
Painted Lady on Goldenrod. Photo by Shayna Hartley 

  • Black-eyed Susan- blooms summer/ autumn
  • Wild Bergamot- blooms in summer 
Wild Bergamot. Photo by Kristen Martyn 

  • Swamp Milkweed- blooms in summer 
Swamp Milkweed. Photo by Kristen Martyn 

Bird Friendly: 

  • Wild Columbine - blooms in summer 
Wild Columbine. Photo by Kristen Martyn. 

  • Cardinal flower - blooms mid-late summer 
  • Pin Cherry - flowers in late spring, mid summer the flowers become cherries 

There are of course many others and we encourage you to do your research to find the best plants for your plant zone and garden sun exposure.

For the other podcast lovers out there, check out this recent collaboration between Wild Birds Unlimited and Birds Canada: Gardening for Birds. The episode discusses the new Gardening for Birds program and provides all the tips and tricks you will need to transform your space into a wildlife haven. You can listen here. 

More broadly, the Gardening for Birds program is an incredible resource for those looking to attract more species and increase biodiversity in their own yards. Visit the Gardening for Birds website here to find comprehensive planning tools that will take you through a step-by-step process of planning your garden, knowing your plant zone and developing a customized list of plants suited to your location that are bound to attract birds. 

Three step process available at birdgardens.ca

Fall is a really exciting time for birders, as migration ramps up again. Keep the excitement going by establishing native plants now that you know you - and the birds and the bees - can enjoy in the spring! 

Happy planting! 



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