Even though it may not look like much is going on above ground, fall-planted perennials will put on a lot of root growth, from fall till late winter, while the demand from leaves and flowers is low. A big root system gives plants a better start in the spring when new shoots develop, and helps carry them through the dry summer months as the roots mine lower soil layers for moisture and nutrients.
So, what can you plant now?
- This is the absolute best time to plant and divide perennials and put in new trees
- If your vegetable garden needs a cover crop, the Snohomish Conservation District has a whole article on cover crops in their Fall newsletter. Here’s their definition:
“A cover crop, sometimes called green manure or catch crop, is grown for thesole purpose of being tilled back into the soil in the spring. A cover crop can be a grass, cereal grain, or legume. It provides multiple benefits and can be an inexpensive way to build better soil in your gardens.”
- Territorial Seed lists fava beans as one of the legumes for cover crops. Favas are a two-fer: you can eat the beans next spring before you compost them. Buy cover crop seed in quantity from local farm stores, at Sky Nursery (whose website has more good tips on fall planting), or by mail from Territorial.
- Peas will be earlier if planted now. See the Territorial site for details.
- Shallots and garlic go in when other bulbs are planted.
- Fall bulbs – check the sales around town for a good selection and sometimes unusual varieties.
- Species tulips are a special group of tulips that naturalize well and desire dry summers (that’s us!). In the proper site (very good drainage, full sun) they are a great investment. Unlike the types that disappear if you don’t fuss over them, they are long lasting. The Great Plant Picks website has the info.
- Renovate your lawn if you have one. This is a good time to evaluate your drainage needs, rake out the thatch, aerate, add compost if necessary, sprinkle some compost mixed with sand on the bald patches, and overseed with appropriate NW shade or sun-adapted grass mixes. Don’t forget to camouflage the seed from the birds with more sand or some bird netting. Or, find the wet spots and start a rain garden or bed for plants that need wet feet.
In our maritime climate we can garden year-round with some careful planning. Many “winter” crops need to be sown during the summer though, so they are big enough to produce and survive during the winter. Territorial Seed Company has a handy chart to tell you when to plant what, so you can plan for next year. See also the pages on individual crops, and winter seed ordering info.