Tag Archives: digging

Fall Is the Best Time To Plant

digging spade

“Fall is the best time to plant”  That’s what I tell my students (and anyone who asks). The shorter days and cooler temperatures make it easier for transplants to spread their roots without us hovering nearby with the sprinkler. Usually there’s some rain too, though not this fall, not much. But the dry weather is not nearly the problem it would be in the spring and so we are madly digging and dividing perennials all over the garden.

Why divide? After a few years — as few as 3 or as many as 10 — perennial plants begin to lose vigor. Often they grow toward the outside, leaving an empty space in the middle like a bird’s nest. They may flower less, have smaller leaves, or flop over more. They may also have gotten too big for their space in the garden. Dividing re-invigorates the plants, and as Tracy Aust says, “It can be very satisfying, having a rejuvenating effect on perennial and gardener alike.”

Of course, after digging and dividing and transplanting, you may have more plants than you can use.  I overwinter many garden-dug perennials for our spring plant sale, but space is at a premium this year. A truckload of perennials has been donated to two local schools, saving me from having to compost them. Thanks Jayne and Hilary, for gardening with the kids!

One last thought about digging and dividing: the plants may not look great at first but in the spring they’ll look better than ever.

hosta bed The Hosta bed under the Metasequoia was dug up and replanted.

pink chrysanthemumsOver near the Co-operative Extension parking lot we  put in new plants to go with these great Chrysanthemums that look like pink daisies.

bee balm/monardaLauren and I dug, divided, and replanted Bee Balm in the ericacious garden and the sunny border. We also took some Siberian Iris out of a bed that was too shady and put in Ligularia, which I think will do well in this moist, shady spot.

digging Joe-PyeAdam and Ben got started digging up the monster Joe-Pyes in the back of the sunny border. Topping out at 10-12 feet this year, their root balls are two feet across. They are going to be moved back so the rest of the plants can breathe.

dahliasStill no frost here, so flowers continue to bloom, especially dahlias, which seem to get bigger and more colorful every day.



children diggingIt’s true that springtime is when most people get excited about gardening. I succumb to this as much as anyone –maybe even more so. Starting seeds and making big plans for the gardens is what spring is all about! But for digging and dividing and moving plants, there’s no time like the present. Yes, fall is THE best time to dig plants in my book. Because the weather is cooler and the days are shorter, there is rarely a danger of drought. (Cool weather is also pleasant for the gardener.) Here in coastal Rhode Island, mild fall weather allows transplants to establish good root systems before the ground freezes. The plants won’t need to be watered through the spring and summer when I am busy with a million other things. And speaking of a million other things, that’s another good reason to dig in the fall. Spring is just TOO BUSY. Seeds. Weeds. Plant Sale!

My tool of choice for this work is a solid steel spade. I used to think this spade was ridiculously heavy. But if it’s nice and sharp (I like to sharpen ALL my tools), then the weight of the spade does half the work for you.  Digging is not always easy but can be oh- so- satisfying!

steel spadeSo this week, with the help of Dr. Maynard’s PLS 350 class (Herbaceous Garden Plants),  I will be digging up much of the sunny border in the main garden. This renovation is sorely needed! It will invigorate the plants, loosen the soil, and reestablish the appearance of the garden. Plants do move themselves, into or out of the sun, over a few years, and the original design gets lost.  I’m looking forward to replanting the border so that it is accessible from the back — eliminating the need to (oh no!) step in the garden to tend the plants. Soil compaction makes it hard for water and air to reach plant roots, reducing growth and vigor, and favoring the growth of weeds.

Digging, dividing, and moving everything is a big job! The garden won’t necessarily look great this fall, but just give it a little time…by spring it will be beautiful!

new garden sign