Published on 10/26/99

Fall a Great Time for Gardening

Fall is an exciting time for gardening. It may be our last chance to have fun in the garden until next spring. Fortunately, we can garden essentially year-round in Georgia. However, fall is the ideal time for many activities.

Planting trees and shrubs

In most of Georgia, fall is the best time to plant new trees and shrubs in the yard. The weather is cooling off, and this reduces water loss from newly planted trees and shrubs, which may not have extensive root systems. We generally have enough moisture in the fall and winter, too. So there is less stress on the plants.

The other big advantage of fall planting is that the new plant has several months to establish a root system before we get into the hot, dry summer. Most plants that don't survive the first year die of lack of water. Most of these die in the summer.

Avoid First-year Losses

You can avoid much of the normal first-year loss by planting in the fall. First-year growth will usually be greater, since fall-planted shrubs have established root systems and are ready to grow in the spring.

Another advantage of fall planting is that it's just more pleasant for the gardener.

Except in extreme north Georgia, you can generally plant throughout the fall and winter. But avoid planting in extreme cold weather.


Fall is a good time to apply mulch to landscape beds. Mulch, such as pine straw, is in good supply at reasonable prices.

Mulching in the fall can help prevent soil erosion from winter rains. Pine straw is the most widely used mulch because of aesthetics and cost. Other materials that provide satisfactory mulching include pine bark, hardwood bark and compost.


The relatively mild winter in most of Georgia means plants will be metabolically active. Even though we don't see active growth, the plant is still alive and needs energy.

This means that most plants will respond positively to a light application of fertilizer in the fall. This will give plants added nutrients necessary to overwinter in good health. If you haven't fertilized your plants since spring, they would benefit from fall fertilization.

Apply about half the amount used in the spring. We don't want to stimulate new growth in the fall, since the new growth would be subject to freeze damage.

If you wait until October or November to fertilize, the plant will be dormant. There is little chance of new growth then with a light application of fertilizer.

Container Gardening

We often think of container gardens for the spring and summer. However, several annuals will provide excellent color in the fall or winter.

Several "summer" annuals do well in the fall, such as impatiens, begonias, coleus and geraniums. Winter annuals that provide great color include pansies, violas and dianthus.

The summer annuals can provide color until frosts arrive. Fall-planted winter annuals will generally provide color through the winter and spring, until the weather gets too hot.

Mel Garber is a professor in the Office of Environmental Science of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.