The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” (origin unknown).

Labor Day and the beginning of the school year are bittersweet signs that summer is coming to an end, but the arrival of fall brings the opportunity to make big moves and get some quality time in the garden. In a series of upcoming posts, we’ll explore the horticultural team’s fall plans as well as growing winter vegetables, spring bulbs, shrubs & trees, and turf and cover crops during the months ahead. Autumn leaves are falling, and they lend the perfect backdrop and ambiance to your time spent in the garden.

We understand how tempting it is to add some life and color to your landscape as soon as the weather warms up in the spring, but unfortunately, gardening prematurely in wet conditions can lead to major setbacks. To understand why, we’ll need to zoom in and take a look at the soil. It may not appear too exciting on the surface, but there is an entire universe hidden beneath our feet. Soil is an incredibly lively and productive ecosystem with countless bacteria, fungi, and fauna forming a life-supporting structure capable of decomposing organic matter, releasing nutrients, and maintaining the ground’s structural integrity. For our purposes, that means a robust medium with plenty of available nutrients and oxygen for our plants. Wet soil becomes compacted when it’s stepped on or worked with, which squashes those important air pockets and makes it more difficult for roots to grow. Plants in compacted soil are trying harder to survive and have less energy to create flowers and bountiful foliage.

Many diseases need moisture to spread, so it’s wise to avoid working with even well-established plants while they’re wet. As a rule, we only deadhead at the zoo when the garden beds are dry in order to avoid inadvertently transmitting pathogens from one plant to another with our gloves or tools. This is also a good reason to avoid watering your plants at night, when they are unable to dry quickly under the sun.

The cool and comfortable weather of fall is a relief for us humans working outside, and the plants enjoy it too! There is still a fair amount of rain, but it isn’t excessive enough to waterlog the gardens. Cooler temperatures help to mitigate transplant shock. Plants purchased this time of year are bigger and stronger than spring seedlings (plus they’re usually sold at a discount so that nurseries don’t have to protect them over the winter). New fall plants still have several months to grow in the ground before they go dormant, and by the time the next spring arrives, they will have adapted to their new surroundings. Their roots are ready to absorb those persistent spring showers, which promotes vigorous growth and the ability to handle scorching summer heat with aplomb. Overall, the survival rate for big plants established in the fall is higher than those installed in the spring.

The upcoming months are full of opportunities to do amazing things with your landscape. You’ll be able to appreciate the immediate benefits of gardening, such as exercise and stress relief, while setting yourself up for success in the spring. Stay tuned for more information and tips for how to make the most of this enchanting time of year!

Written by Lindsay Friedenberg



Horticulture – The science and art of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants.

Cover crop – a crop planted primarily to manage soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality, water, weeds, pests, diseases, biodiversity and wildlife.

Fauna – Animal life.

Deadhead – To remove a faded blossom on a flowering plant.

Pathogens – A specific causative agent (such as a bacterium or virus) of disease.

Transplant shock – The stress or damage received in the process of moving a plant from one location to another.

Seedling – A young plant grown from seed; a nursery plant not yet transplanted.

Dormant – Not actively growing but protected from the environment.