Skip to Main Content

LuEsther T. Mertz Library
Plant & Research Guides

Library Home Plant Help Research Support All Guides

FAQs for Fall Gardening: Home

photo by Marlon Co
Photo by Marlon Co


What steps can I take now to prepare my trees and shrubs for the rigors of winter?

Begin by watering generously while the plant is still growing and active, particularly if rainfall has been inadequate. Your valuable landscape plants will enter dormancy in the most stress-free state possible and will be protected against the drying effects of winter winds.

Healthy trees and shrubs can be fertilized in the fall at the time of leaf drop. The point of autumn feeding is to provide a head start for next year's growth, as nutrients will be more readily available in spring. Fall feeding will not stimulate new growth if you wait for the shorter days and cooler nights of autumn to fertilize, as your plants will harden off. Since you will be fertilizing again in spring, make your fall fertilizer application no more than half of the total yearly allotment.

Lastly, apply mulch around the base of your trees and shrubs, but be sure to keep the area just around the trunks clear to prevent rot, insect infestation and incursion of pathogens.

Broad-leaved and needle-leaved conifers are best planted before October 1st in our area
Broad-leaved and needle-leaved conifers are best planted before October 1st in our area


Is it safe to plant trees and shrubs in the fall?

Broad-leaved and needle-leaved evergreens are best planted in the early fall, up until around October 1 in our area, so that they can become more easily established before winter sets in. Deciduous trees are best planted after leaf drop, around October 15 until December 1, before the ground freezes. Be sure planting conditions are suitable; the ground must not be excessively wet or frozen. Water well after planting and apply a mulch around the planting pit. It is important to note that certain tree species are really best planted in early spring: Prunus (ornamental cherries), Quercus (oaks), Liquidambar (sweet gums), Crataegus (hawthorns) and Magnolia (magnolias).

Prune only very late flowering shrubs, like Abelia chinensis, at this time
Prune only very late flowering shrubs, like Abelia chinensis at this time


What kind of pruning is best done in fall?

Prune only very late-flowering shrubs, such as Abelia (glossy abelia), Callicarpa (beautyberry), Hibiscus (rose-of-Sharon) and Clethra (summersweet) at this time. Prune rambler roses and remove all dead or diseased canes. Of course, it is always advisable to prune diseased and dead branches at any time of the year. Fall pruning is not recommended for most deciduous trees, as it is best to wait until well into the dormant season before pruning. In general, on early and spring flowering shrubs it is advisable to prune just after they have flowered in late spring to early summer. On shrubs that bloom late in the season, it is advisable to prune them down hard in the early spring, before growth begins.


Fall is an ideal time to rejuvenate a lawn; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/Derek Winterburn
Fall is an ideal time to rejuvenate a lawn; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/Derek Winterburn


Can I renovate my lawn in the fall?

Yes, fall is an ideal time to rejuvenate a tired lawn. Cooler temperatures and ample time available for recuperation before summer's heat and drought all work in favor of a fall lawn renovation. Old lawns can benefit from core aeration, since the soil may have become compacted over time, especially if it has been treated with chemicals. To control thatch, an aerating tool with metal tines is used to push into the soil by foot. This procedure aerates the soil and enables earthworms and microorganisms to flourish and to do their valuable work improving the soil. You can also overseed your lawn with a suitable grass seed blend right over your existing turf. Before spreading the seed, topdress the lawn with fresh soil, or scratch the turf with a metal rake to roughen up the soil and create a receptive bed for the new seed.

Symphyotrichum; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/Markles55
Symphyotrichum is a fall favorite; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/Markles55


How can I take care of my houseplants during the cooler weather and lower light conditions of autumn?

Place them indoors where they can receive adequate light; supplemental lighting may be necessary. As growth slows down or even stops in some cases, do not fertilize again until early spring (except for orchids, African violets and certain other winter-blooming houseplants). Provide humidity by placing plants on a saucer and then on a tray of pebbles that are kept constantly moist. Water less frequently, but water deeply at each watering.

Keep leaves free of dust by misting them and wiping them with a soft, moistened cloth. Check frequently for insects, remove them manually and apply insecticidal soap as needed. Every few months, cover the base of the plant and wash it down with a warm shower in the bathtub.

Dogwoods, like this Cornus florida 'Appalachian Joy', provide beautiful autumn color; photo by Ivo Vermeulen
Dogwoods, like this Cornus florida 'Appalachian Joy', provide beautiful autumn color; photo by Ivo Vermeulen


I would like to incorporate some plants with fall interest in my garden. What do you recommend?

In addition to the wonderful late-flowering perennials such as chrysanthemums or asters, certain trees and shrubs really offer intense fall color. For brilliant reds, red-oranges and purples choose: maples, sweetgums and dogwoods. For clear yellows choose: birches, ginkgoes and clethra.

You might also want to choose plants with a persistent berry display including: winterberry hollies, bayberries, and many species of viburnum. Other great choices for fall interest include ornamental grasses such as: Japanese blood grass, miscananthus and red switchgrass.

Refer to the LibGuide Autumn Color to Dazzle in Your Garden for more ideas.

Some herbs, like rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) can be potted up to grow indoors for a few months; photo by Ivo Vermeulen
Some herbs, like rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) can be potted up to grow indoors for a few months


How can I salvage the herbs from my herb garden to grow indoors?

Some herbs, such as parsley, rosemary and chives, can be potted up to grow indoors on a sunny windowsill for a few months, but eventually, they will loose vigor. Other ways to enjoy your herbs past the growing season would be to dry them, or to preserve them in oil or vinegar. Herbs can also be kept frozen until ready for use later on in the year.    


Allowing some leaves to remain on the ground can be beneficial; photo by Marlon Co
Leaving some fallen leaves may be beneficial; photo by Marlon Co


How can I best accomplish fall clean up?

Keep in mind that fall clean up does not mean that your garden must be immaculate. In fact, leaving some fallen leaves and twigs around and especially over the planting beds can be beneficial. This type of cover prevents soil erosion and moderates soil temperature. Add your autumn debris of dry leaves, spent annuals and perennials, pruned twigs, weeds, etc. to your compost pile so next spring and summer you can use the finished compost to enrich your planting areas. Leaving small areas of weeds, branches and leaves can also provide habitats for small wildlife. It is important to remember that pristine landscapes are unnatural and can be devoid of beneficial birds, insects and wildlife. 

Ask a Plant Expert

Contact Us

with your plant questions by email

Find a Plant at NYBG

Find a Plant at NYBG

Map of NYBG

Noteworthy Books on Garden Maintenance and Seasonal Chores

Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Services