Why Fall & Winter Are The Best Time to Plant Shrubs & Trees In The South

Advantages to Fall and Winter Planting of Shrubs & Trees

I've been landscaping professionally in the Atlanta, Georgia area since 1984, and have been the co-owner and operator of a nursery and garden center since 1989. Based on my experience, when it comes to planting shrubs, trees, perennials, certain types of flowering annuals, and many other plants in the southern United States, don't let anybody convince you that fall and winter aren't good times to plant.

Minimal Care While Plants Are Establishing Themselves

With the exception of pansies and other cool season annuals, and fall veggies, which continue to grow and flower during the cool season, most other plants, such as ornamental shrubs and trees, are going dormant when winter arrives. And there's no better time to plant these hardy ornamental plants than during the dormant season.

How do we know when ornamental plants have gone dormant? That's easy. When the leaves begin to turn color and drop from deciduous trees in early fall, this is the indicator which lets us know that all other hardy ornamental plants and trees in the environment are also starting to enter dormancy.

Less Watering

Shrubs, trees and hardy perennials planted during the fall and winter months will require very little if any care during the dormant season. The evaporation of moisture from the soil slows way down, so a good rain or occasional watering if needed last much longer than it does during the warm season, when plants are actively growing and drinking water.

Little Other Maintenance While Roots are Still Growing

Though the plant stops growing above ground during dormancy and will not require trimming or pruning, when planted in during fall, many types of hardy plants will continue to grow roots underground, establishing themselves in their new home. 

Then, when spring comes, fall-planted plants will be there to benefit from the heavy spring root flush, further establishing their root systems before summer and warmer temperatures arrive. This establishment of a good root system early on just means less need for watering during the first summer. That being said, during prolonged periods of drought, supplemental irrigation may stilll be necessary.

Better Plant Selection

It makes sense that during the fall and winter seasons you'll find more plants available at nurseries that flower and/or show beautiful color during the cool season.

Camellias, Encore Azaleas, and Roses are just a few of the fall-flowering shrubs you can plant to provide abundant flower color in the fall landscape.

Evergreen plants, such as Nandina, some varieties of azaleas, and many conifers turn brilliant shades of color throughout entire cool season, then turning back to their warm season color in early to mid spring.

Deciduous plants, such as Japanese Maples, Crape Myrtle, and Burning Bush provide outstanding fall color in the landscape before their leaves drop for winter.

And we can't forget about the fall and winter appeal ornamental grasses provide in the landscape. Many, such as Pink Muhly Grass (also known as Cotton Candy Grass), provide colorful flowers/seedheads during the fall that persist well into winter.  

Other plants such as Tea Olives are prized for the fragrant flowers they produce in the fall landscape. One Tea Olive can fill a backyard with sweet perfume! These fragrant wonders will then flower off and on throughout the cool season and into early spring when temperatures are between 50 and 70 degrees.

Fresh Air & Excercise are Benefits as Well!

Something about the fall air - it's clean, fresh and the smells around are comforting. The hot and humid summer is gone. So, pull that sweater out of the closet, buy some plants and trees, grab a pair of gloves and a shovel, and add some appeal to the cool season landscape. You'll be happy you did!

Related Articles from Our Experts