For people and for plants, cool fall weather is comfortable for working in the garden. As gardeners dig, amend soil, weed and water, newly planted perennials focus their efforts on growing strong root systems before the chill of winter.
Most perennial sages (Salvia spp.) thrive if planted in fall. As temperatures decline, the soil remains warm. These conditions cause plants to decrease their growth above ground and focus on root expansion. Conversely, spring is the season for growth of foliage, because the soil is still cool as the air warms up. So here are some tips about why and how you can succeed in the Salvia garden by digging in now.
Developing Deep Roots
Planting in the fall helps perennial roots to become established and prepared to aid foliage -- instead of their own growth -- in spring. A well-developed root system makes it easier for a plant to direct its energy above ground in spring.
Saying Bye-bye to Bugs
As temperatures cool in fall, insects become less active, depart for warmer climes or die. So autumn plantings face less challenges from hungry insects in autumn.
Taking Advantage of Moisture Patterns
In recent years, generalizing about weather patterns has become chancy. However, in some parts of the nation, such as the Mid-Atlantic, average rates of precipitation are relatively steady year round. In others, including Coastal California, weather follows a pattern of being dry from late spring into early fall. In Kansas and Missouri, summer is the peak time for rainfall. In Florida, the rainy season is from late spring to fall.
Dry or wet, advantages exist. Although extra precipitation in autumn aids root growth, it can decrease the number of days when conditions are right for working in the garden. So pay attention to your local cycles and take advantage of them.
Planting during monsoon season may be perfect for water-loving sages but risky for drought-resistant species. Also, keep in mind that although pulling weeds is much easier when soil is soggy, digging saturated soil is heavy work and unwise. It can result in rock-hard clods that drain poorly. And if there is one thing that all Salvias love, it is good drainage.
Planning Before Buying
One of the great benefits of planting in fall is that you can easily think back to problems and successes experienced in your current garden from the previous winter through summer. The memories are closer at hand than they will be months from now.
So this is a good time to think about:
The quickest way to create a plan still involves a pencil, paper, your brain and garden catalogs. When you draft plans for new or established parts of the landscape, remember to note the dimensions at maturity of sages you hope to buy and the dimensions of available spaces and existing plants.
It's a lot easier to calculate what amount of sun is available in various parts of your yard when trees and bushes are leafed out. Autumn is an easy time to note sun and shade patterns. This can save you from the costly mistake of trying to grow full-sun plants in a partial-shade location or vice versa. Of course, sun exposure is just one of a number of growth needs to consider.
Considering Other Growth Needs
Planning also involves consideration of how to prepare the soil in planting areas, how much water plants need, what winter temperatures they can tolerate and how to find plants with common cultural characteristics.
Something you discover when touring our catalog is that many Salvias are adaptable to a wide range of soils as long as they drain well. Some thrive in extremes ranging from gravelly ground -- the product filters identify these as well drained -- whereas others need lots of fertilizer-type nutrients and are listed as rich and well drained. You can improve soil drainage and soil richness by periodically working organic matter into the ground.
For quick identification of what plants match what soil types or other cultural basics, you can view the "details" section below each plant description. For example, if you know that you like your friend's Anise Scented Sage (Salvia guaranitica), you might visit the listings for all the varieties of that species. You would discover that they need full sun to partial shade, any kind of soil and average watering based on local conditions.
Next you decide what spots in your yard can handle these characteristics and whether there are any nearby plantings with conflicting needs. By doing this, you can avoid planting a sage that needs regular watering among drought-tolerant plants needing little supplemental moisture.
Provide Adequate Spacing
Although gardeners are often tempted to mass perennials tightly so a flowerbed will fill quickly, it is a better long-term survival strategy to leave some room between each plant based on their mature size. Once again, for our sages and companion plants, you'll find that size information in the details section of each plant description. Good spacing keeps plants from sharing pests and foliage diseases. It also improves the look of plantings as they age.
Circling back to the all-important issue of moisture, we need to point out that just because a sage is classified as drought resistant that doesn't mean it can go without water when first planted. Give it deep, regular watering based on local needs. Deep watering involves applying about an inch of water at the plant's base. Here's some information about how to estimate an inch of water.
If you live where rainfall is a common daily occurrence, supplemental watering may not be needed. However, if you are growing a dry garden in a semi-arid climate, give your new plantings a deep drink at least every other day. Then, when they are well established near the end of autumn, cut back to once a month and only water if the ground is clear of snow and not soggy.
Next in Our Fall Planting Series
So what kind of sages should you plant this fall? We have a variety of fall planting articles planned to help you make decisions. Next up, we'll talk about easy-to-grow choices from our Best of Class plants that look great and keep coming back year after year.
If you have any fall planting tips to share, we'd love to hear from you.