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Irrigating Your Autumn Plantings?

September 26, 2013

Are you watering in your new autumn plantings?

October is one of the busiest planting times for Garden Mentors®. Temperatures have cooled. Plants are entering dormancy. And, the soil is sufficiently moistened by the returning rains of autumn. Or at least that’s the case in years not like this one.

Digging Autumn Soil to Plant

Digging in Autumn Soil to Plant Foxley Thyme.
(Shovel provided by Fiskars for review purposes.)

This year, following an unusually hot, dry summer, the Earth isn’t quite as damp as newly installed plant roots need. On one job site, the soil was as sandy and dry as a desert from the top down. At other locations, where recently the soil had been amended with compost, it was still dry once our shovels dug below a foot. And, in our own home gardens, which have been treated to intermittent summer irrigation as well as over a decade of mulch applications, we found that below 18″ the soil was barely damp.

So, we’re watering in October even as the leaves turn color and begin to fall.

Colorful Katsura Tree in Fall

Fragrant, glittering gold Katsura just before the leaves tumble to the ground in fall.

At those particularly dry sites, we may be watering the night before we plant as well as after new plantings are installed. In places where the the soil is dry anywhere new roots will make contact, we’re watering after planting.

And, in most cases, we’re watering the potted plants from the nursery before we install them. Many of those root-bound beauties will do better if they are saturated and then drained before we rip their roots apart to plant them into the earth.

It may be cool. It may be foggy and drippy. And, soil may look damp, but explore carefully as you dig deeper. Check to see if you need to moisten the ground to help your new fall plantings root in successfully before winter’s chill settles in. Watering now by hand may make all the difference in your plants’ ability to survive until true autumn rains return consistently, rebuilding depleted water tables — particularly in the Pacific Northwest, particularly this year.


  1. Cat says:

    Thanks Robin, this is always a great reminder. I just stocked up on some half priced this and that’s and I realize on days like this, they will need a drink till I have time to get them in the ground! Happy Fall.

  2. Good for you & we’re always glad to help!

  3. Cheryl says:

    You are soooo right. I was out there today, digging Lily bulbs under a pink dogwood, and it was dry and sandy. Before I replanted some of the bulbs, I added planting compost, bone meal and water before and after. I know bulbs do not need that much but I figured I would treat them. I watered everything under the tree.

  4. Cat says:

    I am curious about your opinion of adding bone meal as a amendment, I have always wondered…my grandpa (big gardener) loved the stuff. THoughts?

  5. We add amendments if the soil requires it. So, first step: soil testing for what you have going on in the soil. Next step: does your plant material need something that’s missing that bone meal offers. If not, omit. Make sense?

  6. cat says:

    Sound advice. Thanks.

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