Fall Planting Season

When you think of “planting season,” what time of year comes to mind? For many gardeners, spring is where the planting magic happens as the ground thaws and days warm up. And it certainly is a fine time to plant, especially when you’re getting annuals into the ground or sowing a seasonal vegetable garden. But when it comes to native perennials, trees, and shrubs, fall is arguably the best time to put down some roots.


Why fall? Look to the trees.


Why is fall such a great time to get native plants into the ground? To understand the secrets of fall planting magic, look to the trees; especially deciduous trees that shed their leaves in autumn. As hours of daylight decrease and temperatures grow cooler, deciduous trees drop their leaves and start to settle in for winter; they stop making new flowers, fruits, and leaves and instead channel their energy into growing strong roots. Once springtime rolls around, the plants have already been quietly building root systems for months and are once again ready to shift into foliage production mode. Planting in the fall aligns nicely with the natural rhythms of plant growth cycles and establishes a strong foundation for a new season of success.

Another perk of fall planting: autumn soil can be warmer than springtime soil. Depending on your location, springtime soil can stay chilly for quite a while before it “catches up” to daytime air temperatures. But in autumn, the reverse occurs; fall soil is still hanging onto the last bits of summer warmth, making a cozy environment for new plantings to take root.

Tips for successful fall planting

Oxbow’s Native Plant Nursery and Conservation and Restoration teams grow and plant thousands of Washington native plants each year. They’ve worked in every weather condition imaginable, and share a few tips for successful fall planting.


As long as the ground isn’t frozen and the plants roots themselves aren’t frozen, it’s a fine time to get plants in the ground.


If you need a little help choosing or preparing your planting site, our Native Plant Nursery team has created a handy Planting Guide to get you started.


So long as there are regular fall rains — which usually are plentiful here in the Pacific Northwest, no extra watering is necessary. If you happen to be planting during a dry spell where there’s no rain in the forecast for more than a few days, you can give them a drink and then let mother nature take over.


For trees and shrubs, put down 3”-6” of arborist chips or other woody mulch. Much is excellent for moderating temperature swings over the winter months, protecting those precious roots!

Five Washington native plants to plant this fall

Thanks to the Pacific Northwest’s wet, temperate climate, most shrubs, trees, and other perennial Washington native plants do incredibly well planted in the fall. To get you started, here are a few species to consider planting this autumn. Many of the species below can be found for sale at Oxbow’s Farm Stand, depending on seasonal availability.


Oemleria cerasiformis
One of the first shrubs to leaf out and flower in the late winter and early spring, osoberry thrives in dry to moist soil and bears fruit that birds love. Learn more



Frangula purshiana
Highly adaptable to a variety of sunlight and soil conditions, cascara trees provide flowers and fruit that wildlife love. It can have beautiful red, orange, and yellow foliage in the fall. Image: Native Plants PNW Learn more


Western red columbine

Aquilegia formosa
A lover of shady, moist areas, this beautiful native flowering plant attracts hummingbirds and butterflies with its bright red, dangling blossoms. Learn more


Roemer’s fescue

Festuca roemeri
This drought-tolerant prairie and meadow grass provides shelter for birds, mammals, and insects. Image: Whidbey Island Conservation District Learn more


Western red cedar

Thuja plicata
An iconic and long-lived evergreen in our region, western red cedar grows well in moist to wet soil and on flat, even terrain. Learn more


Whether you choose tiny saplings, sturdy grasses, or plants that hold the promise of spring and summer flowers and fruit, we hope you’re inspired to build strong, resilient root systems and plant native plants in the fall this year!

To learn more about native plants and get helpful links and planting guides, visit Oxbow’s Native Plant Resources page.

Happy planting!