Today is the first day of autumn

– Posted in: Garden chores, Plant info, Weather

The first asters, found on the north side of the houseToday is the first day of autumn if you garden in a cold climate in the Northern Hemisphere, that is. Just as spring comes much later than the supposed first day of spring (the vernal equinox), so the first day of autumn comes much earlier than the first day of autumn (the autumnal equinox). You have to go by what the weather and the plants tell you, not by what the calendar says.

It took me years to figure this out. All that good garden advice about planting perennials, shrubs, and trees in the fall just didn’t make sense, because I was going by what I was taught in elementary school about the seasons. In the milder climate of Long Island, autumn didn’t really get started until October, but that’s too late to plant most plants (bulbs being a big exception) here and expect them to get in enough root growth before winter. I had concluded, and some garden advice explicitly states this, that fall planting was not for cold climate gardeners.

But really, you just have to wrap your mind around the idea that autumn starts somewhere in the middle of August. You will know by the change in the night-time temperatures and by that first flash of red on the tree that always turns color before the others. (Around here, it’s a certain maple in the neighbor’s yard.) We have already been having night-time temperatures in the 40s F. The goldenrod is blooming, and the first asters. (I had a debate with my daughter Cadence over whether goldenrod was a late summer plant or an early autumn plant. I finally concluded that in this climate, late summer and early fall overlap so much they might as well be the same thing.)

It starts to feel–and look–like autumn. As long as you quit looking at the calendar, you will know. Pay attention to the weather reports, and plant your new acquisitions, and divide and relocate your old favorites, right before a rain storm. I believe most plants will continue root growth after the tops get killed by frost, but the longer they have to settle in before this, the better.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Frances August 19, 2012, 11:11 am

We are not what one would consider a cold climate here in zone 7 TN, but fall begins for us in August, as well. The nights are cooler, there is more rain, often from tropical storms that make it inland and color is showing in some perennials, shrubs and tree foliage. Make haste, be like the ants, not like the grasshopper playing his fiddle! HA

Waterwise September 19, 2009, 8:48 pm

Our Autumn doesn’t start till next Tuesday!!!
.-= Waterwise´s last blog ..Dragonfly Lady on Waterwise =-.

Srtictlly Hibiscis May 8, 2007, 5:25 pm

Fast approaching summer here in AZ now, we are looking at over 100 degrees this weekend.

Kathy Purdy August 18, 2006, 6:02 am

If this were Europe, the (political) states we live in would be different countries, and I bet it wouldn’t seem as strange to us that our climates are so different. By itself, New York is big enough that it has several climates, and so is Texas. As gardeners, we have to use a calendar that doesn’t have so many lines on it, and the same goes for our map of the land.

bill August 17, 2006, 10:15 pm

Well it was 105 here today, definitely not Autumn. Usually the first week of October is when the first cool front arrives.

Oldroses August 17, 2006, 2:11 am

And I have the opposite experience. Having grown up in a cold climate, I found it difficult to adjust to the longer growing season here in “tropical” NJ. Everyone around laughs when I say that when I refer to NJ as “tropical”, but cold climate gardeners would understand, I’m sure.

Zoey August 16, 2006, 7:06 am

Autumn has begun in Northern MI for sure. A few days ago it was 45 degrees when I woke up.
I’m not complaining. I like that much better than the hot spell we had in July.

Kathy Purdy August 16, 2006, 6:11 am

Well, you see, there are two differences right there between your situation and mine. I can never count on reliable snow cover. I wish I could. Ellen Hornig of Seneca Hill Perennials gets incredible snow cover, and can grow plants native to South Africa (Zone 6, maybe warmer) because of it.

And my clay soil is more likely to be too moist rather than too dry, especially during mud season. I often see established plants heaving in the spring.

Craig August 16, 2006, 4:08 am

Beautiful writing as always, Kathy. I agree with you about goldenrods and their flowering being triggered by day length. I enjoy watching them from when the snow goes away in the spring to the withered stalks right before winter. In late July I noticed the foliage changing at the tops of the plants as a precursor to flower bud development. The weather was still very warm both day and night so I’m not sure that temperature has as big an effect as day length. The variables of light and temperature and their effect on plants are a complex subject that is surprising for what seem such simple entities.

I habitually do most of my planting in September, October, and November if the ground isn’t too frozen. It’s when I finally have some time after so much hectic activity at the beginning of the season and because autumn is my favorite time of the year and it is a joy to be outside. There are less cloudy days than earlier and I enjoy watching the rapid progress into winter. The days are warm enough to be comfortable but not as sweat inducing as summer. It’s a relief being outside without biting insects. I have very few losses, even with tiny plants, and believe that a reliable snow cover is essential for success. I don’t fuss much with my planting and rarely amend the soil. I dig around with a garden fork, remove the ubiquitous stones, and add a small handful of organic slow release fertilizer to each hole. I’ve discussed with a local herb grower frost heave and we concluded that the dry nature of my soil minimizes its effect.

Judith August 15, 2006, 8:07 am

Yes, it does start to feel & look like autumn. Where I garden in zone 5a, the change slipped in at the end of last week. It is true the calendar is not the guide, it definitely is the plants, the weather and I find my personal biorhythm lets me know as well. I’m glad you brought this up as at times I feel it is a figment of my imagination that the season has shifted in a big way, especially if I were to look at a calendar.