Are You Getting Ready for Your Fall Garden?

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This article was written by a past Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.

Even though summer heat is in full swing, it’s time to start planning your fall garden. July is also not too late to start putting in a second (or third) sowing of certain crops, and planting seeds for others to get a yield of delicious and nutritious autumn vegetables when you need them, right into the end of the season. The crops you start as seeds in the next few weeks will be growing and maturing in gradually shortening days and cooling weather. Fall will be here before you know it!

To determine when to plant, first find out the average first frost date in your area (here in Sanford that is October 22, give or take a deviation of 10 days) and then determine the number of days to maturity for the crops you’re planting. This information is usually found on the seed packet and can vary by variety. Finally, count back from the frost date to find your planting date for that crop. If you are planting multiple crops, group those seed packets that have very close planting dates together to organize your planting and harvesting.

Remember that tough summer conditions – temperatures and sporadic rainfall – can mean trouble for your current crops as well as newly planted seeds and seedlings. Temperature controls your plant’s transition from stems and leaves, including tightly wrapped heads of leaves, to heads of flower buds, florets and flowers. It can also trigger bolting (going to seed), so it’s important to pay attention to the recommended planting conditions for the varieties you’re trying. Get started by making a list of all the vegetables you want to grow and developing an understanding of their individual growth habits and preferences.

Succession planting, following one crop with another, is one strategy to help you plan what varieties to plant, and at what time to ensure a steady supply of vegetables for harvest over the longest possible period. This approach gives you the ability to maximize space and extend harvesting with a continuous supply when you take into account how long each vegetable produces. Some crops, such as radishes and cress, have a harvest period of just a few weeks, so multiple sowings keep the produce rolling in. Others, including Brussels sprouts, corn, and winter squash remain in the ground for several months but only bear at the end of their season.

The timing and amount of water used to irrigate crops can make or break produce quality, and the survival of the plants. Think about water use in line with your crop needs and keep your watering schedule as consistent as possible. Hot soil and a lack of water can prevent seed germination for your fall crops.

If you need a little help to get the seeds going this summer, try to shade the soil and place a light mulch over the seeds. Use soil temperature-reducing measures for several days before you plant. Once seedlings have sprouted, thoroughly moisten the soil once a week; you may also want to keep the seedlings lightly shaded until their roots are established. If your soil is a bit drier, plant seeds a bit deeper.

Generally, crops like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, and cabbage plants, along with greens and root crops are considered fair game for fall gardens. This is a reprise of your spring crop — more lettuce, more spinach, brussel sprouts, and beets. Carrots will last a good long while. And don’t forget your herbs! Parsley, cilantro and dill can be seeded in just a few weeks.

Amanda Bratcher is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.