Fall Gardening For New Garden Gnomes

At this point in the year, most of my gardening cohorts have given up. Where I live, the heat has been so intense. We have been in the triple digits for about a month, if not longer. Most counties are under water restrictions and it is just too dang hot to be out there working. Even at night time.

By the way, to the people who send out the “excessive heat warning” messages to our phones WE KNOW!! Ok? We know it is hot and it is excessive. People in the American south are already hiding in our respective refrigerated hidey holes and do not appreciate the constant alerts. I digress. 

What I mean to say is that harvest season is upon us. As such, most plants have played out, dried up, and are nearly dead if not totally. So, gardening time is over, right? Pack it all up and call it good until next spring, right? Wrong!

Just like my favorite hobbits want to know about second breakfast, I want to know about second spring. Fall is awesome. It is cooler and beautiful with all of the colors, shorter darker days, and (of course) pumpkin spice! Turns out, some plants appreciate fall as much as I do. So if you are interested in having pretty flowers and delicious cool season crops, now is the time to get going.

Timing

Photo by Vincenzo Malagoli: https://www.pexels.com/photo/yellow-watch-on-tabletop-1550637/

The term “fall garden” can be a little misleading. You don’t want to wait until fall has arrived to start planting. Plants have a certain number of days until maturity (which you can find on the seed packet). You need to make sure that you have more than that amount of time before the first frost date for your region. Find out what zone you are in here. Use that information to look up when your first frost date will be.

For my hardiness zone, the first frost date is in November. So August is when I need to plant most things if they are to reach maturity by that time. A thing to note for warm climate gardeners is that the ground gets really hot this time of year. If you’re not careful, directly sown seeds will get too hot and germination will not happen. Use row covers or other shading methods to keep the soil from overheating.

However, there are some plants that need to be planted after fall has already begun. Garlic as well as next year’s onion seeds and flower bulbs need to be planted around October.

Site Preparation

Time to give that poor garden a makeover. First, if you haven’t already, harvest any seeds that you have out there. Deadhead your flowers and save the seeds for next year. Next, pull up all of the spent summer annuals and throw them into the compost. If you have indeterminate tomatoes or peppers that are still hanging tough, go ahead and leave them. Otherwise, pull everything up and start getting the site ready for planting. 

Once you have cleared the area, till up the soil. Be careful not to disturb the roots of any perennials or other plants you are keeping. Then apply a layer of compost. If you don’t have a composting system yet, learn how to set one up here. Until your system is up and producing, you can buy bags of it from your local garden supply store. Rake it out so that the compost mixes in with the soil.

Plant Selection

Photo by Mike González: https://www.pexels.com/photo/broccoli-plant-on-soil-12333180/

For the best results, choose short season, shade and frost tolerant varieties of plants. Like I said before, the number of days before a plant reaches maturity and how long you have before the first frost is an important factor in fall gardening. Plants that require a long growing period and are not frost tolerant are not ideal. Some examples of plants that have relatively few days to maturity:

  • Basil
  • Radishes
  • Bush beans
  • Greens
  • Okra
  • Spinach

 Sunlight requirements are also an important factor to consider.  The shorter days of fall are not going to provide enough light for plants that require many hours of sun exposure. Some plants that are great for these conditions:

  • Lettuces
  • Greens
  • Kale
  • Cilantro
  • Chard
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach

Frost tolerance is also important for late season gardening. Planting cold hardy crops is the best way to extend the growing season. Examples of cold hardy crops:

  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Peas
  • Beets
  • Turnips
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Carrots

There are also flowers that you can plant to brighten your yard well into the fall. Some of my favorites are:

  • Asters
  • Cornflower
  • Marigolds
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Pansies

Planting

Photo by Karolina Grabowska: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photo-of-watering-crops-4750274/

Start seeds inside or direct sow according to the package instructions and water deeply. Also, as ever, mulch is your friend. Mulching correctly ensures that you have less weeding and it protects your plant babies from freezing.

It is very important to keep your garden well watered when you first plant everything. It is still hot out and the seeds and seedlings need enough water. There are different ways to do that and I go into great detail about them here. 

As with spring planting, you want to check the soil for moisture daily. Dig down several inches to get an accurate measurement. If it is dry, make sure the soil is watered deeply and try not to get water on the foliage. 

Also, check your plants everyday to see how they are holding up. Trust me, if you don’t pay attention to your plants, a lot of them will just give up on life. Also, wildlife invaders are just waiting for you to show weakness or inattentiveness. Be it bug, bird, rabbit, or deer, they will swarm in when you are not looking. And they will eat everything. 

Sometimes, they wont even eat it. I have had deer pull up all of my root vegetables and not eat a bite of it. Just spat it all over the garden to spite me.

Fall gardening result

Gardening season doesn’t necessarily have to end after summer. With a little bit of planning, you can enjoy fresh vegetables and pretty flowers for much longer if you plant a fall garden. 

Resources

Check these out for more information.

“Late Season Gardening”. Seed Savers Exchange, https://www.seedsavers.org/fall-vegetable-garden?gclid=CjwKCAjw5_GmBhBIEiwA5QSMxN8ELSEURq3pL44WYji6ekWQPCNYx3MQNEYYge2fViSzEzCrdXrihxoCM2sQAvD_BwE.

Dahl, Hilary. “How to Plant a Fall Garden and Grow Late-Season Crops”. Good Housekeeping, https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/gardening/a20707312/how-to-plant-fall-garden/.

Sweetser, Robin. “Fall Vegetable Gardening Guide”. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, https://www.almanac.com/how-plant-fall-vegetable-garden.

MacKinzie, Jill. “Planting vegetables in midsummer for fall harvest”. University Of Minnesota Extension, https://extension.umn.edu/planting-and-growing-guides/planting-vegetables-midsummer-fall-harvest

Wise, Shellie. “Fall Planting for the Vegetable Garden”. Cornell Cooperative Extension Warren County, https://warren.cce.cornell.edu/gardening-landscape/warren-county-master-gardener-articles/fall-planting-for-the-vegetable-garden.

Sansone, Arricca Elin. “How to Plant a Fall Garden to Extend Your Growing Season”. The Pioneer Woman, https://www.thepioneerwoman.com/home-lifestyle/gardening/a37093334/how-to-plant-fall-garden/.

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