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Ten Tips for Fall Gardening

Ten Tips for Fall Gardening

Ten Tips for Fall Gardening

Fall gardening is a bit of a misnomer—instead of doing most of the gardening in the fall, a fall garden needs to be planted in late summer (mid-July into August). Plants need those warm, sunny days to get a good growing start. But if you get the timing right, you’ll be happily harvesting through the fall and into the winter. Here are some tips to get you off to a good start.


Plant for a late harvest fall harvest: Asian greens (bok choy, Chinese cabbage, tat soi, and more), radicchio, endive, mustard, lettuce, green onions, spinach, arugula, swiss chard, fall radishes, and even peas are all good options to plant in late summer and harvest before November (check the growing days needed, which should be listed on the seed packet). If you are in a mild climate (down to zone 8), many of these may overwinter as well. Radicchio, for example, can spend a week or two under snow and come out looking great.


Choose plants specifically that will overwinter: Depending on your climate, that will include kale, broccoli, collard greens, beets, and carrots (in climates with severe and extended low temperatures, this may not be possible without season extension equipment). These plants need warmer days to get started, but once grown to a reasonable size, they will hold out through winter and start growing again for an early spring harvest. If you are planting in July, there’s time to start from seeds, but by August, you’ll want to choose seedlings to get a better start on the season. Some crops, like garlic, need to be planted in fall to have a full growth cycle. In warmer gardening zones, you can also plant fall onions.


Choose plants specifically that will overwinter: Depending on your climate, that will include kale, broccoli, collard greens, beets, and carrots (in climates with severe and extended low temperatures, this may not be possible without season extension equipment). These plants need warmer days to get started, but once grown to a reasonable size, they will hold out through winter and start growing again for an early spring harvest. If you are planting in July, there’s time to start from seeds, but by August, you’ll want to choose seedlings to get a better start on the season. Some crops, like garlic, need to be planted in fall to have a full growth cycle. In warmer gardening zones, you can also plant fall onions.


Easy Herb Garden (5 pkts in 1)

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Consider herbs: The basil days of summer may be over, but many herbs will grow through fall. Some herbs, like cilantro, even prefer cool weather. Others to consider are oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and sage. Fresh herbs are a great way to perk up cold weather cooking.

 

 

 


Interplant: If you have limited garden bed space and still want to grow a fall garden, consider interplanting between the rows of your summer produce. Lettuce, radishes, cilantro, or green onions can be planted between rows of beans or other summer fare. By the time the seedlings are getting large, the beans will be done and you can cut them back to the soil line and let the new plans take over.


Plant deeper: If you are sowing seeds in warm, late summer weather, plant your seeds twice as deep as you would in spring (some seeds won’t germinate if they are too warm, so the depth is important). It’s also essential to keep seeds consistently moist for proper germination. By late summer, however, the soil is much warmer and drier, so water regularly—more often than you would for spring seeds.


Use season extenders: in cool weather gardening, using equipment to extend the season can be a game changer. Examples of these are greenhouses and cold frames, which use plastic or glass to capture and hold heat (seek out Canadian garden author, Niki Jabbour, who is an expert in cold frame winter gardening to learn more). If such large-scale infrastructure is not in the cards—or you don’t want permanent structures in your garden—the best solutions are poly tunnels or cloches. Cloches, in particular, are small, light and portable. They provide additional warmth and protection from weather and pests. Make sure there is an air-flow valve to prevent mildew or other fungal diseases. Cloches can act as a small, temporary, and portable greenhouse for plants that need a little more protection or warmth.

Vented Garden Grow Frame

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A cloche, cold frame, or unheated greenhouse will not fully protect plants in case of a hard frost. Insulation would also be required for protection in extended sub-freezing temperatures.  

Affordable Garden Cloches - Extend the Season

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Amend the soil: summer garden crops will have used up a good share of the nutrition in your soil, so when you plant fall garden crops, it’s a good time to also replace some of those nutrients. Either use a fertilizer or compost, but consider getting a soil test at this time as well, so you can better calibrate what is needed. If late summer or fall is too busy a time for a soil test, put it on your list for winter chores, so you can be prepared for spring gardening next year.

Consider a cover crop: if you don’t want to plant edibles, consider planting a cover crop, which will protect your soil structure, prevent erosion, and return nitrogen when you chop up the greens and turn it into the soil early in the spring. Good options to consider are crimson clover, vetch, winter peas, and fava beans (the pea greens and the favas are even edible). Cover crops are sometimes called “green mulch.”

Mulch: soil wants to be covered—if you don’t do it, the soil will attempt to cover itself with weeds. If you’re not growing edibles, or planting a cover crop, the final option is to mulch your soil. This could be made up of dried, shredded leaves or straw or salt marsh hay (just make sure it is not full of grass seed before spreading it on your growing beds). You could also cover garden beds with burlap bags (remove in spring) or compost, pine needles, cocoa hulls, newspaper, or cardboard. When spring comes, you’ll be glad you did.

Mulch

Make compost: while you are planting your fall garden, and pulling out summer crops that are done for the season, you can use that yard waste to make compost. Dry leaves, spent squash vines, chopped up grass clippings (if grown without pesticides) or kale stems are all excellent compost makings. Compost is its own science, but if you put together the right mixture, come spring you’ll have an excellent soil amendment to top dress your garden beds to start the cycle again. While it’s possible to build a free-standing compost pile, these composters can help with the process and keep your pile tidy and contained.


89 Gallon Composter

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Roll-Around Backyard Composter

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It may be the dog days of summer, but a little investment in time and energy now will pay off in abundant harvests all autumn long.

Tara Austen Weaver is a writer, editor, avid gardener, and author of Growing Berries and Fruit Trees in the Pacific Northwest, Orchard House, and the forthcoming Little Book of Peonies, and Little Book of Dahlias (Sasquatch, 2022). She tends a large garden and small orchard in Seattle, WA.

Written by Tara Austen Weaver

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