Published on 07/24/03

Fall garden planning a time for optimism

By Wayne McLaurin
University of Georgia

Why do gardeners toil in the soil and endure the heat, sweat, gnats, flies, tomato-eating bugs? If we weren't optimistic, we'd all quit. But we're sure it's going to be a great fall.

The timely rains are going to continue. Insects will be less aggressive. Temperatures will be cool in late August and early September. Our garden is going to be superb.

Optimism, however, will take gardeners only so far. Hard work has to take over somewhere. And hard work now will add up not just for a bountiful fall but a great spring garden as well.

Fall gardening tips

Here are some tips that may help you make sure your gardening optimism will be justified.

First and foremost, remove any plants that aren't producing fruit. They harbor insects and diseases.

Turn the soil, if possible. Bury diseases that were on top of the soil and start with a clean slate for the fall. Plan to mulch to help smother any emerging weeds.

Refertilize. You probably have some carryover fertilizer in the soil from the spring garden, but many of the cole crops are heavy feeders and will need more.

Plan what you want to plant just as you did in the spring. Many of the same spring crops can be grown in the fall.

Calculate days-to-harvest

Because cold weather will eventually come, one of the most important things to do is calculate the days-to-harvest for each kind of vegetable (and cultivar) you plant.

That's easy to do.

If you're growing snap beans, which usually take 55 days to harvest, just count back 55 days from the frost date in your area and add on two more weeks for harvest time. So if the frost date is Oct. 31, the latest planting date is Aug. 24.

Mulch will help retain moisture, just as it does in the spring. But in the fall, it gives the added benefit of keeping the soil cool under the heat stress of late summer when you're planting.

Water the same as for the spring garden: as needed.

The bonus

The bonus to look forward to is that many vegetable crops really produce better in the cooler weather. Lettuce, turnips, mustard, collards, kale, etc., seem to develop better flavors.

Both direct-seeding and transplanting work in the fall. However, seeding does take a little more work, in that you have to keep the seedbed moist for germination.

This is still easily done, though. Sow the seed in the seedbed and place newspaper (two to three sheets) over the row. This will keep the soil cooler and hold in the moisture. Remove the paper when the seeds germinate and keep the bed adequately watered.

Remember, you can seed many crops (beans, lettuce, mustard, turnips, etc.) every two to three weeks and harvest over a longer time. Keep the time until harvest in mind.

If you use transplants, keep them well-watered. With the heat and sometimes infrequent rain in late August and September, young plants can dry out easily.

Group veggies

Plant long-term, frost-tolerant vegetables together. These include beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, collards, garlic, kale, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, spinach and turnips.

Plant frost-susceptible vegetables together so you can remove them after the frost kills them. These include beans, cantaloupes, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, okra, peas, peppers, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes and watermelons.

The quick-maturing (30-60 days) vegetables are beets, bush beans, leaf lettuce, mustard, radishes, spinach, summer squash, turnips and turnip greens.

The moderate-maturing (60-80 days) vegetables are broccoli, Chinese cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, corn, green onions, kohlrabi, lima bush beans, okra, parsley, peppers and cherry tomatoes.

And the slow-maturing (80 days or more) vegetables are Brussels sprouts, bulb onions, cabbage, cantaloupes, cauliflower, eggplant, garlic, Irish potatoes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon and winter squash.

Most gardeners do better with cooler weather, too. I can picture us sitting under a tree drinking coffee while we watch those collards get sweet. Can't you?

(Wayne McLaurin is a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.