Many of us are thrilled to see the first signs of fall. I am one of those. Any of you who know me, know that the heat of June and July reduce me to a big, nearly useless, melting blob. It could be one of the reasons my garden did so poorly this year. It is also one of the reasons I started thinking about having a fall garden.
There are a boatload of reasons to plant in fall. The least of which is my sensitivity to heat! Plants really like fall weather too.
Some reasons are very obvious. For instance, root systems on newly planted shrubs and perennials aren’t developed enough to keep up with their moisture needs during hot summer days. Especially if you factor in the hot wind! My husband and I call them blow dryer winds. Funny, but very true. Even if the heat is only 90-95 degrees, a 15mph wind can suck the moisture out of even an established plant, let alone our newly planted treasures. I know you will get tired of me saying this, but this is the best reason for covering your seedlings in spring.
Another reason that things do so well is that while the air temperature has cooled some, the soil is still nice and warm. That’s perfect for germination and rapid root growth. In the case of fall planted vegetables, that means they come up, grow faster, and are able to produce their crop more quickly than their spring planted equals.
I have had very successful broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts it the past, only to have them decimated by bugs. Ugh!! I used to try to wash aphids out of broccoli. It was so perfect otherwise. I’ve tried salted water, washing with garden hose, boiling water. But no. I always wound up with lovely broccoli with a side of boiled aphids. It just isn’t very appetizing. I finally gave up growing it. Same story with cabbage, although it was somewhat easier to spot the nasty green loopers. Still, if one makes it to the plate, it kind of ruins the whole thing.
All of that is to say, pest pressure is much less on fall-grown vegetables. Even those pesky grasshoppers tend to eat less because they are completing their growth cycle and aren’t eating so much. They are more interested in laying eggs.
Many weeds too, have done their thing by this time of the year. Meaning less weeding for you, and less competition for the nutrients and moisture available in the soil.
Much of the information in this article was supported by information in another article from the Garden Tech website. They included that precipitation was more predictable. I’m not sure where they are, but our precipitation is never predictable.
However, since we are planting when moisture demands are somewhat less, it is easier to keep up with watering. If you add a layer of mulch on top of the soil, but not against the plant, it will help keep the water where it is needed. In the case of perennials, it will give them enough water to keep their roots moist, even after the ground freezes. (This is one of the major reasons for “winter kill”)
In our area, it is getting late to plant a fall garden, but for some crops it is ideal. Garlic is one of the best examples. It is however imperative that you mark them WELL or you may burry, rototill, drown, drought, or just plain forget where and what you planted. (In the past I have used Sharpie markers. They don’t last. There is a brand of permanent marker called an “IDenti Pen” that will stand up to the sun and water exposure.)
Everyone knows it is time to plant spring blooming bulbs, but I’ll try to talk about that next week.
If you are wanting to keep fresh food coming as long as possible through the winter, root crops can’t be beet. (Haha, did you like the pun?) Beets, carrots, and turnips will laugh at the freezing temperatures. When it starts having hard freezes, throw some mulch over them, and they are good to go.
Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and other brassicas will keep going through frost, but when hard freezes come, they will die back. Although I’ve been known to find mini-cabbages in the spring where I cut off the main cabbage in late autumn.
I almost forgot peas! I love them, but I never have much of a crop because I get them in too late, and they hate the heat. But they are great as a cool season crop.
Last category, that I know of anyway, is greens. Many will keep producing until heavy freezes stop them. If you make sure they don’t dry out to the jerky stage during winter, they will start growing again in spring with a small crop, and they will tell you when it is warm enough to plant your late winter and early spring cool-season crops again.
Happy gardening! :-}