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I’m not sure if anyone else noticed it this morning, but I felt a bit of a shift in the winds (so to speak). The increase of humidity in the air only to be broken by the roughly three minute drizzle at around 7:30 this morning. Yes, the end of August is rapidly approaching and we are here to pick up the pieces, or rather fallen, over ripe produce. If it isn’t happening to you yet that your plants have snuck up on you and started over producing out of nowhere, just wait. I wrote an entire blog while on visiting family on the east coast in response to my thinking I didn’t have enough pollinators visiting my garden. I come back after a week and I’ve now got more properly maturing watermelon than I’ll know what to do with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining! But that’s besides the point, this blog isn’t a victory lap about my watermelons (though it very well could be, they’re getting huge!). This, on the other hand, is to prepare you for the inevitable change over from your summer to fall garden that will come about in the next month or two. With the change over in the seasons comes a shift in temperatures and natural water availability to name a few. If you truly want to take the most advantage of this change over and grow some truly phenomenal fall crops, you may want to get an early start! If not a full fledged start on your fall garden, you should at the very least do some planning. So join me as we explore what can be done now to help start on, or prepare to start on, your fall garden!
Normally I’m not one to plan things out very far in advance, fall is different. Having been my life long favorite season, fall holds a special place in my heart. Growing up in New England also played a hand in my love for the season, but even having lived on the West coast for the past few years my love has not dwindled. Apples, leaves changing colors, the cool weather rolling in and the return to soup season! (Soup season is essentially every month that doesn’t fall under the umbrella of summer, unless it’s cold and rainy in which case it’s always soup season) There really are no downsides to fall, unless you’re a student or teacher and have to return to doing things. Now, if you’re reading this in hopes I’m going to talk about planting and growing pumpkins, you’re about a month or two too late. Pumpkins and other crops you plan to harvest in the fall should be planted anywhere from late June to early July. While this blog may not touch upon some of the more classic fall crops, it will let you know what you can still be doing in your garden in the coming months.
While summer may be your best chance during the year to grow warm weather veggies like pepper and tomatoes in an outdoor setting, fall provides a unique opportunity to grow some of the cool weather crops that may bolt if you attempt them in the full heat of the summer. Things like broccoli, salad greens, Brussel sprouts, beets and many other cool weather crops are the perfect things to start planting come the end of August. If you’re reading this today and have seeds of anything on that list, you can start propagating them now inside your greenhouse. If you can get them to seedling size before the end of the first week of September, go ahead and give it a shot. What you don’t want to do is try to plant seeds outside at the end of August. You might get some limited results, like stunted broccoli or undersized kale, but your plants will not have enough heat or energy from the sun to grow to full size by the time you run out of hospitable weather. A good rule of thumb for growing in the fall months is to plant your seedlings about 6 weeks before the first frost is anticipated.
If you have a greenhouse, you can continue growing whatever you want, so long as you keep up with maintaining the proper microclimate. Tomatoes, peppers, flowers and many other warm weather plants will thrive in your greenhouse in the coming months so long as your consistent. Click here if you want to explore our full catalog of blogs, you can likely find one specific to something you may want to grow in your greenhouse.
To start giving you some gardening advice about half way through the blog, start prepping your fall garden by pulling out all your dead plants! Dead plants are essentially just taking up space in your garden while taking away necessary nutrients and matter from your compost heap. In addition to removing the dead plants, remove any diseased plants or foliage from your garden as well. Diseases if left unchecked will cause a lot of problems for you down the line. You can either burn diseased plants/foliage if the plants are non-toxic or bag them up and bring them to your local landfill. Putting diseased plants in your compost heap is generally not a good idea as it will eventually spread back into your garden when you apply the compost later on.
From here, start to prune back any unwanted growth from perennial plants. Once they’ve finished the growing season and begin to turn yellow or brown, it’s time you give them a bit of a cut back. Cutting them back will encourage continued growth next season, it will also make your plants look better during the winter. You can optionally save the seeds of any seeding perennials. Save the seeds in paper envelops or simply scatter them on any empty flower bed for more plants next year. Sticking with perennials, if they’ve grown a bit too much and have become overcrowded, it’s a good time to start dividing them. Once divided, you can either transplant them to other spots around your garden, or you can even give them away/sell them! People love plants and divisions make for great gifts.
The fall is also a great time to start planting up some bulbs. From flowers to garlic and onions, bulbs are long term plants that require a good bit of forethought. Know what bulbs your planting so you can schedule out when you want/expect them to bloom. Make sure you plant them in the mid-October to mid-November range to ensure the ground has not begun to freeze before you plant. Once planted, cover the area with some mulch to provide some added insulation for the growing bulbs. If left unprotected the bulbs can freeze and all your work will have been for not.
If you planted any new trees over the summer, now is a great time to ensure they’re protected for winter. The winter months are generally very cold and the weather becomes more and more unpredictable. Strong winds and bitter cold temperatures can cause a lot of damage to younger trees. Take the time now to stake your trees and build up mulch around the base of the tree and in the immediate root zone. Staking will help protect the tree from the strong winds that could potentially uproot generally top heavy tree saplings. Another great idea is to add a layer of protection to the trunk of your young trees. Bark is a great little snack for things like rabbits and other small mammals so wrapping them in a breathable vinyl is a great way to allow your trees to have air while still being protected from any potential dangers.
Before you start planting, you should at the very least turn your soil. Soil can become depleted over time, especially if you plant similar plants in it year after year. Nutrients and other necessary soil components get used up as plants grow and soil needs to be replenished and turned every now and again. Turning your soil can mix up any nutrients remaining in the soil and make it more accessible for the next plant up in the soil. Turning soil can also tear up and expose weed roots, essentially cleaning out your garden. While you’re turning your soil, you should also consider adding compost and fertilizers to your soil at this point. Compost and fertilizers are a great way to ensure your soil is up to stuff for the next gardening season and mixing it all up will make sure your soil stays healthy for as long as possible. Add about 2-3 inches of compost on top of the already mixed soil as rain and other watering activities will help the compost work its way down through your mulch and into your soil. To summarize in order of what to do; turn your soil and add fertilizer, cover your garden in mulch, add compost atop the mulch. If you follow those steps your garden bed will be well set for the impending winter.
If you are growing during the next few months, remember to use seedlings! Start seeds in late July, early August and place them in the ground about 6 weeks before the first frost of the season. Simply move the mulch you’ve put down, dig a hole large enough for the plant selected, place plant in the hole, cover with soil and then replace the mulch. Plants require less water during the cooler months as there is less heat and direct sunlight to dry things out. Fertilize the plants every week or two until they start to mature when you should increase to weekly. Once frost starts to become a regular occurrence, invest in some sort of plant covers. Adding protection from frost will allow your plants to fully mature even if the night time temperatures get lower than expected.
Thanks everyone for reading, hopefully my fall oriented blog doesn’t stress anyone out about summer ending! Until next week, happy gardening!
Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/vectors/autumn-fall-seasons-garden-orchard-5519836/