Tips to help make the most of fall gardening.
MANHATTAN, Kan. – As summer begins to come to a close, many people turn their attention to their favorite fall activities. However, even the most avid gardener may be unaware of the opportunities that await those who are willing to brave the heat.
“If he or she can get out there and bear some of the heat, the cool season vegetables will still be maturing in the cool temperatures which they don’t do in the spring time,” said Gregg Eyestone, K-State Research and Extension Riley County horticulture agent. “The soil temperature is ideal for seed germination.”
Gardeners have many options when thinking of a fall garden. According to the Johnson County extension office, cucumbers, summer squash, beans, and transplanted broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage may be planted until early to mid-August. Carrots and beets may be planted until mid-August. Early September is when lettuce, spinach, radishes, and turnips should be planted.
“The production should be just as well as in the summer but the real advantage is the crisper, enhanced flavors,” Eyestone said. “If you’ve never tried it, I encourage you to.”
He noted that fall gardening may be better for those without the land for a traditional garden. Most of the plants grown in traditional gardens can be grown in containers on a patio or deck. The containers can be moved inside a building if wildlife or weather pose a problem. Fall gardening provides opportunities for those unable to plant a traditional garden.
Think of gardening as fun and experimental, Eyestone said: “Technically a gardener could still plant snap beans, cucumbers, and squash. Those should mature before we get into the real cold temperatures as those vegetables will die at 32 degrees.”
Peas may struggle to germinate in warmer soil temperatures, he said, adding that gardeners can still grow them if they are willing to be creative. Some techniques to shade the soil include putting something such as a board over the soil to keep the sun off. If the plant needs to be protected from the cold they can be covered to allow the heat in the soil to radiate through the plant tissue. These covers can range from a floating row cover, which can be found at gardening stores, to a blanket. The main goal is to simply trap the heat – similar to the way a greenhouse would.
Remember that different parts of Kansas as well as other states have different first frost dates and these “mini greenhouses” may extend the growing season.
“One thing to consider is, look at the seed packet and see how many days it takes for the plant to mature and count back,” Eyestone said. “By doing this a gardener may be able to avoid taking extra precautions to protect the plant from the elements.”
Fall gardeners should be aware of the different conditions the plants will face. Transplants will mature more quickly than seeds. Johnson County extension also recommends planting seeds deeper in the fall than is recommended in the spring to allow for access to cooler soil.
With new opportunities come old challenges. Unlike in the spring, pests are already active in the late summer. Tender new growth will not be able to withstand much feeding by insects. Squash bugs, cucumber beetles, cabbageworms, butterflies, and moths may eat your plants before you do, Eyestone said. In addition, wildlife such as rabbits, deer, and others may also look to snack on your garden. Consider a cover such as a floating row cover, fencing, or netting for protection.
Because soil temperatures have been warmed by the summer sun, nutrients are readily available. A light application of nitrogen may be all that’s needed as the crop progresses into fall. It is important to assess the crop before fertilizing.