We had an unusual growing season. It started with winter recovery, continued with a wet late
spring/early summer and was followed by fluctuating temperatures all summer. A few gardeners had bumper crops, but many others lost plants to heavy rains, insects or diseases. If your garden has seen better days, cut your losses and replant for fall.
Reassess and replant
August doesn’t feel like fall, but it’s time to plant fall vegetables. Planting now can extend the harvest through fall and winter. If vegetable transplants are available, replant tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Some people have had great success with their tomatoes, while others experienced terrible production. Even if plants still look good, they often slow in production when daytime temperatures exceed 95 or nighttime temps stay above 75. If existing plants look healthy, keep them alive and they should rebound; if they don’t, replant. Pepper plants and eggplants love heat, and, with enough water, they’ll continue to produce while new plants are added.
Other summer vegetables, including summer squash, cucumbers and bush beans, can be planted. When it’s hot and dry, water is the critical factor to get plants growing. With warm soil conditions, seeds usually sprout quickly with ample moisture. Once seeds begin growing, mulching helps. Mulching with newspapers, shredded paper, shredded leaves or rice hulls will conserve moisture and keep weeds at bay. Rainfall has been spotty, so don’t rely solely on natural moisture.
In addition to replanting warm-season vegetables, it’s time to start planting cool-season crops. Carrots, turnips, mustard greens, spinach, radishes, beets and kale can all be seeded starting in mid-August through early- to mid-September — and even later with season extenders like high tunnels or other winter protection. As with tomatoes, you need transplants for broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, so planting times will depend on their arrival at local nurseries. There isn’t enough time to grow these vegetables from seed and still get production.
When planting fall gardens, add a general complete fertilizer, and work it into the soil at planting. If it’s very hot when planting, put down a lower rate of application to avoid burning tender seedlings. Side-dress fertilizer down the row once plants are established in a few weeks to make up for the lower rate.
Water and mulch, and monitor for insects. Even with the best of mulches, some weeds will encroach. Hand-pull weeds or use a hoe, not a tiller. Tilling soil for weed control actually brings more weed seeds to the surface, producing more problems.
Staggering, landscaping, rotating
To extend the growing season, consider staggering plantings. Read seed packets. They have a wealth of information, from seeding rates, depth of planting and length of time from seeding to harvesting. The fastest return is from radishes and leaf lettuces. Radishes can be harvested within 25-30 days of seeding, while leaf lettuces typically take 45-50 days, and soft head lettuces, like bibb and buttercrunch, take up to 65 days. Planting a small row of these quick vegetables every other week from late August until mid-September will extend the harvest season.
Also consider edible landscaping. Intersperse vegetables into ornamental beds. Or, instead of planting flowering kale and cabbage this fall, plant showy edible kale, cabbage, Swiss chard, beets and lettuce among pansy plantings. Don’t overlook herbs in the fall and winter garden. Parsley and cilantro will grow all fall and throughout the winter, if it isn’t miserably cold, and evergreen rosemary blooms in winter.
Gardeners have started growing vegetables year-round now using row covers or season extenders. As plants give out in the garden, replant with something else; rotating crops prevents diseases from attacking. If you have had enough for the year, consider planting a green manure crop to improve soil and prevent weeds. Green manure crops include: buckwheat, ryegrass and even mustard greens.
Fall vegetable gardens can be challenging, as diseases and insects have had all season to grow and build their populations. Starting a fall garden when it is hot and dry requires water and work. With a little effort now, you can reap the harvest all fall and winter.