Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
August, 2003
Regional Report

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A section of tomato cage wire bent in a "U" shape makes a great support for a shade cover to help tender transplants and new seedlings get off to a good start.

Fall is Here

Late July and early August means fall is here. I realize it is blistering hot out, but I'm talking about fall gardening. I know it is difficult to believe that cooler weather is coming as we sit here in the midst of the season that scorches the life out of our spring gardens. It is also difficult to imagine setting our tender seeds and transplants out into such inhospitable conditions. Yet, fall will come, and if we want to have a fall garden, now is the time to begin!

Fall Veggies
Fall is the best gardening season in the south. Veggies that ripen in the cooler days of fall seem to have the highest quality and flavor. I especially notice an improvement in green beans grown in the fall. There are a couple of exceptions. Sweet corn and okra don't like the fall season very much. In order to get a good crop of these, they must be planted early enough to be harvested in September when the weather is still very warm.

Fall Flowers
Fall is not just for veggies. Many of our best annual blooms can be grown in fall. I like to plant marigolds in mid-August for fall blooms. Despite their tolerance for hot weather, I have quit trying to grow marigolds in the summer due to spider mites, which devastate them if not controlled with frequent sprays. In the fall spider mite populations diminish, leaving marigolds to take off growing and blooming like crazy. The large-flowered African types make a gorgeous, irridescent display up until the first frost.

Provide Temporary Shade
Some transplants are a bit too tender for direct planting out into the infernal summer sun. I give them temporary shade to help them make the adjustment. Anything to break the summer sun will work. For just a few transplants, you can also trim off a small branch from a shrub, or a bamboo shoot to stick in the soil on the southwest side to overshadow the tender new plant. When planting a longer row of plants, I prefer to use either a strip of shade cloth or a heavy weight row cover, folded double and suspended a foot or so over the plant row. A section of tomato cage wire bent in a "U" shape makes a great support. I use clothespins to secure the fabric. After a week or so the plants are establishing well, and the shade can be removed.

The shade cover also is a great idea for seeded rows. The soil temperature can get so hot in the summer that seeds do not want to germinate properly. The shade cover helps immensely, allowing seedlings to get off to a great start, even in this mid to late summer period. A very light scattering of pine needles also helps slow evaporation and break the brunt of the summer sun.

A Fertilizer Boost
My new transplants get a good drink of compost tea and liquid seaweed. An occasional foliar spray of fish emulsion and seaweed will give them an added boost and also helps keep mites at bay until the cooler weather arrives. I also mulch them well to help conserve moisture and prevent weed competition. Believe it or not, with plenty of moisture these new plants are quite tough and willing to grow. By the time they are ready to bloom and set fruit, the weather is starting to cool off enough to encourage great production.

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