Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
September, 2004
Regional Report

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Coral vine makes a great covering for an arbor or unsightly fence.

Fall is for Gardening

Has summer left your garden a bit toasted? Fall is on the way with the promise of a new start. If I could change one thing about the psyche of most gardeners, it would be to take the intoxicating gardening fever of spring and redispense it in late summer and fall. Despite the fact that we may not all feel the same fervor in midsummer as we did in late winter, now is the time to begin preparations for the best gardening season of the year here in the south.

There are far more vegetables, flowers, and herbs that are at their prime in the fall season. Fall brings cooling temperatures and a return of much needed rainfall. Free from the stifling heat of summer, our gardens keep improving as we move into the fall season.

The first task is to put the remnants of the old spring garden to rest. Summer-hardy vegetables like okra, sweet potatoes, and winter squash; or flowers like zinnias, Madagascar periwinkle, and impatiens can be left to keep on keeping on. But others that are either dead or doing a pretty good impression of it need to be removed.

Any areas needing some additional compost should get an inch or two over the surface prior to rototilling. If nutrients are lacking (a soil test is the best way to determine this), then add the needed fertilizers prior to tilling. I like to follow this with a thick blanket of mulch. It helps protect the soil surface from crusting, conserves soil moisture, and deters weeds that would be more than willing to take up residence in your fertile garden soil. When it comes time to plant, you can simply pull back the mulch and set the transplants or seeds right into the already prepared soil.

Fall is for Veggies!
Veggies that ripen in the cooler days of fall seem to have the highest quality and flavor. I have noticed an improvement in the quality of green beans grown in the fall. Late September to early October is a good time to be planting cole crops like broccoli, cabbage, and kohlrabi. When the weather starts to cool off more in October, cool-season greens, including lettuce and spinach, can go in. I like to get a head start on all these by starting seeds in transplant trays a few weeks earlier in a shady, outdoor spot. After a few weeks the seedlings are ready to go out into the garden.

However, sweet corn and okra don't like the fall season very much. In order to get a good crop, they must be planted early enough to be harvested in September when the weather is still warm.

Fall is for Herbs!
Herbs think fall in the south is heaven. With a few exceptions, such as the frost-tender basil, most herbs should be planted in the fall. October is ideal for most of the lower south. These fall-planted herbs will establish quickly and easily. They'll go through winter just fine and get a big head start on their spring-planted counterparts.

Before the first frost arrives, gather the mature growth for drying and storing to use in seasoning holiday dishes. Fall also is a good time to collect a few fresh sprigs to include in herbal vinegars.

Fall is for Flowers!
Any brave bedding plants that have managed to hold on this long will benefit from a light shearing followed by a dose of fertilizer and water. The new, tough petunias tend to bloom themselves out and will respond to this rejuvenating workover with new growth and more blooms. Later, when October rolls around, start bringing those cool-season flowers inside to provide color all winter long.

Don't forget the fall bloomers. Mexican mint marigold, copper canyon daisy, 'Country Girl' mum, Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), mountain sage (Salvia regal), sweet autumn clematis, Maximillian sunflower, obedient plant, fall aster, and many grasses save their best for the fall show. Then there are the early fall-blooming bulbs, such as Guernsey lilies (Lycoris radiata) and oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida).

Fall is truly the best gardening season of the year. So take advantage of the moderate temperatures and start those cool-season flowers and vegetables. Then plant woody ornamentals and perennials. It will pay off in a bounty of produce and plenty of beautiful, blooming dividends.

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