Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
August, 2007
Regional Report

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Kale thrives in fall's cooler weather.

Preparing for Fall Gardening Success

Veteran gardeners know to look at the calendar, not the thermometer, when it comes to planning the fall garden. They also know that there is no season quite like fall. Most garden vegetables are at their peak of quality when they ripen in the cool days of fall. This is a season you don't want to miss.

Soil Preparation
The first step is to remove the old plants and weeds. You can pull or hoe them and put them in a compost pile. You could also just discard them if you are concerned with there being a lot of weed seeds. I just hate to let all that free organic matter get away.

The most important tools for this step are a lawn chair, a glass of iced tea, and a spouse or small unsuspecting child to do all the work. A megaphone may be useful in providing clear direction as the day wears on. (Okay, scratch that idea for impracticality.)

As an alternative to pulling and hoeing spent garden plants and weeds, you can also mow them to the ground and then rototill them under to decompose. This is okay if you don't plan to plant for at least a few weeks. By then the plants will be well on their way to decomposing, and you can effectively prepare the soil for planting.

Once the weeds are gone by whatever means you choose, it's time to turn over the soil. Before you try to spade or rototill the soil, water the area well. Apply 1/2 to 1 inch of water with a sprinkler. Then give it a couple of days to soak in, especially if the soil is a heavy clay. At that point the soil will be softer and easier to work.

I usually spread a couple of inches of compost or decomposed livestock manure over the soil surface before mixing the soil with a rototiller or spading fork. If your garden is in a low area where water stands after a rain, it's a good idea to build up raised planting beds to insure that plants and seeds won't be sitting in soggy soil whenever rain is a little too plentiful.

When to Plant
Fall planting dates are available from your county extension office. Don't delay when getting your vegetables set out for fall or an early frost could spoil the show! Cold-hardy vegetables, such as the cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi), have a fairly wide planting window. Irish or red potatoes, on the other hand, have a very narrow late-summer window.

Seeding and Transplanting Tips
Vegetables started from seed need some extra care. Start by soaking the soil deeply prior to planting the seed. Then water after planting to settle the seeds.

Providing a little shade over the seed row helps reduce soil temperature and insure better germination and growth of tender seedlings. Don't use a solid shade because you want lots of light to get through. I like to suspend a light shade cloth well above the seed row starting a day or two prior to planting seeds to keep the soil cooler. After a week or two the shade can be removed gradually as the plants adjust to the full sun exposure.

Once plants are up and growing, a little surface mulching with leaves, pine needles, or hay will help conserve moisture, deter weeds, and keep the soil a little cooler. Just don't pile it right up against the young plants.

Vegetables that love cooler conditions benefit from being started as transplants in a bright semi-shady area, such as beneath a tree canopy. Then as they get going, you can gradually move them into bright sun to prepare them for transplanting out into the garden. This technique provides a big head start over the same plants direct seeded out into the garden.

Fall is the best gardening season of the year. Do some armchair planning now and get set to grow your best garden ever. When that wonderful fall weather arrives, you'll be enjoying the fruits of your labors.

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