Has the thrill of planting your first spring seeds and transplants faded as bugs, weeds, water, and fungus have overtaken your garden? If you’ve already made a promise to yourself that your garden will be better next year, then cheer up! Fall gardens can be a delight. They don’t take as long to grow, weeds are not as much of an issue, and as the weather cools down, the joy of gardening returns.
Gardeners in the mountains and foothills should plant their fall crops during August and early September. There are many vegetables that are well suited to a fall growing season. Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, and other leafy greens do very well in the long, mild fall season of the mountains and foothills. Many can withstand some light frost, and with a little protection, some crops can be harvested well into colder weather.
Be sure to choose vegetables that require short growing periods. For example, if you have a choice between a cabbage variety that needs 65 days to harvest or a variety that needs only 50 days, the 50 day plant would be the best choice. You’ll also need to know the average date for the first freeze, which will give you an idea of how many days you have to grow and harvest a crop. Some crops, like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, do well when planted as transplants. This cuts the amount of growing time down considerably, whereas leafy crops like turnip and mustard greens do well from seed. Insect control will be an issue at first, but as the weather cools, insect problems will go away. Remember to keep plants well fertilized with ample water, as they need to grow quickly in order to beat cold weather.
Planting in raised beds with some winter protection, like clear plastic, can extend the fall growing season by protecting the crop from frost and chilling winds, but care must be taken to uncover plants when days are sunny and warm.
So, all is not lost if this summer’s growing season was less than stellar. Thanks to the great weather we have here in North Carolina, fall is yet another season for you to showcase your gardening skills.
Donna Teasley is an extension agent in Burke County. This article appeared as a guest column in the September 2012 Gardening Newsletter.