By Kathy Van Mullekom
Fall is a great time for gardening thanks to cooler, milder temperatures, fewer garden pests and softer, moist soil. Some vegetables, like collards, taste best when nipped by light frost. Lettuce thrives for weeks in fall temperatures, and is easy to tuck between and under taller plants or in containers.
When you plant in pots, make sure there are numerous holes for good drainage; use good quality potting soil, not garden soil because it’s too heavy.
Planting a fall garden late summer ensures crops mature before freezing weather, especially when you choose varieties that mature quickly; information about days to maturity can be found on plant tags. A fall garden is best started with transplants, rather than seeds, so you get earlier harvests. Find your frost/freeze dates with the National Climatic Data Center here.
Here are some fall gardening tips from Bonnie Plants, a vegetable and herb brand you see at garden centers, including Lowes.
• Tidy up. Remove spent plants, like early planted beans, cucumbers or lettuce, since they’re pretty much done for the season and can harbor pests. Clear away holes left from pulling plants, and get rid of weeds before they go to seed. Throw away anything distressed and compost the rest.
• Discard any fallen fruits; rotting produce can attract pests.
• Take note of where everything was planted so you rotate crops to keep plants healthy.
• Set up the soil. Freshen garden soil by removing the existing layer of mulch and replace it. Straw makes an excellent cover because it’s easily scattered, it’s also a favorite home for spiders that help control insect pests in your garden. You can also use a layer of shredded leaves for mulch.
• Loosen compacted soil, and fluff it up with a garden fork. Major tilling isn’t necessary; just move soil enough to allow new plant roots to settle in and let water get through. Test soil (you can buy a testing kit at most garden retailers) to see if it needs help. Add amendments, if needed. At the very least, work some compost in where your plants will be growing.
6 Fall Crops
Top Bunch Collards — This hybrid yields good and matures early. They grow best in full sun, tolerate partial shade, are rich in vitamins and sweetened by frost. Space transplants 36 inches apart.
Spinach — Although spinach prefers full sun, it’s one of the few vegetables that produce a respectable harvest in partial shade.
Winterbor kale — This nutritious leafy green is a vigorous producer that endures winter easily. Cut the outer leaves so the center continues growing. Space transplants 12 inches apart.
Early Dividend broccoli — Popular, productive and easy to grow, this broccoli is high in fiber and calcium. Space transplants 18 inches apart.
Mustard greens — Offering spicy hot leaves, this is a very fast-growing, nutritious vegetable, and always tastes sweeter when nipped by frost. Space plants 12 inches apart.
Bonnie hybrid cabbage — Grows large, round, blue-green heads. Cabbage is especially high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, K and fiber.
Kathy Van Mullekom is gardening columnist for the Daily Press, Newport News, Va.
©2012 Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
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