Award-winning garden writer Barbara Pleasant (barbarapleasant.com) has grown vegetables in gardens from Alabama to Virginia. Her most recent book is Starter Vegetable Gardens (Storey, 2010).

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Plant a Delicious Fall Garden
by Barbara Pleasant       #Edibles   #Fall   #Vegetables

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The small size of baby bok choy varieties helps them mature quickly in only five to six weeks.


I lucked into elderly neighbors who had gardened all their lives and thought everyone should at least grow a few peppers. In New Orleans, old Mr. Faulk shared with me the heat-resistant virtues of eggplant. A few years later near Tuscaloosa, Mr. Englebert told me to “wait for the September gales” to plant fall greens. I later realized that the September gales were the drenching rains from hurricanes, and there’s nothing like them to keep a fall veggie garden growing fast.

Back then fall gardens in the South were mostly collards, mustard and turnips, but these days old-time cooking greens have plenty of company during our luxuriously long autumns. Salad makings from arugula to radishes grow beautifully in the fall, as do fast-growing varieties of beets, carrots, radicchio and rutabaga. Asian vegetables such as bok choy, Chinese cabbage and tatsoi also fit well with Southern autumns, and they become bigger and better for as long as good fall weather lasts, often beyond Thanksgiving.

Indeed, some veggies behave so differently when grown in fall compared to spring that they are almost like different vegetables. Arugula, bok choy and tatsoi, for example, promptly bolt when grown in spring, but grow to full size when given a second chance in the fall. And even though radishes are regarded as no-brainer veggies in many areas, the only time they are easy in the South is in September.

 

Clockwise: You can get your fall garden off to a sure start by sowing lettuce, radicchio and other cool-natured salad greens indoors. Set them out during a period of rainy weather. • The Asian green called tatsoi features beautiful spoon-shaped leaves with a strong mustard bite. Some gardeners grow tatsoi for its handsome looks alone. • Use up lettuce seeds left over from spring, because their storage life is short. As the weather becomes cooler, spinach leaves tend to become more crisp and sweet.


Helping Seeds to Sprout
Unless you get lucky with well-timed spells of rainy weather, the biggest challenge in growing a fall garden is getting the seeds to sprout. Soil temperatures will stay high until nights cool down in October, so you may need to start lettuce, spinach and other salad greens indoors, and set them out when they have their first true leaf. In hot, dry years I have even transplanted rutabaga seedlings, with excellent results.

Transplanting comes at a cost because it always sets plants back by a few days. This is the main reason to direct-seed whenever you can. When sowing carrots, beets and other veggies that tend to be slow sprouters, I cover the seeded bed with a double thickness of burlap to help retain moisture. Shade covers made from lightweight cloth pinned or tied to stakes, cardboard boxes held in place with bricks, or boards laid over seeded rows can help protect germinating seeds from too much sun.

Plan to water your fall crops regularly, because leafy greens won’t make exuberant growth unless they have plenty of water, and hurricanes are anything but dependable. Also prepare to be amazed at how willingly your garden greens up once it’s filled with fall goodies. My garden often looks more lush at the end of September than at the end of June.
 

Clockwise: Fall-grown arugula keeps its mild flavor after the plants grow big and leafy. Established plants easily survive winter in most parts of the South. • Turnip greens are always at their best when young and tender. Thinning crowded plants will help those left behind grow bigger roots. • Resembling a dense, sweet turnip, rutabagas planted in early fall will size up just as the weather turns cold.


 

18 Easy Crops for Fall
Arugula
Beets
Bok choy
Carrots
Chard
Chinese cabbage
Cilantro
Collards
Kale
Lettuce
Mustard
Onions
Parsley
Radish
Rutabaga
Spinach
Tatsoi
Turnips

Best Varieties for Fall
As summer turns to fall, days will get shorter and the sun won’t rise as high in the sky. This decreasing light supply causes fall veggies to grow slowly, so it’s generally best to choose fast-maturing varieties. Many of these fall into the “baby” category, for example ‘Green Fortune’ and ‘Red Choi’ baby bok choy (also spelled pac choi), and ‘Baby Babette’ baby carrots.

A fall garden can look gorgeous, because it’s easy to color up your beds with chard, red-leaf mustards, frilly ‘Redbor’ kale or technicolor beet greens. Many gardeners plant much more fall parsley that they need in order to gild their fall gardens with green lace. In my garden, naturalized Johnny-jump-ups (Viola tricolor) pop up like magic in the fall, but if I didn’t have them, I’d be slipping in pansies to add splashes of color to my fall beds.

It’s a good idea to locate spinach, collards, kale and other crops that love Southern winters in spots where you can keep an eye on them, especially in areas where deer become more threatening in the fall. If you have a fertile raised bed that’s easy to weed, use it as a nursery to grow your own seedlings of short-day onions through the winter. Started from seed in September, little onion plants will grow through winter and plump up into sweet, juicy bulbs late next spring.

 

What About Broccoli?
Extension service guidelines throughout the South show August as the best month to plant fall crops of broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi. The season for transplanting seedlings stretches into September only in the mildest coastal areas, because once days get short and dim, cabbage family crops tend to grow too slowly to make a good crop.

 

 

 

A version of this article appeared in September 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Barbara Pleasant.

 

Posted: 08/28/17   RSS | Print

 

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