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It is not difficult to imagine working in the garden during the warm, blooming months of spring and summer. Autumn often gets overlooked as one of the best times to garden. Fall offers a chance to grow cool season vegetables and get your landscape ready for next spring.
Vegetable gardening in the fall can be a tasty and rewarding complement to your summer vegetable garden.
To get ready for your cool season vegetables, remove dead plants from your garden bed. If these plants are free of disease and pests, they can be composted. Remaining residue can be tilled under 6 to 8 inches deep and incorporate 1 to 2 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet.
Depending on your crop, the planting date can be adjusted. Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and onion should be planted in August to provide the 60 to 80 days needed to mature. Crops like turnips and greens mature more quickly and can be planted in September.
You need to decide between direct seeding or using vegetable transplants. Direct seeding works best if you can provide regular irrigation and light mulch to keep the soil cool.
If you cannot provide irrigation, you should purchase transplants. Three to six weeks after germination, you can side dress with nitrogen fertilizer to give your plants a nutrient boost.
Fall also brings the first frost. Root crops such as carrots can handle a heavy frost if mulched properly. Greens can taste more flavorful after a light frost. Use row covers and containers to extend the season past the first frost.
Autumn is the perfect time to add some cool season interest, clean up your landscape, and prep for next spring.
This is the time to gently shape or do some light pruning and thin out shrubs such as blackberries.
Save more serious pruning for late winter or early spring or just after a shrub has finished blooming. If any plant has shown disease this year, remove and destroy it — do not add it to compost. Other materials such as leaves and garden residue can be added to compost piles. Now is also a good time to enrich your garden beds by adding compost and thoroughly mixing it in. Fallen leaves can be added to compost or shredded and used as a light mulch.
Spring blooming bulbs, like allium and crocus, and perennial seeds for plants, such as hollyhocks and black-eyed Susans, are happy to go into the ground this time of year as well. Trees and shrubs should be planted now, as the cooler weather allows their root system to develop without pushing energy into new leaves and flowers. Once planted, continue to water or irrigate to encourage those new roots, even through the winter. You may also choose to add color with annuals such as pansies, mums or ornamental greens like kale and cabbage.
Another dimension of interest can be found in seedheads of such summer favorites like echinacea or in ornamental grasses. These plants also provide fall food and shelter for nearby wildlife, which may add another layer of interest to your yard.
While many plants go dormant in the fall, that doesn’t mean your garden has to! Whether it’s vegetable or ornamental, there’s always a little gardening that can be done in the autumn.
To learn more about fall gardening, Cyndi Lauderdale, horticulture Extension agent and executive director of the Wilson Botanical Gardens, will be the guest speaker at the Monday, Oct. 15 Garden Talks at 3 p.m., at the Wilson Agricultural Center 1806 SW Goldsboro St. Mark your calendar to attend. You may also call the Master Gardener gardening helpline 252-237-0111 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Selena McKoy is a Wilson County Extension horticulture intern.