Fall Vegetable Gardening Starts Now

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It may not seem like fall but now is the time to start planting cool-season vegetables. Planting a fall garden will extend the gardening season. July and August are the main planting times for the fall garden. Be sure to adjust the planting dates for your specific location.
Before preparing the soil for a fall garden, remove the previous crop residue and any weed growth. Prepare the soil by tilling or spading to a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches.
If the spring crops were heavily fertilized, you may not need to make an initial pre-plant fertilization. Otherwise, 1 to 2 lb. of a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 may be applied per 100 square feet of bed space. Thoroughly incorporate the fertilizer.
Direct seeding (planting seeds rather than using transplants) for crops such as broccoli, cabbage, and collards is often used in the fall. However, the success of this planting method depends on having adequate moisture available to keep the young seedlings actively growing after germination. If you do not have an irrigation source available, you would be wise to buy vegetable transplants from a local garden center.
Seeds should be planted deeper in the fall because the moisture level is lower in the soil and the surface temperature is higher. In many cases, the planting depth may be 11⁄2 to 2 times as deep as for spring planting of the same crop.
Our summers can be hot and dry. Soils may form a hard crust over the seeds, which can interfere with seed germination. Seeds of lettuce and spinach will not germinate if the soil temperature exceed 85°F. You may need to cover the seeded area with burlap cloth, newspapers, or boards to keep the soil cool and moist. Shading the soil or using light mulch over the seed row will help keep the temperatures more favorable for germination. The shading material must be removed as soon as the seeds begin to germinate. Another useful technique is to open a furrow, seed, and cover the seeds with potting soil or vermiculite. Young transplants may also benefit from light shading for the first few days after transplanting.
Most vegetables require 1 inch of water per week. It’s best to make a single watering that penetrates deeply rather than frequent shallow applications. Young seedlings and germinating seeds may need more frequent, light watering. Do not allow seedlings to dry out excessively. New transplants may also benefit from frequent light watering until they develop new roots.
Many fall maturing vegetables benefit from side dressing with nitrogen. Most leafy vegetables will benefit from an application of nitrogen three and six weeks after planting.
It is not uncommon for insects and diseases to be more abundant in the fall. Most problems from insects and diseases result from a buildup in their populations during the spring and summer. Check the plants frequently for insect and disease damage. When sufficient damage is detected, use an approved pesticide. You may decide not to grow vegetables, such as squash, corn, and cucumbers that are specially insect and disease prone during late summer and fall.

Written By

Photo of Sue NicholsSue NicholsCounty Extension Support Specialist (252) 237-0113 sue_nichols@ncsu.eduWilson County, North Carolina
Updated on Aug 4, 2015
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