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This Week in the Garden

Week 18 – Fall Gardening


For episode/article 18 of This Week in the Garden, we’ll cover the basics of fall gardening. Fall gardening is a great way to extend the growing season, while continuing to grow vegetables for you and your family. If you’ve never grown a fall garden before, these few suggestions will help you start your garden on the right foot.

I like to think of a fall garden as the opposite of a summer garden; almost like the movie Benjamin Button. With a summer garden, the timeline goes from cool, damp weather early in the year to hot and dry around harvest. At the same time, insect and weed populations grow and peak at the end of the summer. With a fall garden, the timeline is reversed. You start the growing season in Aug. or Sept. with hot, dry weather and harvest comes when the weather cools down and the rains pick up. To make matters worse, insects and weeds are prevalent and are ready to take advantage of your garden space. Below, we’ll cover some of the ways to navigate these challenges.

The first thing, and the thing we talked about the most in this series is to put in as much work early to prepare your garden. The more work you do early on, the easier you’ll have it later. For a fall garden, that means removing all old plants and weeds in the garden, they’re harbingers for disease and hold insect populations. Once the plants are removed, till the soil to reduce compaction and to disturb any root feeding insects. After tilling, take a soil sample so you know what nutrients you need to add. August is a great time to do this work and soil samples are free. While you’re waiting for your soil sample results, plan what you’re going to grow and where you’re going to put them. The same principles we talked about in Week 1 and Week 2 still apply for a fall garden. If you’re planning on starting your own seeds, now is the time to start them. Our Eastern N.C. Planting Calendar can help you determine what to plant and when to plant them.

Once you’re ready to plant, you’ll have to put in extra effort to make sure the soil stays moist. On warm summer days, it’s a good idea to water your seeds/transplants every morning. If you’re gardening on sandy soils and you’re having difficulties keeping in moisture, you can add a thin layer of straw mulch or newspaper to help. As the plants get bigger, you can start to water less frequently, but for longer periods of time. This will allow the plants to develop bigger roots as they search for the water between waterings. In the evenings, inspect the plants for insects and damage. Evenings are the best time of day because insects are cold blooded and aren’t as active in the cool mornings.

As the season progresses, we start to get into cool weather and the chance of frosts increases. In our area, this isn’t usually an issue until around Thanksgiving. With most fall vegetables, the short frosts we have won’t cause much of an issue. These plants are naturally cold hardy, and less than three hours of subfreezing temperatures won’t damage the plants. If you’re worried about the cold weather, plastic covers can be put over the plants to keep the frost off. Try to keep the plastic from touching the plants as the cold temperatures can damage the plants. Remember to remove the plastic in the morning as the plastic can create a greenhouse effective if it’s left on all day in the warm sun.

Fall gardening is a great way to continue your garden experiment. If you’ve never tried a fall garden before, there’s no time like the present, they’re a fun way to grow food you enjoy eating, and you don’t need much space to do it. If you’ve got any questions or comments, send me an email or fill out our form. That’s all for this article from This Week in the Garden, stay tuned until next time.

-Adam