Here’s good news for gardeners who feel they missed their chance to establish a garden in spring: Fall will be here soon.
While spring traditionally opens the gardening season, many gardeners are aware that fall is an ideal time for planting. In September, the soil is still warm from summer heat while the air begins to cool, creating the perfect environment for healthy root growth. “This, combined with declining pest and disease populations is a recipe for success” horticulture experts at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture explain. “Work and planning now will pay off in the spring with strong healthy plants growing beautifully in a home garden.”
And after the long, sweltering summer, cooler weather brings you back out to enjoy the outdoors again. Think of it as the garden’s “second season.” What to plant? You may be surprised at what thrives in a fall garden:
Shrubs and trees
Fall and winter months are a good time to plant shrubs and trees. Spring-planted shrubs need to be watched and watered regularly as the weather gets warmer and they try to get established in the ground during the growing season. Planted when they are dormant, trees and shrubs can put their energy into establishing good root systems before they begin active growth again next spring.
Water trees and shrubs at planting time and throughout the season while it’s still warm and dry, but decrease watering as the weather begins to turn cold.
Those coneflowers, daylilies, peonies and other summer-blooming perennials may not look their best in the garden center right now, and they certainly won’t bloom this year. But planting them now gives them a chance to grow quickly into the still-warm soil before frost arrives.
A layer of mulch at planting time will help keep the soil moist, and should protect the new plants from being pushed out of the ground during winter’s freezing and thawing. Next spring, fall-planted perennials will emerge as strong, healthy plants.
In late summer, many kitchen-garden veggies begin to fade, but the opportunities for those garden beds don’t come to an end. As you pull out the dying squash and cucumber vines, you can make space for vegetables that grow in cooler weather and continue to have homegrown produce throughout the fall and, in some cases, well into winter. Consider the possibilities!
- Leafy vegetables: Lettuce, spinach, kale, chard and other leafy greens planted early spring grow quickly when the soil is cool, and go to seed and die back as the weather warms up. Planted now, though, as weather begins to cool, these leafy greens will again thrive.
- Root vegetables: Once they sprout, carrots, turnips and radishes grow fairly quickly, and continue to survive even through frosty fall nights.
- Cole crops, or brassicas: broccoli, collards, cabbage, kale, bok choy and others are among the cool-season vegetables that grow in fall and are tough enough to withstand the colder weather to come.
Tips for success
Even though the calendar tells us it’s almost fall, warm weather can last for quite a while longer in Middle Tennessee. Provide plenty of water at planting time and throughout the rest of the season so that new plants’ roots are established going into winter. Use mulch to keep the soil moist and protect the plants’ roots (but never pile mulch up around the trunks of trees and shrubs).
Particularly in kitchen gardens, know that extreme heat and drought may make seed germination a challenge; summer insects and fast-growing weeds can also thwart your efforts. Pay close attention and take care of fall-growing vegetables from planting to harvest.
Getting ready to plant a fall garden? Seeds of cool-season vegetables are available at Garden of Babylon now; shipments of fall-growing vegetables to transplant will arrive early to mid-September. Visit the garden center or order online for curbside pickup.