The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 29, 2013

The glory of a fall garden is something to behold

From Alabama Extension Office

ATHENS — The weather is still much like a normal summer; September usually is for Alabama gardeners.  But like beagle puppies sniffing for rabbits, we sense, the promise of cooler, crisper weather to come.

Now that it's fall, many gardeners renew their garden relationships as heat, humidity, insect pest populations, and disease cycles all start to wane.

Fall gardening basics aren’t much different from those we practice any other time of the year. The major variation is in what is planted since these flowers and vegetables will mature under cooler (sometimes cold) conditions. Just as with preparation for warm-season planting, it’s time to start seeds.

Look for old favorites and new selections of pansies, lettuce and kale.  Get started soon as seedlings need to go in the ground in time for establishment before our first frost date, usually somewhere between Nov. 7-20 in North Alabama.

If time is running faster than you are, try direct-seeding early-maturing varieties into the garden.  Plant seeds in shallow rows, cover with about half-inch of potting soil, water in, and keep moist until seeds germinate, some as promptly as 5-7 days. Better yet, start with transplants that are already 3 or 4 weeks old.

Soil health is important regardless of the season; in fact this is a good time to give vegetable gardens and flower beds a dose of that compost you’ve been collecting, or aged manure if available.

All gardens need water; especially in the first few weeks of planting. Babies, whether human, animal, or plant need sufficient moisture for development of cells and organs, so make sure the new seedlings are given adequate water.

While vegetables are primarily classified as annuals, completing their life cycle in one season, in our flower beds we are more likely to depend on plants that hang around for a longer time. 

Perennial flowers can be planted to ensure something is blooming practically 12 months of the year, and fall bloomers tend to display brilliant colors in hues of purples, scarlet, oranges, and gold.

Many of us are familiar with Goldenrod (Solidago); the many offerings of Stonecrop (Sedum); and Asters, those daisy-like flowers that started popping out in August. But what about native Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium), Blue Mist or Bluebeard (Caryopteris), Perennial Sunflower (Helianthus) or the unfortunately named native Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)?

Many of these are happy in either a flower bed or mixed into the vegetable garden.