Fall gardening

The prime growing months for fall vegetables in Alabama are August, September and October. 

Whether gardening was a new quarantine hobby or an already established, planned activity, it is time for gardeners to begin replacing their summer bounties with fall crops. Just like with a summer garden, there are things that gardeners must do to prepare. Bethany O’Rear, an Alabama Extension home grounds regional agent, provides the following information to help people get started on their fall garden plot:

Preparing

Before planting a fall/winter garden, people must first remove all weeds and summer vegetable debris, including old plants or fruits. O’Rear said these old plants can serve as harboring spots for insects.

“If these plants are left, insects will hang out in them until you get your tasty, new veggies in the ground,” O’Rear said. “They will then move through the garden to feed on those.”

Another aspect of preparing a winter garden is choosing the crops. Depending on the crop, there are certain times these need to be planted. That is why growers should have an idea of what they want to plant ahead of time. When it comes to choosing vegetables for the fall rotation, people can plant several of them as early as August. Some of these vegetables include:

• Broccoli;

• Brussels sprouts;

• Cauliflower;

• Cabbage; and

• Greens, such as lettuce, mustard and kale.

While people can sow greens directly, growers need to plant other vegetables as transplants.

“Many local garden centers, co-ops, feed and seeds, etc., will have fall transplants available,” she said. “These same outlets should start getting their fall seed in soon if they don’t already have some available.”

Having success in the garden

Choosing what to plant is important. However, deciding where to plant these crops in a garden is critical for the success of the crop. People should get into the habit of rotating families of crops to different sections of the garden plot. Professionals recommend a three-year rotation. For example, if broccoli was growing in one section of the garden last year, people should try to plant a crop from a different vegetable family in that section this year. Vegetables are more susceptible to diseases and insects if people plant the same family consistently in the same spot. O’Rear recommends growers record where they plant their crops in a garden journal each year. Make sure to log the success each crop had as well as any issues with disease, insects or weather conditions.

Even in a fall garden, insects are problems that gardeners have to watch for. The first line of defense for the crops is to scout regularly. Managing insects when populations are low is much easier to control than when their numbers are extremely high.

“If you catch them early, you may be able to use cultural means, such as physical removal, as opposed to chemical control,” O’Rear said. “Along those lines, catching them early also means that if insecticides are warranted, you can start with softer, less toxic products to gain control, as opposed to having to use more potent insecticides because the insect numbers are so high.”

Another step to ensure the success of a fall vegetable garden includes a lot of watering. The prime growing months for fall vegetables are August, September and October. Unfortunately, these are also the driest months in Alabama.

O’Rear said proper mulch is also important to yield good crops.

“A layer of organic mulch, such as pine straw, pine bark or a layer of newspaper covered with bark or straw, helps control weeds, conserve moisture and keep the soil cooler,” she said. “Make sure to keep the weeds out. Weeds will compete with the vegetables for nutrients as well as water.”

More information

Visit www.aces.edu for more information on all gardens in Alabama. The Limestone County Office is located at 1109 W. Market St. in Athens. Office hours are 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. 

For more information, call 256-232-5510. 

One of the easiest ways to get help from garden-savvy individuals is to call the Alabama Master Gardener Helpline. Dial 1-877-ALA-GROW (252-4769) to connect with a knowledgeable team of certified Master Gardeners. These volunteers will research the problem and also determine a possible solution.

— Posted by Mary Leigh Oliver.

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