Plant Now to Extend Your Garden Into Fall!
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You can extend your summer vegetable garden into fall by making a second planting of quick maturing warm season crops in early August. Warm season crops do not tolerate frost so stick with varieties that will have time to mature before cold weather sets in. On average, the first frost for much of the central NC piedmont occurs between Oct. 21 and Oct. 31, which means frost sensitive crops planted in early August have three months or less to mature. Check the average first fall freeze date for your location.
Best bets for fall production include members of the squash family such as cucumbers, summer squash, and zucchini. These quick maturing vegetables typically begin to produce 50-60 days after seeding in the garden. Cover young squash and zucchini plants with an insect barrier cloth or floating row cover to protect them from squash vine borer, a common and destructive pest in our area. Remove covers when plants begin to bloom so pollinators may visit the flowers.
You may also want to plant a fall crop of snap beans (also known as green beans or string beans). Expect to begin harvesting 60 days after sowing. Bush varieties typically mature 7-10 days earlier than pole varieties. While it is too late to start slower growing summer vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant from seed, you can set out young plants if you can find them.
This is also the time to think about planting frost tolerant cool season vegetables such lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, mustard, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards, onions and garlic. Some of these crops can be seeded now but for others it’s best to wait a few more weeks. For recommended planting times, see these NC Extension resources:
- Plant a Fall Garden – 2015 Chatham Gardener Article
- Planting a Fall Garden
- Vegetable Planting Guide for the NC Piedmont
Don’t forget about culinary herbs when planting a fall garden. There is still time to make another sowing of basil but wait a few more weeks before planting cool season herbs such as parsley, dill, and cilantro. Perennial herbs such as oregano, chives, and thyme, can be planted now or later in the fall. Learn more about growing herbs.
Any vegetables you plant for the fall will benefit from preparing the soil before planting. Remove debris or residues from previous crops. If you will be seeding directly into the garden, till the soil and rake it level to make a smooth planting bed. If you are setting out young plants, tilling may not be necessary (especially in raised beds) unless the soil has become compacted and is difficult to dig.
Heavy rains over the summer may have depleted garden soils of nitrogen, the nutrient that supports green leafy growth. Incorporate a nitrogen source into the soil before planting to support healthy and vigorous growth of your fall crops. Organic sources of nitrogen include blood meal, cottonseed meal, and composted animal manures. If using traditional fertilizers to supply nitrogen, check the analysis to determine how much nitrogen is supplied. The first number in the analysis represents nitrogen. Consult soil test results to determine if lime or nutrients such as phosphorus or potassium are needed. Learn more about soil testing in NC.
Areas of the garden where you do not plan to grow anything for the fall should be seeded in a cover crop such as crimson clover or hairy vetch. Growing cover crops in areas that would otherwise remain bare overwinter reduces erosion, improves soil microbial activity and tilth, and enriches the soil. Learn more about winter cover crops for NC.
Learn more about gardening in North Carolina from these online Extension resources:
- Vegetable Gardening: A beginner’s guide
- Extension Gardener Handbook – everything you need to know to cultivate healthy, sustainable gardens and landscapes from the research based information source you can trust!
- NC State Extension Gardener website – the one-stop-shop for N.C. Cooperative Extension gardening information
Use Extension Search to find research based information from Cooperative Extension systems across the U.S.
Subscribe to the Chatham Gardener email list to receive timely updates on sustainable lawn, garden, and landscape care for the central NC Piedmont.