(Article and photo by Jacob Williams in conjunction with Towns-Union Master Gardener Association and the UGA Extension Office)
Do you usually have a fall garden? Now is the time to start thinking about one. There are some benefits to having a fall garden that we’ll get in to. Let’s talk about what vegetable crops and cover crops are an option for a fall garden and how to start your fall garden.
Cover crops are planted in the fall and grow throughout the winter into early spring. Cover crops are beneficial to soil health and are often used in organic production. I like to think of the soil as a muscle in the body. If you work a muscle too hard or with only one exercise then you may injure the muscle by straining it or even tearing it. However, by diversifying your exercises and making sure that you’re eating properly for muscle growth you can grow stronger. Soil also requires development over time, and cover crops can help with that. Common crops are clovers and cereal crops like cereal rye, black oats, and wheat. Come springtime they can be tilled into the soil or laid down so that you can plant into them. Planting cover crops can help to develop organic matter in the soil, reduce erosion, suppress weeds, and conserve soil moisture. Around Labor Day is the ideal time to plant cover crops in our area.
Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, turnips, radishes, spinach, lettuce, beets, and onions are some good options for a fall garden. For fall gardens it is important to use mulch to protect the plants from the frost. You may need to get another soil test done on your garden to see if you need to add any fertilizer for the coming crop. Ideally, you want the plants to have 50 – 60 days to mature before the first frost. Our average first frost date is mid-October. That makes mid-August a good time to plant.
There are a couple of benefits to planting in the fall that you don’t see in the summer. One of these is there are fewer insect pests around. That means you won’t need to spray as many insecticides. If you are trying to grow your garden organically that is a very good thing! There will also be fewer diseases that you have to contend with in the fall. Diseases like hot, humid conditions. As the temperature drops in the coming months diseases will become less and less of a problem. Winter weeds can still be a problem but they are not as much of a pest as summertime weeds. Use mulch to suppress weeds.
Pansies and violas are an option for flowering plants that will last through the winter and keep their flowers. Plant pansies mid-September once the temperatures have cooled down.
Gardening in the spring means working through diseases and insects. In the fall the biggest challenge will be from the temperature. As the temperature drops rapidly selecting varieties of crops that can stand the cold will be important. It can be extremely rewarding to see green growing around your house after everything else has turned brown.
If you have any questions about growing your fall garden contact your County Extension Office or email me at [email protected]
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