Grow Your Best Fall Garden: Expert Advice for What, When and How to Plant in the Fall Gardening Season - Go Mad for Mulch

Author // Barbara Pleasant

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Grow Your Best Fall Garden: Expert Advice for What, When and How to Plant in the Fall Gardening Season
Go Mad for Mulch
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5. Go Mad for Mulch

Whether you use fresh green grass clippings, last year’s almost-rotted leaves, spoiled hay or another great mulch you have on hand, place it over sheets of newspaper between plants. The newspa- per will block light, which will prevent weed growth, help keep the soil cool and moist, and attract night crawlers and other earthworms. To get the best coverage, lay down the double-mulch and wet it thoroughly before you plant your seedlings. Cover the soaker hose with mulch, too.

Mulching can have one drawback, in that organic mulches are ideal nighttime hideouts for slugs and snails, which come out at night and chew holes in the leaves of dozens of plants, and may ruin mature green tomatoes, too. Watch for mollusk outbreaks, and use iron phosphate baits or beer-baited traps, if needed, to bring problem populations under control. Visit the Garden Slugs search page to find our recent slug control update, which includes readers’ reports of slug-slaying methods that really work.

6. Deploy Your Defenses Against Garden Pests

Luscious little seedlings attract a long list of aggressive pests, including cabbageworms, army worms and ever-voracious grasshoppers. Damage from all of these pests (and more) can be prevented by covering seedlings with row covers the day they go into the garden. Use a “summer-weight” insect barrier row cover that retains little heat, or make your own by sewing or pinning two pieces of wedding net (tulle) into a long, wide shroud. Hold the row cover above the plants with stakes or hoops, and be prepared to raise its height as the plants grow. See The No-Spray Way to Protect Plants for more details on using row covers in your garden.

Summer sun can be your seedlings’ best friend or worst enemy. Always allow at least a week of adjustment time for seedlings started indoors, gradually exposing them to more direct sunlight. Even transplants that are given a week to get used to strong sun appreciate a few days of shade after they are set out, which can be easily provided by placing an old sheet over the row cover. Or, you can simply pop flower pots over the seedlings for a couple of days after transplanting. In most areas, insect pressures ease as nights become chilly in mid-fall, but you might want to keep your row covers on a little longer if your garden is visited by deer, which tend to become more troublesome as summer turns to fall.

Getting the Most from Your Fall Garden

High-density planting in double or triple rows can increase your per-square-foot return by 40 percent with broccoli, or up to 70 percent with cabbage. Use a zigzag planting pattern to fit more plants into less space while allowing 18 inches between plants. Use dwarf varieties when spacing plants closer together, because too much crowding can lead to delayed maturation and low yields.

Cut-and-come-again harvesting can prolong the productive lives of heading crops such as spring-planted cabbage and Chinese cabbage. As long as the primary head is cut high, leaving a stout stub behind, small secondary heads often will develop within a few weeks. Many varieties of broccoli are enthusiastic cut-and-come-again vegetables, too. After the main head has been harvested (taking only 3 inches or so of stem), varieties such as Belstar, Green Goliath and many others produce numerous tender side shoots. The harvest will continue until tempera- tures drop into the teens, which seriously damages broccoli plants. In much of Zones 7 and 8, healthy broccoli plants will keep spewing out shoots for months, and sometimes all winter.

Transplant the untransplantable if that’s what it takes to get a good stand. For example, most gardeners have read that beets, carrots and rutabagas should be sown directly in the garden, but I often get better filled, more uniform rows in late summer by starting seeds indoors and setting out seedlings when they show their first true leaf. If the seedlings are kept moist and shaded for a few days after transplanting, about 75 percent of them survive. If you feel the need to brush up on your seedling-handling skills, see Garden Transplanting: Expert Advice.

Web Resources

Mother Earth News is an excellent source of gardening information. Visit for links to the subjects below.

Start Your Own Seeds: Six simple steps to starting your own seeds indoors. No need to wait till spring!

Garden Slugs: A search page for all of Mother Earth News’ garden slug content, including its most recent slug control update.

The No-Spray Way to Protect Plants: Protect your plants organically, without ever picking up a sprayer.

Know When to Plant What: A crop-by-crop guide to what to plant relative to your average first fall frost date.

What to Plant Now: An interactive map: click on your region to see what you should be planting today.

Garden Transplanting: Expert transplanting advice on the smartest, safest practices to move seedlings into your garden.

Fall Garden Planting Schedule

There is no time to waste getting your fall garden crops into the ground, but exactly when should you plant them? Exact dates vary with location, and has two
online tools to help you find the best planting times for your garden. See Know When to Plant What: Find Your Average First Fall Frost Date to find an article that includes a link to tables showing average frost dates for cities in your state. For fall gardens, we suggest using the date given for a 50 percent chance of having a 28-degree night — what gardeners call a killing frost. (Keep in mind that cold temperatures may come and go for several weeks in late fall. In most areas, you can easily stretch your fall season by covering plants with old blankets on subfreezing nights.) Also check out Mother Earth News’ What to Plant Now pages for monthly planting checklists of vegetables and kitchen herbs for your region.

2 to 14 weeks
before your first killing frost

Start cabbage family seedlings indoors, and set out the seedlings as promptly as possible.

In climates with long autumns, plant celery, bulb fennel and parsley in the fall.

10 to 12 weeks before your first killing frost

Set out broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi and cauliflower seedlings, along with celery, bulb fennel and parsley.

Direct-sow beets, carrots, collards, leeks and scallions, along with more lettuce and radishes. In some areas, even fast-maturing peas and potatoes will do well in the fall garden.

8 to 10 weeks before your first killing frost

Direct-sow arugula, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, turnips, spinach, mustard, pac choi, tatsoi and other Asian greens.

Sow more lettuce and radishes, including daikons.

6 to 8 weeks
before your first killing frost

Make a final sowing of spinach along with mâche, which matches spinach for super winter-hardiness. (In most regions, you can expect to enjoy these crops in your Christmas salads!)

Make a final sowing of lettuce beneath a protective tunnel or frame.

On or around
your first killing frost date
Every fall garden should include garlic and shallots; now’s the time to plant them. If you love onions, be sure to try multiplying onions and perennial “nest” onions.

Pathways Issue 30 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #30.

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