Though the summer heat is still upon us we know the fall weather is coming which means we have one more growing season before the garden takes a rest. If you haven’t already planted your fall garden, you still have time if you select crops that have a short turnaround to harvest.
Leafy greens including lettuce, kale, spinach and cabbage are common in fall gardens. They are semi-hardy crops, which means they will even tolerate light frosts. Root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, beets and radishes are also great options to start at this point in the season. They develop quickly allowing them to be ready for harvest before the real threat of frost is looming. Carrots are actually a hardy crop that can withstand several frosts and continue to grow.
One challenge with fall gardening can be establishing the fragile seedlings during the extended summer heat. By monitoring the garden regularly, watering efficiently, and mulching the soil you can overcome this struggle. Additionally, planting the seeds slightly deeper where the soil does not dry out as quickly, can give the seeds more protection from the heat. Some gardeners soak their seeds prior to planting to expedite germination. Each of these strategies aides in getting the plants through the young and tender growth period.
Proper maintenance practices can also help you protect your fall garden. When weeding, only cultivate the very top of the soil to reduce the soil exposure to the air. This will allow the soil to retain more moisture. Once your plants are established you should allow them to begin to show signs of stress, such as slight wilting, before applying more water. This encourages the plants to send roots deeper into the soil in search of water. Deep-rooted plants are better equipped to survive adverse weather conditions.
As fall frosts approach, be prepared to cover the semi-hardy and hardy crops. Sheets and blankets can be used to cover plants, but ensure you place structures beneath the covers to keep the plants from being damaged by the weight. Plant containers or garden stakes work well for this purpose. Leaves that come in contact with the protective covering can still be damaged by frost so the supports beneath the covers need to be tall enough to keep the leaves from touching. Anchor the covers so they don’t blow off in the wind.
Warm weather is often intermixed with the first few frosts of the season. During the daytime, the protective covers should be removed from the plants. Mulch the root vegetables and you will be able to continue harvesting them until the soil starts to freeze. If a frost is approaching and you are concerned your seedlings won’t survive, you can choose to harvest the young leaves and create a leafy green salad mix.
The Kansas Garden Guide, published by Kansas State Research and Extension, is a great resource for gardening throughout the year and a helpful tool to finish the gardening season strong. Visit www.ksre.k-state.edu/news/stories/2020/03/kansas-garden-guide.html
Cynthia Domenghini is an instructor and coordinator for K-State’s horticultural therapy online certificate program.