Fall is Prime Planting Time

Here’s an essay on making the most of the growing season still ahead.

Don’t put away the shovels and trowels just yet. Warm days without sizzling heat make for perfect planting days. Whether you plant fall lettuces to be enjoyed now or bulbs for spring—get out and enjoy your garden.

Plant new vegetables

If fall vegetable gardening is new to you, it’s a great way to edge into new gardening skills with low risk. Homegrown fall greens are a wonderful complement to hearty autumn meals.

The easiest bet is to let someone else get them started for you. Calls around to see if your local garden center has  fall lettuces and vegetable starts.

For seed growers, there’s time still for fall lettuce and radishes that are ready for harvest in four to six weeks. Major online retailers like Burpees.com can get seeds to you quickly. If you are using leftover seeds from spring planting, sprinkle seeds generously to ensure a good germination rate. Keep fall seeds well watered.

Work in a few handfuls of compost to your spot or pot to add nutrition to summer-spent soil. Try container plantings that can be moved around to capture the most sunshine.

Between the seeds I started last month and transplants I picked up locally, I have enough to fill in spaces vacated by faded cucumbers and squashes. This weekend I planted red and green leaf lettuce that can be cut and enjoyed a little bit at a time, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens and good-sized Chinese cabbage.

The pole beans I planted in early August are six feet tall and in full flower, providing needed shade for the foot-high snow pea vines growing up among them.

If you can’t find fall vegetable starts near you, be sure to let your local garden center know for next year.

Plant new trees and shrubs

Major plantings like trees and shrubs are significant investments in time, money and space. If you are planting yourself, talk through your choices with the experts at your local garden center or landscaping service.

Rutgers Cooperative Extension offers two helpful brochure: Transplanting Trees and Shrubs and Tree Problems Caused by People in the Suburban Landscape.

My fall plans include replacing a boring yew with a New Jersey-native flowering and berrying shrub. The job is small enough that I feel confident I can do it myself.

Plant spring bulbs

Planting spring bulbs in the fall is an optimistic act. There’s plenty of time and selection of spring bulbs available at local garden centers and from mail-order retailers.

Plant summer garlic

Garlic is one of the nicest, easiest crops to grow and is vastly superior in flavor to supermarket garlic. Buy garlic bulbs that are specifically meant for planting in the garden. You’ll only have to make this purchase once since next year’s planting cloves will come from your first harvest. Choose “hard neck” varieties if you want delicious spring scapes. Amend your garlic plot with compost and plant according to directions. If you plant in the next few weeks, your garlic will be a few inches tall before the ground freezes hard.

The summer harvest season is all about taking, so think about fall as a time to give back by planting something new.

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