As the thought of fall approaches, most gardeners have the tendency to think it is time to end the garden season since the traditional time for growing vegetables is in the spring and summer. However, with a little work and planning, the gardening season can be extended well into the cooler months in Missouri.
Fall is an excellent time to grow many vegetable crops when the gardener can take advantage of cooler temperatures and more plentiful moisture. When planning for the fall garden, it is important to plan well in advance of the fall season. You plant NOW to get the benefits in the fall. Just like traditional spring gardening, considerations must be made to the space needed, soil preparation and variety selection. (If your garden is anything like mine right now, there are large amounts of space where nothing is growing because vegetables are through producing or plants are so bug and weed infested you can do nothing but pull them!)
I know you’re probably tired of gardening by now and possibly tired of the disappointments, so why plant more. In the spring, after a long winter, most gardeners are ready to hit the ground running and get the garden fresh taste they have so long waited for. By mid-summer, the newness has worn off and as temperatures rise and people are worn out with the weed, disease and bug infested messes. Most gardeners just lose interest. Just for a reminder, go out and purchase one bland tomato from the grocery store or go ahead eat another salad made with a head of lettuce that has been in storage for who knows how long. Store bought veggies just lack the taste and quality of garden raised produce. (These are enough reasons for me to clean up my garden and get back to the task of gardening.)
If you can find “cole” crops to purchase at your local garden center, plants such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi can be planted. These need to be planted by mid-August. I recommend planting transplants rather than seed this time of year. These will need to be protected from cabbage worms. Use dipel dust, thuricide or carbaryl to control the pests.
If some of the warm season vegetables are still in good shape, they will keep on producing until frost (tomatoes, beans, and squash). However, some crops have finished producing. If beans have finished, you can still plant seeds and they will produce in about 60 days. Summer squash can still be planted until mid-August and these will mature in about 40 to 50 days. Usually our warm weather will keep coming until mid-October and at that point you should have a fairly decent crop if everything goes right. Just keep in mind that garden pests might be harder on the plants this time of year and you will need to keep a closer eye on them. Squash bugs, stink bugs, bean beetles, and cucumber beetles will still be a problem.
Lettuce, mustard, spinach and other types of greens can be planted again but if the weather is hot, they can be slow to germinate. Shade the soil and keep it slightly moist to improve germination especially if we are having a dry spell. These can be planted at two week intervals into the first week of September to extend the harvest time well into the colder months. The use of frost blankets on greens when frosts are forecasted can extend harvesting well into January and February.
Turnips, beets and radishes are great for planting in fall. These plants can be seeded through the month of August and can be harvested in about 50 days. It is important to remember that root crops should be thinned to 2 inches between plants, which allows the bottoms to develop a suitable size for harvest.
The goal of fall gardening is to get your crop to mature before frost. One easy way to calculate your planting date would be to take the average first frost date, count backwards for the number of days it takes the crop to mature (list on the seed packet), and then add a few days for extra for seed germination and harvest time. Our average first frost date in Southeast Missouri is Oct. 15. If you consider some of these vegetables for the fall, just be alert for insects and diseases that may invade the garden.
If you would like more information on this topic or about other gardening topics, contact your local University of Missouri Extension Office or contact Donna Aufdenberg, MU Extension Horticulturist, by calling 573-238-2420.