Before planting a second crop, turn and loosen soil to about 6 inches down, and remove all weeds.
If you’ve fertilized your garden all along, your soil is ready for a fall crop. If not, add a generous helping of compost from your pile, or sprinkle roughly 1 to 2 pounds of all-purpose fertilizer for each 100 sq. ft. of growing space (check label for exact amount).
Choose seeds over seedlings
In late summer, it’s better to sow seeds rather than plant seedlings. Seeds will take a week or two to germinate and are less likely to bake in the sun. However, you must keep them moist, so plan to water daily until they sprout.
If you’re planting after Labor Day, you can take a chance on seedlings, although most nurseries gear down in fall and have a limited supply of cold-crop seedlings.
Time and temperature
To time your fall garden:
1. Understand how many days it takes for seeds to mature (“days to harvest” on the seed packet).
2. Then find the average date of your area’s first frost. The Farmer’s Almanac’s Average Frost Date Map shows you when to expect your first fall frost.
3. Subtract the harvest days from the frost date and you’ll know the last time you can plant to expect a reasonable harvest. For example: Turnips need 55 days to harvest, and Charlottesville, Va.’s, first fall frost is around Oct. 31. So the last safe time to plant will be Sept. 7, give or take a week.
Take your plant’s temperature
Of course, not all plants die with the first frost. Some can even live under snow. So, mix tender and hardy vegetable varieties in your fall garden to ensure produce until spring.
Tender veggies that die in a light frost include:
Semi-hardy vegetables can live through several hard frosts and include:
- Green onions
Hardy vegetables can live until temperatures drop below 20 degrees F and include:
- Brussels sprouts
Ways to protect your veggies
You can goose Mother Nature’s growing season by covering or shielding fall vegetables when temperatures begin to drop.
- Cover individual plants with plastic water or pop bottles with the spouts removed. Be prepared to remove them during a hot spell or your plants will cook.
- Make a cold frame — a slanted wood box covered with glass or plastic — that will protect fall plants from wind and cold.
- Cover young plants with 1 or 2 inches of organic garden mulch to shield roots and protect slender stems.
Bonus: Organic mulch will degrade during the fall and winter and add soil nutrients that will give your spring garden a good start.