Time to Plant Fall Veggies

And fruit trees, and berries, and herbs . . . oh, my!

The first of the fabulous fall vegetable seedlings have just arrived, along with a veritable cornucopia of fruiting trees, shrubs, and vines, and loads of hardy herbs.  On this, the first full day of autumn, I’d like to revisit some sage advice from Garden*Hood’s original garden-to-table guru, Amy Foster.  Read on for tips on planning and planting your cool season veggies and fruiting trees and shrubs.

Autumn Edibles
By Amy Foster

It may strike you as being too hot to plant right now, but if you desire a vegetable garden for the fall and winter months, this is the time to get  started.  Our average first frost date in Atlanta is mid-November, and the majority of plants grown for cooler weather need 45-60 days to mature.

Some of the best crops for fall and winter include leafy greens like lettuce, arugula, kale, chard, mustards and collards, as well as a number of root vegetables like carrots, beets and radishes.  Certain varieties of lettuce – specifically ‘Red Sails’, ‘Rouge d’Hiver’, and ‘Winter Density’ – can withstand temperatures to about 25 degrees F once mature and are great for overwintering.  Herbs such as parsley, cilantro and chervil do well, as do the perennial herbs such as rosemary, oregano, and thyme.
Things to consider when planning and planting a winter garden:

Garden Site
The ideal location of your summer garden may not be best for your winter garden.  The sun will move low across the southern sky, so areas that may have been full sun in summer may be shady now due to plants and structures blocking the sun’s winter position.  Conversely, trees that provided shade in the summer will generally lose most of their leaves by Halloween, and these may now be the sunniest parts of your garden.  Also remember that lower spots on the property are more likely to collect cold air pockets, both increasing the risk for frost and stunted plant growth.

Plant spacing
While it’s tempting to plant close together for greater yield, plants that have less than 4” of space between them (when mature) are more likely to incur frost damage. (Air circulation is crucial!).

Plant the right varieties by the right date
Not all kale (or broccoli or cabbage) is the same!  Some varieties have been bred to withstand more heat than cold, and vice versa.  Make sure you calculate enough time for the plant to come to maturity before frosts settle in and significantly slow plant growth.

Take good care of your new plants
Fall may be around the corner, but right now it’s still hot and dry which can stress out tender seedlings and larger fruiting trees and shrubs.  Regular, deep watering is essential into October, and shade netting for your smaller seedlings can be quite helpful.  Mulch will be your friend in the heat and the cold (providing a cooler, more moist environment in the summer, and creating pockets of warmer air in the winter), especially if you use a lightweight mulch such as straw, pine straw, or shredded leaves.

Fertilizing with fish emulsion can really give your plants the boost they need to do most of their growing before short days and cooler temperatures settle in.  Do a half-strength dose when seedlings are first in the ground, then repeat in about two weeks.  Before the first frost, make sure the plants get at least one full-strength dose.

Plant now!  
Plan to get your vegetable seedlings planted by mid-October to allow plenty of time to gain maturity before frost.  Fruit trees and shrubs may be planted now (remember to water while it’s still hot!), but mid- to late-fall is also A-okay for these larger specimens.

Remember to dig the hole at least twice the width of the rootball, mix in generous amounts of organic soil amendment to increase drainage and provide nutrients, mulch well, and water thoroughly.

Fall in love with cool season planting
Fall is a kinder, gentler season to garden.  The heat and humidity-related diseases and pests that  plague us all summer  usually  exit by October, leaving us free once again to slow down and enjoy our time outdoors. Setting down roots now will yield bountiful herb and vegetable harvests later this season, while your fall-planted fruit trees and berry shrubs will reward you next spring and summer.  Bon apetit!

After ten years of community organizing, farming, and educating out west, Amy found her way to G*H where she helped gardeners of all levels integrate food crops into the urban landscape.  She is now fully occupied with the rigors of nursing school, but you’ll still see her at the *Hood from time to time.