Thursday, August 20, 2015

Plant a Fall Garden

Harvest purple broccoli sprouting shoots before they flower
and remove all shoots from the plant.
Photo from
By Charlotte D. Glen
Agriculture Agent - Horticulture Chatham County

If excessive heat and drought ruined your summer garden or you never planted one, you now have a second chance. Many favorite cool weather vegetables can be planted over the next month for harvest through fall and into winter. Visit your local garden center or farmers market to shop for young plants. If you are more adventurous, many crops can also be grown from seed if sown within the next few weeks.

Cole Crops and Greens

When planted in late summer, hardy long-lived crops such as kale, collards, and cabbage will remain productive through early winter and longer if provided extra protection by a cold frame or heavy weight row cover. These plants can be established from transplants purchased at garden centers and planted in early September or from seed sown in August. Seeds can be sown direct in the soil or started in containers of potting mix and transplanted to the garden in four to six weeks.

If you like kale, seek out heirloom types like ‘Red Russian’ and ‘Toscano’, both of which produce tender leaves with excellent flavor. For a different experience with cabbage, try one of the pointed head varieties, such as ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’. These cone shaped types, sometimes referred to as spring cabbage, are delicious and will be ready to harvest weeks earlier than round headed varieties.

This is also the time to seed broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and Chinese cabbage. If you only need a few plants or don’t have space to start seedlings, you can purchase young plants in early September - just be sure to plant them by the middle of the month so they have time to mature before the depths of winter.

Root Crops and More

Root crops do not like to be disturbed and are best established by sowing seed in the garden where they are to grow. If you would like to grow turnips, beets, parsnips, carrots, radish, or rutabaga, plant the seed direct in your garden within the next month. For something different, consider kohlrabi. This cabbage relative makes a bulb just above ground level that can be sliced and eaten raw or added to salads or stir fries.

When sowing seed direct in the garden, first cultivate the soil and rake it level to create a smooth seed bed. Sow seed in one to two foot wide patches or single rows. Vegetables seeded in late summer are typically planted deeper than when seeded in spring – up to twice as deep. This is because soils are warmer and drier. Seeds sown too close to the soil surface are prone to drying out, resulting in poor germination.

Be sure to keep newly seeded areas consistently moist since young seedlings die quickly if allowed to dry out. Don’t forget to thin seedlings once they start growing. Leave enough space between plants for them to reach mature size. For example, carrots only need to be thinned so individual plants stand approximately two inches apart while cabbages should be thinned or planted to allow at least one foot between plants.

Other fall crops that are commonly seeded direct in the garden include lettuce and mesclun mixes, arugula, turnip greens, and mustard. These can be planted anytime during the next month, as can the cool season herbs parsley, cilantro, and dill. When growing parsley from seed, soak the seed in water for several hours before sowing to improve germination.

Onions, Garlic and Herbs

Other vegetables you can start from seed now for harvest this fall include leeks and green onions, but wait until late September to sow onion seed and to plant shallot bulbs and garlic cloves, which will not be ready for harvest until next spring.

Fall is also a great time to plant perennial herbs, including sage, chives, oregano, and thyme. Be sure to plant these drought tolerant plants in well-drained soil or raised beds where they will get several hours of direct sun each day.

Learn More!
More great vegetable gardening resources from NC State Extension:
Vegetable Planting Calendar:
Growing a Fall Vegetable Garden:
Additional Resources:

Seed Sources

Can’t find the seed you want locally? Looking for something different to grow from seed? Lots of seed companies offer free catalogs and take orders online. Here are some of my favorites:

Johnny's Seed: Flowers, vegetables, herbs, cover crops and excellent information! Request a catalog at
Seed Savers Exchange - dedicated to preserving heirloom varieties:
Seeds of Change - specializing in organically produced seed:
J.L. Hudson - No color picture but lots of interesting varieties - carries only open pollinated varieties (which means you can save your own seed and they will come true to type):
Sow True Seed – specializing in heirloom and open pollinated varieties. Based in Asheville, NC:
Select Seeds - specializing in heirloom flowers:
Burpee Seed - one of the oldest in the country!
Park Seed - located in Greenville, SC:

Use Extension Search to find research based information from Cooperative Extension systems across the U.S. or post your questions to be answered online via Extension's 'Ask an Expert' widget.

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