The summer may be winding to a close, but your garden doesn’t have to!
You have probably noticed the shift—the light has moved slightly south and become softer. The mornings are cool, and the sun is setting just a little bit earlier. The vegetables are growing tall and producing delicious ingredients for the home cook. Flower gardens are brimming with color and begging to be cut and brought inside. Fruit trees are beginning to hang low, offering the fruit of the flowers we enjoyed last spring. In many places, the days can still be quite hot, but not as sizzling as they were a few weeks ago. What a great time for gardening!
Harvesting vegetables and planting new ones
As you are enjoying the last of your spring peas and spinach, don’t feel sad—there are plenty more veggies on the way! In most regions of the United States, there are still lots of vegetables you can plant right now to eat in the fall and winter. Just let the first frost be your guide. If you live in the southern parts of the country, you have a lot more time before you have to worry about this, but for many of us, we look to Halloween for our first frost. If you want to sow new plants, start by looking up the estimated date of this year’s first frost for your area. Try The Old Farmer’s Almanac frost date calculator. Then, looking at your seed package at your local greenhouse, find the maturity information and count backward from your estimated first frost date. If this date is before you plan to sow your seeds, then you’ve got time. If this date is after you plan to put the seeds in the ground, then, we’re sorry, but better luck next year. But you can always get a transplant (a mini-plant that your greenhouse grows with you in mind) instead!
Good choices for late summer/early fall planting will look a lot like your spring crops—vegetables that can take shorter days and cooler temperatures. Plants that will mature from seed this time of year in most places in the U.S. are:
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
Some good options to grow from transplants this time of year in most areas are:
- Brussels sprouts
And for those of you in the warmer climates with a much later (if any) first frost date, you can add:
- Cabbage transplants
- Swiss chard
Autumn bounty on your balcony
No garden? Grow one on your porch or balcony. Maybe you’re watching the tomatoes ripen in the containers you planted in the spring, or maybe you’re just getting started. Either way, you can keep vegetables growing well into winter with containers. The best ones to plant right now are many of the same we mentioned for the garden above. Greens and root vegetables should yield a nice fall harvest. Try sowing arugula, beets, carrots, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and turnips in nice big pots. You can plant seeds about an inch under some good potting mix and put them in a sunny place. And if you want a surer thing or you live in a cooler climate with an earlier frost date, you might want to start with a few transplants from your local greenhouse. Or do both, and have some veggies for now, and some for later!
The other great thing about container vegetable gardening is you don’t have to spend a lot to get a project like this going. You can find old pallets and make yourself a raised garden bed outside (and start a compost bin—bonus!) Or try scouring the thrift stores for big buckets, barrels, plastic boxes—anything that will hold dirt and has drainage holes in it. You can even drill these yourself if need be. Water once or twice a day, depending on your heat and humidity (hotter and dryer needs more water), and soon you’ll be enjoying a gourmet arugula and beet salad for pennies on what you would pay in a restaurant! (Psst—grill the beets and add goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette for perfection.)
Cutting mature flowers and planting baby flowers
We are still reveling in the flowers we’ve already planted. Zinnias, dahlias, and coneflowers are swaying in the summer breeze. Bees and butterflies are drunk with pollen and nectar. Drive down a country road, particularly in the Midwest, and the sides of the roads are teeming with sunflowers. So, what if you didn’t get around to planting flowers this year, or you’ve just moved into a new place that needs your personal touch? You can still put some flowers in the ground to add color and beauty to your life! It can be a tricky time to sow seeds from scratch, but if you want to try it, you can follow the same process mentioned above for vegetables. Find the maturity information on the back of your seed packet and count backward from your area’s first frost date. Otherwise, you may want to work with transplants instead. The best ones for most zones are:
- Flowering cabbage and kale
You can also probably find some bargains on cosmos and marigolds this time of year. Although good cool-weather flowers, they are very susceptible to frost, so be prepared for them to leave town more quickly than the other flowers. The others often survive a nip of frost, and we have even seen a few, like pansies, poke their heads back up in late November in places like Colorado!
Beautify your balcony
The blossoms on your sweet peas and peonies may have faded, but there is still plenty of time to get some flowers going on your balcony for fall color. All of the flowers mentioned for outdoor gardens are great options for containers. You might also like to try coneflowers, rudbeckia, verbena, and ornamental peppers (not the best for your salsa). And you can add some interesting fillers to really make your containers look lush and pretty. Ornamental grasses and other foliage plants like variegated sedge, blue fescue, sedum, purple fountain grass, helichrysum, and ornamental millet are some fun choices.
If you plan to sow your flower seeds, be sure to look at the maturity information on the seed packet, just as you would for vegetables. You want to make sure you’ve got several weeks before the first frost in your area. Even though many of these flowers and foliage are frost-resistant, they won’t do very well if they are still delicate little seedlings when that first frost come through your town. Consider trying a bit of both—some seeds and some transplants from your local greenhouse.
There is still lots of life left in your flower and vegetable gardens!
Whether in the ground or in containers, there are still plenty of flowers and vegetables wanting to grow for you. And in most places, this is the best time of year to enjoy all things outdoors. After working in your garden or on your balcony on sweltering July and early August days, who wants to be inside on these glorious last weeks of summer? If you’re like us, the answer is: only when we’re inside arranging the dahlias and sunflowers we planted earlier this year!