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Plant now for fresh fall garden produce
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Just as Good Friday signals the time to get the spring garden in the ground, August's heat is the indication that it's time to plant the fall garden.
David Nagel, horticulture specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said now is the time to plant tomatoes, peppers, squash, sweet corn, peas and beans.
"Summer gardens typically wind down in early August when the temperatures start being consistently above 95 degrees," Nagel said. "That's when you clean the garden out and plant the fall garden."
Some gardeners may hesitate to uproot plants that are still producing or still look healthy, but Nagel said most garden plants quit producing about August. Exceptions are eggplant and okra that like the heat. The rest tend to try to stay alive rather than produce fruit, and fight battles with insects and disease.
Start the fall garden by either plowing under the existing plants or rooting them out and composting them. Let gardens that are plowed under sit for one week to give the plant material time to decompose. If plants are removed, the garden can be replanted immediately. Reestablish the beds if necessary, making sure the rows are in good shape.
"As you plant your fall garden, make sure you don't put plants from the same family on the same spot where another family member was planted in the spring," Nagel said. "Follow a two-year rotation where you move plants from each family into a different spot each season."
Plant families include the cabbages, with cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and greens; Solanaceae, or sun-loving, that includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and Irish potatoes; vines; and others, which are plants such as okra, sweet potatoes and corn that don't fit into one of the other families.
Fall gardens are planted in the same varieties as are used in the spring. The key to having a successful fall garden is maintaining sufficient water on the young plants.
"These are very small plants with limited roots, and it's very hot," Nagel said. "If the big plants with the big root systems have problems getting enough moisture, the little plants with little root systems will have even more problems."
Nagel recommended gardeners use drip irrigation systems and soaker hoses to keep the plants watered. The root zone of young plants extends 2 to 3 inches deep, and likely will require daily watering to keep moist in August. As the plants mature, water 1 inch weekly.
Early August is the time to plant tomatoes, peppers, squash, sweet corn, peas and beans. Plant things in the cabbage family from about Aug. 20 to the middle of September. Nagel said cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are actually easier to grow in the fall because temperatures have moderated by the time they are ready to produce fruit.
Before planting fall gardens, treat any weed problems that existed in the summer. Find a herbicide labeled for the crops that will be planted. For home gardens, Nagel recommended the herbicide trifluralin, which is sold under such brand names as Treflan, Preen and Trilin.
"Insects are more of a problem in the fall than in the spring, so be vigilant," Nagel said. "When you see them, control them by whatever method you deem appropriate."
Wild animals become more of a problem with fall gardens as other plants tend to be drying up and going to seed. A well-watered garden of young plants offers a tempting meal.
Once established, fall gardens typically can grow and produce until the first frost, which in Mississippi ranges from October to December. Winter gardens, usually planted in different types of greens and English peas, can be planted when the fall garden is finished.
To see good fall vegetable gardens, visit the Fall Field Days in Verona at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center Sept. 29 or at the Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs Oct. 12 and 13.