A late summer garden can be quite wild and overgrown. Your garden may be facing a lot of pest pressure or disease as older plants become vulnerable. It is also a time of bountiful harvests and joy filled summer evenings. You may be harvesting from your garden daily, but noticing somethings are starting to slow down. You could be feeling overwhelmed from all that your garden is needing from you right now, this is normal. There is so much to do, watch over and harvest in a late summer garden. While you are busy making many delicious meals from your summer harvests, you need to be thinking about, planning and prepping for your fall garden too. Depending on your garden size, you probably will need to *“pull” plants to make room for your fall plants. *I suggest not actually pulling plants out, but cutting the plant at the soil level, leaving the roots to nourish the soil as it breaks down.
When it comes to late summer gardening and prepping for your fall garden there a few key things to think about.
What is growing now?
You will want to decide what can stay longer and what you will want to take out. To do this, think about how much the plant has already given you, its health, location, pest pressure, or diseases. If you have already harvested a lot off a plant, it may be time to pull it. In fact you or your family may be done with eating it. This can be especially true for things like the ever prolific zucchini. You may have already processed, preserved or stored what you want from a plant and can pull those too. If you decide that there is too much pest pressure or that you are done battling the pests for whatever reason, offer gratitude for everything it has given you and pull the plant. If your plant is diseased and pretty much done producing, you can pull the plant. I always suggest that all diseased plants be thrown into the trash and not composted. Ask yourself if the plant can still produce quality harvests, if it can and you have enough space for your fall garden, keep it growing. Give the plant a good side dressing of compost to help nourish it.
What do you want to grow for fall?
After you have taken stock of what you are keeping and pulling, you will have a general idea of how much space has opened up for your fall garden. This will determine what you can grow based on the mature size and spacing needs of what you want to grow. Keep in mind that as the seasons transition from late summer to fall daylight hours will wane and temperatures will drop. With the shorter daylight hours your plants will take longer to reach maturity. As temperatures drop many summer plants will come to the end of their lifecycle, especially those that are frost sensitive once the first frost hits. A good idea of what can be grown in the fall is to look to spring. Generally what grows well in the cool spring temperatures and daylight hours will grow nicely in the fall garden. Think about leaves and roots for cool season growing and skip the plants we use for their fruits or seeds because the season usually isn’t long enough for these to reach maturity. You have the option of direct sowing seeds or using transplants from a local nursery. I suggest direct sowing root vegetables and smaller leafy greens. I suggest purchasing transplants for things like broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts because here in zone 5b, it is a bit too late to start these from seeds to get them to a good size before frost hits. You will also want to consider frost protection as many fall vegetables can be grown through the winter with some protection. I have used the thickest frost cloth to over winter carrots, spinach, kale and other greens.
What have you learned from this years spring and summer gardens?
While you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed right now or frustrated because your garden doesn’t look like the fancy ones on Instagram, it is important to take note of everything you have learned. Start a gardening journal if you haven’t already and take some time to write about what worked for you, what didn’t and what you want to do the same or different next year. You may think that you’ll remember, but trust me, next year you’ll probably forget something. I know I have done this a lot and now write things down, it helps! Taking a few minutes to do do this at the transitioning of the seasons will be so beneficial. Chances are you will realize that you have learned so much this year!
Wrapping up your late summer garden and transitioning to your fall garden is a great chance to connect with the seasons, reflect on both your growth and the growth of the garden. It’s a time for wonder and merriment, even when it seems daunting. Stay positive and know it is so very worth it.