Getting Ready for Fall
Fall may be on its way, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep gardening! In fact many of you may already be making your fall gardening plan, even as your summer plants continue to produce. September is a transitional month however, so remember whether you are growing outdoors or in a greenhouse that light, temperature and watering needs will change.
Beware of the Cold
One of the main challenges for fall gardening is temperature fluctuation. The seasonal change can bring uncertain weather patterns. It’s a good idea to find out the average first date for frost in your area and keep it in mind. Just realize that it is an average, and that the actual first frost may come sooner or later than expected. Keep an eye on the weather news and rely on a good outdoor thermometer so you’re ready to protect your plants when temperatures drop.
Also, not all frosts and freezes aren’t created equal. Knowing what kind you will be dealing with can help you can take appropriate measures. Here are the three basic kinds to expect:
- A light freeze (29-32°F) will kill exposed tender plants, without hurting most other vegetation.
- A moderate freeze (25°-28°F) will do significant damage to most exposed plants, killing fruit blossoms and tender plants outright and possibly killing semi-hardy plants.
- A severe freeze (below 25°F) will severely damage or kill most exposed plants that haven’t already gone dormant.
Protect Your Plants
You can respond a number of ways when Mother Nature tries to foil your fall gardening plans, using various methods either separately or in combination. One option is protecting your plants with plant protection fabrics such as frost covers, row covers, and thermal blankets that you may find useful for your outdoor garden. These fabrics are designed to protect from the cold, while still allowing air and light to penetrate.
Other measures that can help make your fall gardening efforts more fruitful include mulching, which will warm and protect the roots, and watering the soil around the plants before the freeze. Moist soil retains heat better. However, don’t spray the plants themselves; if the water freezes on them it may damage their tissues.
You can also protect your plants using season extenders—structures that provide wind and cold protection while allowing light in. One excellent way to do this is with cold frames. For the hobby gardener, this works well. This is just a box structure that has a lid on it with either glass or plastic on top. This is ideal if you have very little room to extend the growing season. Another way is to have a small greenh0use. I have a 6′X8′ and have added a 10′X12′ 2 years ago. The 6′X8′ started everything I needed for a garden, but then I guess I got greedy and thought ‘how about selling some and recouping some of my money’ I did very nicely that first year and then this last spring, I broke my ankle. This ended my thoughts of making any money for my next years venture.
Either way, Fall can be just as productive as Spring and Summer