08 July 2010

Fabulous Fall Gardens Start in July

Ah, the lazy days of summer with a dozen distractions to keep us away from garden maintenance. On top of taking care of existing flowers, herbs and vegetables, we want to keep everything beautiful for fall.

There is nothing more depressing to a gardener than an August view of tall weeds choking the perennials and a bunch of dried out annuals. Fortunately, gardens are forgiving and there is still time to build a productive and pretty back yard scene before Labor Day.

Start with pulling the weeds, pruning the annuals and fertilizing the perennials. If recent rains passed by your place, give the beds a good soak to get them ready for this month’s activity.

Kim Walton, flower, herb and vegetable vendor at Muskogee Farmer's Market, said she is planting everything from cucumber to zinnia seeds right now. The seeds will come up in a week and produce until frost.

In contrast, herb grower Sharon Owen, owner of Moonshadow Herb Farm is harvesting not planting.

In June and July we harvest and preserve herbs, as well as press and dry flowers, Owen said.

For home flower and vegetable gardeners, these cool mornings are ideal to work outside right now. Clear the weeds, work in composted manure, compost, or other soil amendments, and water the beds.

If you want to grow in containers, pull out or prune the old plants, mix compost into the soil and water it in.


Then turn your attention to what to plant. For example, if you want a late fall tomato harvest, take 6-inch cuttings of your best tomato plants, remove the lower leaves, and root them in soil. They will be ready to plant in two-to-three weeks.

The key to estimating whether or not something can be planted now is the days until first freeze and how long each plant takes to mature. Another important factor is the plants' heat tolerance.

Soil temperature right now is about 80-degrees which is too hot for most seeds to sprout so plan to start new seedlings indoors or in pots in dappled shade.

Our average first frost date is Nov 3 and average first killing freeze date is Dec 1 (http://tiny.cc/wfc65). There are about 145 days between July 8 and Dec 1. Look at the packets of any leftover spring seed and read the days to maturity.

Many home garden foods take 90 days to mature such as: Beets, carrot, Brussels sprouts, Fava beans, cauliflower. Some take 60 days, including: Early carrot, early cabbage, Swiss chard, and collards.

Plant seeds indoors now for parsley, chervil, cowpeas, climbing/pole green beans, cilantro, sweet corn, eggplant, Malabar spinach, Pak choi, peppers, winter squash, tomatillos, broccoli and parsnips (http://tiny.cc/lmssj).

Instead of starting seeds indoors, you can buy established seedlings at garden centers over the next few weeks. When planting in the summer, make the hole a little deeper add some insulating peat moss or compost to planting row, water, and then plant.

After the row or bed is planted, water and immediately mulch around the tender new seedlings to keep the soil surface cool. Planting seedlings in the evening will also help. Check for drying out every day until their roots sink deep into the earth.

Late summer and early fall flowers that can be planted in July include: Morning glory, sunflower, cosmos, zinnia, scarlet runner bean and Inspire series geranium.

If you skip fall vegetable gardening, put in a cover crop such as winter peas, soybean, clover, mustard, oats, wheat or alfalfa to help prepare the soil for next spring (http://tiny.cc/cb78a). Planting these now will prevent weed seeds from taking over any bare soil. The plants are turned into the ground in the spring.

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