The worst of the summer’s scorching heat is behind us now, and a second gardening season awaits - our reward for living in the deep South.
- by Wendy Sullivan and Dr. Christian Stephenson
As the struggle to remain outside through the heat and humidity of the summer months is real, Southerners are rewarded with a full gardening season through the fall. Imagine fresh produce from the home garden on the Thanksgiving dinner table!
Cleaning beds and grow boxes is the first step to preparing for the next growing season. Removing plants that no longer produce fruits and vegetables allows the beds to rest from the spring growing season. Some gardeners also chose this time to apply herbicide to address weed infestations.
Beds depleted during the summer rains may need to be replenished with nutrients and additional soil. This is particularly important here on the Gulf Coast where native soil that drains well contributes to the leaching out of all those good things gardeners put in during spring planting.
Planting dates for fall vegetables should be based off the time the plant will take between planting and harvest. Most seed packets will list days to maturity for vegetables which makes it easier to ensure that you will be able to harvest before the first cold weather.
The first freeze date across SE Mississippi (as far north as Hattiesburg) would be approximately November 8th at the northern end of the range and as late as December 5th for Bay St. Louis. It is important to note that these dates are averages and freezes may occur earlier. It is also important to be aware of the weather and take steps to protect vulnerable plants if a cold event is likely to occur.
Many vegetables popular in spring gardens do well if planted by late August. These include including tomatoes, squash, beans and peppers. Cooler weather plants such as cauliflower, kale, collards, broccoli, swiss chard and cabbage excel in winter gardens and some, like broccoli or chard, can even take a light frost. These may be planted in September for gardeners who are hesitant to venture out into the August heat.
Large pots and grow boxes are great for creating lovely edible kitchen gardens around the patios and decks. Herbs, cherry tomatoes, banana peppers are just a few of the plants that grow well in pots. Cooler weather also means more outdoor entertainment. Consider the novelty of inviting dinner guests to build their own salads from the crops in the pots.
When planting a fall garden, you should be aware of high temperatures, for your sake as well as for your plants. When working outside, be certain to take precautions against heat-related illness, including drinking plenty of water, replacing salts and minerals, and wearing appropriate clothing. It’s also important to schedule outside activity for cooler parts of the day and to pace yourself to avoid getting overheated.
Insects can be a major challenge for fall gardening, as they have used to the summer to multiply and conquer. Vigilance is needed to monitor and address any infiltrations as they occur.
The community garden is located on the corner of St. Francis and Bookter Streets across from the senior center. The 4 H Kids Garden Club will be meeting in the garden at 9:00 am that morning to plant their bed. Come early with children and grandchildren to play in the dirt. All elementary-aged children are invited to join this free monthly club.
For more information about gardening, you can visit the MSU Extension website at extension.msstate.edu, or contact the Hancock County Extension office at 228-467-5456, email C.Stephenson@msstate.edu. Send an email if you would like to receive notifications about weekly garden webinars or if you would like to receive their monthly newsletter.
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