Here in northwest Louisiana, we have a very long growing season. On average, 236 frost free days. If you live in the colder zones, you might be green with envy. Given that there are so many frost free days, the fall planting season is pretty easy to calculate. However, there are other considerations besides frost. Here are some tips and tricks for gardening in the fall in the south.
Beware the heat
Frost is a major concern for many parts of the country. However, I am far enough south that I am just on the edge of being able to grow citrus and bananas outdoors because of the pesky frost. In the south, the main concern in the heat. There is a delicate balance of when to plant the fall rounds of the brassicas, peas, lettuces, carrots and other cool weather crops. These plants are extremely sensitive to the heat. Plant too early and a late heat wave will burn them up. Be sure to wait until late August or early September until planting the majority of your cool weather crops.
Similarly to heat, in the late summer, we occasionally get pop up thunderstorms and definitely a random tropical depression, but these are unpredictable. All of my squash will tell you they don’t like the lack of steady rainfall we typically see in the fall and spring. Be sure to have a good watering schedule and plan for your fall crops as they will be sensitive to the changing seasons. The lack of rain during the late summer and early fall can definitely hinder a fall garden.
Pick varieties for a light frost
There are many different plants that can handle a light frost. Even some that taste sweeter or better with a brief cold snap. A particularly easy to grow, stays all winter, crop we like to grow is kale. Another such plant is the carrots. Many become much sweeter with the short frost. In the south, there is less of the hardest freezes (below 24F) which tend to be even later, such as mid-December to mid-January than the first frost which is around mid-November.
Local extension office
The local extension office is your local agricultural and gardening resource center. They have information and resources on everything from backyard chickens to best crop varieties. Our office is small but can be helpful. This is where I got the soil testing kits for my backyard in order to find out what I needed to grow food in the ground. The local extension office is available in most counties and can guide you to what to plant when. This is the one for my area from LSU AgCenter. They recommend root crops as well as spinach, parsley and leafy greens for September.
Second chance gardening
One delightful aspect of gardening in the south is that the soil rarely freezes solid and we have enough light for an extended growing period. This means that anything I would normally plant in early spring will also get enough light and avoid frost long enough to have an entire second round of harvesting in the fall. In fact, the more dead period of time tends to be the dog days of summer. June, July and August are so hot and dry that in general, I let the garden go. Whatever was planted early, I will see how long it survives, harvesting during these months. Otherwise, I wait until late August and early September to put more seeds in the ground. Because the soil is already warm, I can usually put seeds straight in the ground or bed. However, there are some advantages to starting seeds indoors (where the temperature will generally be under 80F) and planting them outdoors when the nights finally dip below 70F, because you can avoid the tiny seedlings drying out or burning up.
Let me know what gardening tips and tricks for the fall you like!
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