By Susan Albert
Cold weather is on its way, but you don’t have to give up your fresh herbs and vegetables. It’s also possible to delay saying goodbye to some of your favorite annuals or late-blooming perennials.
Seasoned gardeners who have a jump on fall vegetable gardening probably know the routine to extend the bounty: cold frames, floating row covers, portable greenhouses, or just plain old blankets and sheets. When covering crops it’s important to monitor the temperature during the day because overheating can occur.
Other tricks include planting your fall crops in large containers on wheel bases you can push to a protected area, or indoors during freeze warnings. Or cover the containers with plastic sheeting.
Choose cool-season vegetables such as asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, Swiss chard, onions, lettuce, radishes, peas, Irish potatoes, turnips, and spinach. You can harvest potatoes, beets, turnips, and carrots, and store them in a cool, moist area for use throughout the winter.
For fresh herbs during the winter, try growing an herb garden indoors on a sunny, south-facing windowsill or under artificial lights. Favorites, such as oregano, sage, rosemary, chives, parsley, cilantro, and basil, are still available in garden centers (probably on sale). Or take cuttings off your healthy plants outdoors, remove the lower leaves, and insert stems into small containers of potting mix to root. Make sure the containers have drainage holes— herbs don’t like wet feet—and keep the pots watered regularly.
I like to keep my nectar plants available as long as possible for hummingbirds and butterflies. So I extend the flower season by moving patio containers (if not too heavy) and hanging baskets indoors when a freeze looms. It can get tiresome moving them in and out repeatedly, which I’ve done. But hey, we’re talking about diehard gardeners here. Cover pots that are too heavy to move with plastic.
I have some old vinyl tablecloths I keep for covering my late-blooming perennials when we have an early freeze. My lion’s ears bloom very late—October—as does pineapple sage.
I prop up the tablecloths or blankets with tall bamboo sticks. That way the covers don’t touch the plants, which can transfer the cold to the plant and damage it.
The next morning, as soon as the temperature warms up to about 38 or 40 degrees F, I remove the covers from the annuals and perennials.
It’s possible to extend the gardening season past a freeze; it just takes a little diligence.
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