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Southeast Gardening: Fall Means Great Gardening

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Don’t put your veggie beds to sleep in fall. Wake them up with a new round of cold crops.

Geometric raised beds of vegetables in fall.

By Glenn DiNella

When the oppressive summer doldrums begin to give way to slightly cooler, less humid air, it means only one thing: It’s time for Southeastern Conference college football!

Well, OK, I guess it also means it’s time to tear out the exhausted tomato plants and other summer garden stock and replant with veggies that not only can handle the cool weather but also prefer it.

I prefer fall gardening. With the hot, humid summer we’ve had, I barely managed to go outside every couple of days and hold a hose on my veggies before retreating to the comfort of my air-conditioned home. Fall is a great time to get out and enjoy gardening and plant cold-hardy veggies known as cole crops (aka cold crops).

Radishes being harvested from fall garden.

When it comes to planting cold-hardy vegetables, first think “root vegetables.” Veggies that are essentially large roots work great in the fall and winter because they grow underground, where Mother Earth provides a little warmth to sustain them through the cold weather. Your choices include carrots, turnips, radishes, kohlrabi, beets, and rutabagas. (Hey don’t laugh—rutabagas are pretty tasty when cooked with enough butter.)

Preparing to plant onion sets.

A few leafy vegetables—such as spinach, rainbow Swiss chard, and mesclun mixes of lettuce, arugula, endive, and mustard greens—survive through fall. Aboveground veggies, including cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, are also cold hardy. Onions are grown for their tasty aboveground green foliage, as well as their below-ground bulbs. You can plant them as seeds or get a head start by planting young sprigs, known as “onion sets.”

Sage growing in a raised bed.

A few herbs also can handle cold temperatures. Rosemary is an evergreen, so you can grow it year-round. Sage tends to wither during summer in Zone 8 and farther south, but it thrives in cool weather.

Caterpillar on parsley foliage.

Parsley is a biennial, so it grows foliage the first season, then flowers and dies the next. You can prolong its life by deadheading the blooms, but eventually it makes its way to the compost heap. I try to plant some parsley annually so I have fresh sprigs year round as I rotate them out.

Curly-leaf parsley looks great in the garden and in containers and is tasty and nutritious. Chefs favor flat Italian parsley because its flavor holds up when cooked in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes. Both types are favored by swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, so I plant extra bunches, hoping the caterpillars come dine on it.

Holiday lights under a tarp provide warmth during cold nights.

Growing Tip: I came up with this idea after a mechanic told me that holiday lights may keep the engine block on a ski boat from cracking when temps dip just below freezing. If you have a relatively small garden, wind a strand of holiday lights up and down the rows of veggies and place a tarp over the garden for the cold night. The warmth of the lights protects your veggies from short bouts with Old Man Winter’s icy fingers. Make certain you use small incandescent lights; modern LED lights do not produce enough heat. For safety, keep the bulbs from touching the tarp.

Veggies to plant this fall in the Southeast:

  • beets
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • kale
  • kohlrabi
  • onions
  • radishes
  • rutabagas
  • rainbow Swiss chard
  • spinach
  • turnips

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