Tips for being successful with your fall garden

Janet Hurley, Extension specialist and School IPM specialist at Texas A&M AgriLife, included an article in her School IPM newsletter last week about creating a school garden. The information in the article was really useful for anyone who wants to plant a fall garden, even at home, so I thought I would use the information in her article and make it applicable to an urban audience. If you’re a teacher and plan to create a garden at your school, be sure to read her article.

If you’re planning on turning your summer garden into a fall garden, before you begin planting, there are certain things you want to consider. First, if your garden is overgrown with weeds, and you’re planning to apply herbicides, be sure that you and your children stay out of the area for at least 4 hours. At home I usually wait at least a day before I walk on the area again.

If your plants have been damaged by heat, insects or disease, you should remove them from the garden. Plants damaged by the heat or even by mammals like rabbits or deer can be added to a compost piles, but don’t add plants that have been damaged by insects or disease. For those, pull them and wrap them in plastic or dispose of them in a trash bag, so that they do not spread the insect or pathogen back to any other landscape plants.

Speaking of compost piles, never, ever add weeds or weeds that you have treated with an herbicide. Many weeds have seeds that can still sprout, and then you have very happy weeds in your compost pile that are nearly impossible to eradicate.

If you have rose bushes, you need to be concerned about rose rosette disease. This pathogen is spread by a tiny, wingless mite and affects roses, especially Knockout roses. The mites feed on the sap and transmit the virus to the plant; roses die within two to three years. If you find the mite or start seeing some of the symptoms on one of your bushes, go ahead and remove the plant and destroy it or take it somewhere that it will not infect anything else on your property nor be added to the city mulch.

Speaking of mulch, after a summer of battling violets and Japanese crabgrass, I can personally attest to the advantage of having mulch. The best time to mulch is after you have eradicated the weeds from your garden and after you have planted your new plants. If you use mulch from a pile, be sure that it has cooled off before you apply it near new growth; the same applies to compost that is still heating. If you use compost, use it from the bottom of the bin so it has been seasoned and won’t be drawing nutrients from your plants.

If you’re planning to keep small plants like herbs through the winter, you may want to plant them in pots. If you do plant in pots, however, keep them indoors where they will be in a climate-controlled environment and in an area where they will get lots of sun. If you’re in a state that is experiencing the over-90-degree days that North Carolina has been enduring the past month, potted plants that are outdoors are not going to be happy. Potted soil dries up much more quickly than soil in the ground, so they will require much more water than they will if they’re planted directly in the ground. I’ve seen more wilting potted plants this month than I’ve seen in a while.

If you live in an area that is getting adequate rain, you can consider growing your potted herbs outside and then moving them inside when the danger of frost is imminent. However, before you bring your outdoor potted plant inside, check for insects like ants, spiders or beetles that will also be looking for somewhere warm to spend the winter and may have hitched a ride on your plants.

If you’re in a location where you can’t plant your own garden, a community garden may be a good way to experience growing your own veggies or flowers. USDA has several websites that will give you tips and resources for understanding what goes into a community garden and how to start one. You can also read this fact sheet for a quick guide about how to develop a school or community garden while maintaining food safety. To join an existing community garden, check with the Master Gardeners program in your state.

Thanks to Janet Hurley and the School Pest News for the original post.

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