Master gardener: How to start your fall vegetable garden | Home & Garden

Tom Ingram Ask a master gardener

“I have friends who have been gardening for a long time and they all seem excited to start their fall vegetable gardens. In fact, they are already starting sowing, although it is only July. Is that correct?” —DD

Yes, although we’ve recently transitioned into summer, it’s time to get our fall gardens ready as mid-July is the recommended time to start a variety of fall garden veggies. The reality is, sometimes fall gardens are just easier. It’s easier if you can coax your plants by the end of July and August, but once things cool down a bit in September, these veggies tend to thrive.

Some vegetables respond better when grown indoors, while others can be grown outdoors by seed with a little extra planning and care. The following fall garden vegetables can be started indoors and then transplanted; Cucumber, eggplant, pepper and tomato. Those that would be suitable to start with outdoor seeds include bush beans, pole beans, lima beans, corn, squashes, and squashes.

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To start your plants indoors you will need some seeds. This is a good time to use up your leftover seeds from spring or to try something different from what you planted in spring. If you tried a certain type of tomato in the spring, try a different one for your fall garden. You might even find a new favorite. My new one for fall will be a Chinese eggplant. I’ve gotta love a long thin purple eggplant…or at least I hope I love her. Either way, fall is a good time to experiment.

After receiving your seeds, you will need some sort of container to grow your seeds to transplant status. Garden centers have a variety of seed trays. Some of them have peat pots that you simply plant in the ground when your plants are ready. Or you can use old yoghurt cups, butter cups or paper cups. Almost everything will work.

Next you need some potting soil. Seed soil works well because it’s a very light mix that allows those tiny roots to grow easily.

Seed start heater mats can help shorten germination time, but are not a requirement. After you’ve started your seeds, they should be ready to plant in about a month or so. But make sure you harden off your grafts before planting them outdoors.

Hardening is all about gradually introducing your plants to outdoor life. This is especially important when planting in July and August. To harden off your plants, put them outside in a spot that won’t get full sun in the morning. Half sun or half shade would be perfect. However, depending on the weather conditions, you should only start this exposure for a few hours at a time. You can gradually increase exposure to direct sunlight after a few days. Ultimately, you just want to gradually introduce them to the sun. What you don’t want to do is bring them straight from their beautiful home with indirect lighting and air conditioning into your garden and the August sun. If you do this, failure is almost guaranteed as they are unprepared and who can blame them. August in Oklahoma still shocks my system and I’ve lived here my whole life.

Once your hardened grafts are in the ground, plan on giving them plenty of water. Remember to water deeply to encourage their roots to grow downward as they establish themselves in their new home.

Planting seeds directly in your garden can be difficult due to the heat. Exposed garden soil can get as deep as 140 degrees and such heat is not good for seed germination. Since most seeds don’t need to be planted more than 3 or 4 times deeper than the length of the seed, they will definitely be in that hot zone.

To get around this, you can cover your seeds with mulch and possibly add a shade cloth to protect them while they germinate while also making sure they have adequate moisture. There is also a technique where you can dig a light trench so you can plant your seeds deeper than usual. If you do this, don’t completely fill in the moat. Instead, add soil gradually as the seedling grows.

When planting your fall garden vegetables, pay attention to the days from planting to harvest. For example, in bush beans, the time from planting to harvest is around 50 to 60 days for most beans, while corn takes 80 to 100 days. So your hard end date for most fall garden veggies will be the first frost of fall/winter. In Oklahoma, that date is November 15th. So if you want to grow a crop that takes 60 days to reach harvest, your last planting date should be early September. Cooler temperatures will likely affect this, so maybe mid-August would be a better date, but you get the point. We have all of this information on our website (tulsamastergardeners.org) under Vegetables in our Lawn and Garden Help Center.

Another reason to consider a fall vegetable garden is that the pest load is usually lower in the fall. This is because life cycles of a variety of garden pests have already taken place, so not that many insects out there will be trying to eat your garden plants.

Either way, a fall garden is a great way to get a fresh start in the garden. And we certainly won’t mind those cooler temperatures when weeding and watering. See you in the garden!

You can get answers to all of your gardening questions by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, stopping by our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th St., or emailing us at mg@tulsamastergardeners.org .

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