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Cool Crops for Chilly Days: How to Plant a Fall Garden, Part 2

To get the inside dirt on gardening goodness, we talked to Julie Thompson-Adolf, who is a master gardener, South Carolina resident, and owner of Garden Delights. Below, in part 2 of this series, she shares some additional tips and tricks to stay green all winter long.

Planning and Planting for Spring

Vegetables aren’t the only plants to consider for your fall garden.

“Fall is for planting, and it is a particularly good time to plant trees and shrubs,” says North Carolina gardener, Helen Yoest, author of Gardening with Confidence and Plants with Benefits. “This autumn, I’m adding 5 more highbush blueberries for my Raleigh garden, along with another fig tree.”

Have a smaller space? With newer, dwarf varieties available, fruit trees and bushes can grow in containers on a balcony or patio, perfect for land-challenged homeowners.

Along with fruits and vegetables, fall is an ideal time to add to the herb garden. “It’s also garlic planting time in my area,” says Yoest. “I plant starter bulbs in whisky-barrel containers.” Yoest also recommends buying garlic bulbs for planting purposes, as store bought garlic is typically treated with a growth inhibitor, preventing the bulbs from sprouting.

Rebecca McKinney, Executive Director of the South Carolina Organization for Organic Living, agrees that fall is the perfect time for alliums. “Perennial alliums are my favorite vegetables,” she says. “I especially love perennial leeks and Egyptian walking onions. Although they take a little more effort than true perennials, if you manage the planting and spacing of the bulbuls, you’ll always have a steady supply.”

Immediate Garden Gratification

While planting garlic and leeks requires patience until harvesting next summer, you can enjoy almost immediate gratification by creating a beautiful, edible container filled with quickly maturing crops.

Use the container design principle of “thriller, spiller, and filler.” Rainbow Swiss chard or Tuscan kale provides an eye-catching, tasty “thriller”—plant it in the center of the container.

Add a variety of lettuces around the chard or kale as the “filler.” Lettuce is available in many beautiful colors and textures, such as the heirloom ‘Forellenschluss,’ with its red speckles on bright green leaves.

‘Tom Thumb’ peas serve as a “spiller,” with their dwarf vines, pretty blooms, and crisp pods. To add even more beauty to your container, tuck in colorful viola flowers among the lettuce plants. The edible viola blooms add a pretty decorative element to salads and other dishes.

The best part? Most of the plants in the container are ready to harvest in 30 days.

Stretch the Season

No matter the size of your space, fall gardening offers many benefits. For one, pests and diseases tend to be fewer in the fall garden.

Additionally, in our region, we can easily extend our harvest season by installing an inexpensive “mini hoop house” over our raised beds. Use simple supports of PVC pipe or metal hardware ladders bent into arches over the width of the bed, with the ends secured in the soil on each side. Cover with clear, heavy plastic, and the beds are protected from frost, creating an environment 10 degrees warmer than the outside air.

For crops like cauliflower and broccoli, which require a longer growing period, mini hoops are ideal to extend the harvest season and protect crops from freezes.

Best of all, the fall garden allows us to enjoy the beauty of planting, tending, and harvesting during the brisk fall days. There’s immense satisfaction in growing your own food and serving dishes made from your harvest for Thanksgiving dinner.

Whether your garden is an acre-sized plot, a raised bed near the kitchen, or containers on a sunny balcony, you can grow beautiful, healthy food all year.

Want more tips? Read part 1 in the series.

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