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Don’t let summer’s heat deter you from preparing for your fall garden

You are probably ready to stay inside and enjoy the air conditioning, but you can still get out and plant! Yes, you can plant now while the heat is at its peak. And you should plant if you want a new crop of vegetables for harvest in the fall or some flowers to brighten your landscape.

Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, peas, lima beans and okra are among the vegetables to plant now for a fall harvest prior to the first frost.

You can cut back some vegetables such as tomatoes and okra and hope for the best, but a mid-summer planting will give you a much better yield this fall. Fall produce is healthier because it ripens in a cooler time of year. It suffers less stress from the heat and has fewer insects and diseases. If you are thinking of cool weather vegetables that can take some frost such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, wait until late August to mid-September to plant.

You can start seeds indoors or plant them directly outdoors. If you plant outside, prepare a bed or ridge for planting and make a seed row about 1-inch deep. Water the loosened soil to a depth of 4-6 inches one or two days before planting, this will prevent soil crusting. Scatter the seeds evenly along the row. Rather than covering with garden soil, use compost, potting soil or peat moss. This will also reduce the chance of soil crusting. After germination, use cardboard or some other material along the west side of the row to shade plants from the intense afternoon heat.

If you start the seeds indoors, use peat pots so you can plant the seedlings without disturbing the root system and reduce the risk of transplant shock. Whether you start your seeds outdoors or indoors, the key to success is maintaining sufficient water for the young plants as they battle the intense summer heat. If large plants with large root systems struggle in the heat, imagine the stress on young plants. They will need constant attention to survive.

What about flowers? Zinnias and marigolds are ideal for planting in the summer for fall color. Zinnias will put out bold fall color with bright reds, oranges and yellows. Zesty zinnias are a great variety, they are short and produce a large dahlia-like blossom.

Zinnias in the Profusion series are also a good choice. Profusion Apricot and Profusion Fire are Mississippi Medallion winners, known to perform exceptionally well in our area. Marigolds are a good choice to add to the fall palette of colors. They are somewhat susceptible to disease but research shows that when planted in the summer they are not as susceptible to spider mites.

Many garden centers will get fresh shipments in the summer. Remember, transplants that have little or no color yet have the best chance of surviving. If you prefer to start from seed, follow the same tips above for starting vegetable seeds and transplanting seedlings.

For this month’s garden calendar, see page 3C.


Karen O’Neal is an Adams County Master Gardener.