When the trees begin to show fall colors, your garden can too. Unless you live in a mild winter climate, you may not have thought about planting for a fall harvest that can continue even into the winter.
Were not talking about setting aside a large area for fall. Although if you have that much space to spare, thats fine. All you need is some room amidst existing plants. Consider using available space in your flower garden or mixed border; fill in areas with edibles as you remove tired-looking annuals or prune back perennials. Of course, there is always some room in the vegetable or herb garden.
THERES ALWAYS ROOM SOMEWHERE IN THE GARDEN
For fall harvests you can start everything from seed sown directly in the garden. In spring, you can usually find a plethora of startscell packs or small potted plants at local nurseries, garden centers, and home stores. In summer, you wont find starts; you have to rely on seed you purchased.
Do you enjoy salad and other greens fresh from the garden? In season, they are fabulous, especially cut-and-come-again greens like leaf lettuces, arugula, mustard, and others. Yet have you seen the price of mixed greensoften called mesclunat the grocery store lately? For what you would pay for two weeks worth of salad greens for a family of four, you can buy more than enough seed to keep you in salad all fall and well into winter. Look for greens that you would normally plant in spring before the last frost datethose that can take some cold.
Since these are mostly foliage plants, look for those that add a dimension of color in addition to leafy green when selecting varieties to add to your garden. If you dont segregate ornamentals from edibles, you will want the plants to add as much interestleaf color, shape, size, and plant formas possible.
Choose from among the many leaf lettuces, including these All-America Selections winners: Red Sails (1985), Buttercrunch (1963), Ruby (1958), and Salad Bowl (1952). Romaines can take the cold; try Rouge dHiver and Freckles for good color. Mix in some Lollo Rossa, Arctic King, Winter Marvel, and North Pole for an outstanding winter collection.
Sow each type of seed separately, or create your own personal mesclun blend. You can mix all the seeds together in a bowl and then scatter them on bare soilthicker than normal. Make an eighteen-inch-wide swath through a garden bed, or edge the path leading from the sidewalk to your front door. The greens will come up in a colorful carpet. By the time the plants are a few inches tall they will need thinning. Pull up plants at random for an instant salad of baby greens. There is plenty to share with neighbors who seem to sense when picking time startsand invite them to come over and help themselves to fresh greens.
MIX IT UP
Since you will be planting in the heat of summer, sow the seed in a partly shaded spot, or provide shade with spun polyester cloth to keep them cooler. Mist lightly during the day to refresh the seedlings and young plants. Otherwise, they require no different care than spring-sown seeds. Growing spinach in the spring can be a challenge, as it doesnt like the heat. In fall, it is happy with the cooling weather. Be sure to avoid any varieties that are labeled summer spinach. As with the other plants for fall harvest, sow the seed in a partially shaded area to keep the soil from getting too warm.
To many, the flavor of kalelike Brussels sproutsis enhanced by frost. For diversity of leaf shape, color (from deep green to blue), size, and crunch, choose several kale varieties. Finely curled red-leafed Redbor Hybrid, and bluish crinkle-leafed Winterbor are amazingly hardy and can last through winter. Lacinata holds its deep bluish-green leaves upright, while Red Russian with a mauve tinge to the leaves, has a more open habit.
Swiss chard is a must-have. Forget about the plain green leaves you knew as a child. Grow Bright Lights (1998 AAS winner) to delight your eyes as well as your palate. With ribs that run the gamut from silver to gold, orange, pink, red, and green, a stand of Swiss chard looks like stained glass with the early morning or late afternoon sun glimmering through it. It is so decorative in the garden you dont have to eat it.