Believe it or not, you can still plant veggies for winter or spring harvest. Many crops are generally pretty cold hardy in our area, and if they require protection, it’s usually as simple as heavy mulch, or protecting the leaves from ice by wrapping the plant or installing row covers if you have a lot of plants to protect. If you plant your winter crops in a north or east facing position, they’re more likely to harden up and survive the coldest days of winter. Freak warm spells and daily temperature fluctuations can spell disaster for crops facing south or west.
Broccoli, carrots, turnips, kohlrabi, parsnips, cauliflower, mustard, cabbage, radish, beets, onions, Red Oak leaf lettuce, garlic, peas, perpetual spinach, and some cultivars of Asian greens can still be planted now in our area, where the average first frost occurs somewhere between November 1st and 17th. The date ranges vary by source, so paying attention to the weather should give you enough time to put down extra mulch, wrap, or screen your plants from sudden harsh winter conditions.
After determining the average first frost date range for your area, consult the calendar to determine when plants need to go in the ground. Subtract the number of weeks until maturity from the first frost date to decide when to plant. Ideally, winter vegetables in Georgia will have at least a couple of weeks of harvest time before going dormant for the winter. Plants such as root vegetables that you’ll harvest next spring can be planted several weeks after the first frost date but before the first ground freeze. If the soil is still loose enough to work, you can plant cold hardy crops. Researchers at Cornell University concluded that the growth of new roots ceases when soil temperatures drop below 40 °F degrees at six inches below the surface.
If the dirt has compacted over the course of the summer growing season, add amendments such as peat moss, vermiculite, and compost to improve its texture. Following up with a thick layer of mulch after planting will retain both moisture and warmth in the soil. As long as the soil is moist, but not saturated, and its temperature is above freezing, plant roots will do their thing, digging in for the colder months ahead. Periodically check soil moisture, using your finger to probe a few inches below the surface. Water if it feels dry, and check again in a few days if it’s still moist.
Fall is a great time to plant perennials, trees, shrubs, and some annuals. Plant-friendly soil temperatures (between 55-75 °F) and moisture levels in the fall encourage energetic root growth. The stresses of settling in below the soil during spring and summer are sometimes too much to bear for the plants and us gardeners as well. Trees, shrubs, and perennials planted in the fall have time for their roots to settle in before it gets too cold, providing extra protection against heat and dehydration when the plants respond to the warmer temperatures of spring and the wilting heat of summer. Our fall season is an ideal time to give new plantings in the garden a good head start.
But wait, there’s more! Nursery plants have been nurtured and pampered (especially at Randy’s) all during the spring and summer. So now, in the fall (hint, hint) many of these plants are larger, and if they’re on sale, provide the biggest bang for the buck! Many perennials may not look as good as they did when they were in bloom, but they’re itching to throw down some roots. In any case, next spring they’ll be the first ones out of the starting blocks.
No matter what you plant this fall, make sure all your plants stay hydrated. Even when they go dormant, they’re still alive and active. Their metabolism slows down because of the colder temperatures, but dehydration will still kill them. But so will making root ball ice cubes, so avoid saturating the ground with water when freezing temperatures are likely.
Dormant plants, trees, and shrubs generally don’t require fertilization during the fall and winter seasons, but adding a root stimulator at planting may facilitate better cool weather root development.
Refer to our recent blog on fall planting annuals (link just below) for details regarding their planting and care during the winter months.
Here are some webpages and sites that offer more detailed information on fall and winter gardening. The P. Allen Smith webpage contains a listing of plants he has identified as particularly useful for winter gardening.
You could just call this a gratuitous persimmon photo, since it’s usually so difficult for humans to harvest ripe persimmons. Most of the time they’re falling off the tree just as they reach perfect ripeness. But there’s nothing more beautiful than a fully loaded persimmon tree in winter. Especially with snow. (Photo © toshi7777 – Fotolia.com)