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Fall Gardening Know-How

Planting Cole Crops in Fall

As our summer gardening season is coming to a close, it’s the perfect time to get your fall vegetable garden growing. What could be tastier than going out in your backyard to pick some fresh cabbage, lettuce, kale, broccoli, cauliflower or spinach for a healthy meal? Here’s our handy garden guide for planting your cole crops! These crops will flourish until frost arrives.

Cabbage - this low-cost, crunchy vegetable is easy to grow in fall. It requires full sun and rich soil, so be sure and use compost and manure in your garden bed. When you plant your cabbage seedlings, mix in a tablespoon of slow-release organic fertilizer to each planting hole. They will need space to spread out when they grow, so 10-12” apart will give you a good buffer. You want to water the seedlings every day for at least a few weeks. After a couple weeks, you can feed the plants with additional fertilizer. It’s time to harvest your cabbage when the plant forms a compact head. Give it a light squeeze and use a knife to cut through the main stalk of the plant right below the head. After harvesting,, remove the entire root system from the soil to avoid disease build up.

Spinach - spinach prefers an area in full sun, however, it is one of the few vegetables that can tolerate some shade. You can choose to plant from seeds or small plants, but make sure to give them enough space to spread out and grow. Six inches is usually enough. This plant requires at least one inch of water per week, and it’s best to water them in the mornings, so they can dry out throughout the day. Spinach can be harvested in as little as six weeks after planting the seeds. You can harvest by pinching or snipping off mature leaves and continue harvesting until the plants go to seed.

Broccoli - broccoli is a fairly slow grower, and you can choose to grow them from seeds or small plants. From seeds, you can start them indoors three to four weeks before transplanting. When you transplant outside, choose an area with full sun, and use compost and manure in your garden bed. Broccoli needs three main elements: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Space the seedlings 18” apart in rows and make sure to give them starter fertilizer. It will take about 60-70 days from the date of transplant for broccoli to mature. Harvest the florets before the yellow flowers appear by using a sharp knife to cut the head of the stalk just below the floret head. You can leave the plant in the ground and look for new florets to sprout.

Plant of the Week: We're Crazy for Crotons

One of the boldest indoor and outdoor plants around, you just can't miss crotons because of their ever-changing show of vibrant autumn foliage. Their thick, glossy foliage is brightly colored in combinations and shades of red, yellow, pink, orange, burgundy, bronze or green. The leaves may be wide and smooth, long and narrow or very irregularly shaped. Crotons are sure to draw attention with their stunning color and make a bold statement both inside and out.

Crotons serve double duty as they can be grown outdoors during the warmer months and indoors as a house plant the remainder of the year. Outside, this tropical foliage looks great when planted in the landscape or grown in pots and grouped together with other plants. Or, mix in containers with ornamental grasses, mums, marigolds and pansies. As a houseplant, crotons add texture and color to dull interiors. Place on a side table or use as a centerpiece on a dining room table. The beautiful leaves can also be used to enhance floral arrangements.

Crotons are relatively easy to care for. When outdoors, they do best in a location where the plant receives at least four to six hours of sunlight during the day. The more sun croton plants receive, the more colorful their foliage becomes. Watch your croton carefully, as new foliage will wilt when thirsty, and can be used as a watering guide. Indoors, crotons also prefer bright lighting, however, be sure to check the variety to determine the light needs of your specific plant. Some varieties need high light while others need medium or low light. In general, the more variegated and colorful the croton plant, the more light it will need. Keep the soil evenly moist and use lukewarm or room temperature water for watering. The plant can also be misted several times a week to help provide moisture and humidity.

So join the croton craze, and celebrate the colors of autumn!

Check out more of our favorite plants! OUR PLANTS OF THE WEEK >>

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The Fall Veggie Garden

by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

When it’s hot, it’s difficult to think about a cool-season vegetable garden. Yet, it’s time to do just that – and time to begin prepping and planting one. If you have a warm-season summer garden of squash, melons, cucumbers and peppers, maybe some of those plants have produced all they can and can be removed to make room for cooler crops like spinach, lettuces, onions and collards.

Once you rip out old plants, add some aged compost or work in some 10-10-10 fertilizer to prep the soil for the newer ones. Transplants of cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussel sprouts can be planted now and harvested before the first killing frost sometime early November. Spinach, on the other hand, can withstand lots of cold and even make it through the winter, same goes for collards. In fact, it’s said that the kiss of frost makes collards sweet and tender, and some people don’t harvest collards until frost has done its duty. Kale, evergreen bunching onions, lettuce, parsley, parsnips and carrots are other crops that may survive all winter in the garden, according to Virginia Cooperative Extension. Mulch those overwintering vegetables with 8 inches of mulch to prevent heaving - freezing and thawing - of the soil. Most of these vegetables can be dug or picked as needed throughout the winter or in early spring.

If you don’t have room for an in-ground vegetable garden, sow lettuce, onion, spinach and other seeds in large pots with good drainage holes. To harvest lettuce bowls, just use scissors to snip off greens and let the lettuces grow again. Colorful lettuces make colorful seasonal shows in fall, especially when the pots are paired with containers of ornamental kales and pretty pansies. My dream is to plant a year-round veggie garden in an old wooden rowboat. That way I can control the soil, amending it with lots of compost and shredded leaves and take bets that the veggie-munching bunnies can’t hop that high.

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