In the Garden:
Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) is a dependable perennial for the Lower South. Its purple spiked blooms put on a great show in late summer and fall.
Getting Ready For Fall
Fall is prime time for southern gardeners. Non-southerners often speak of the long growing season in the South. Really we have two short growing seasons, spring and fall, separated by the infernal summer dormant season and few brief winter cold snaps. While the heat is on now, I'm thinking about what to plant for fall.
Fall is the best time to plant trees, shrubs, and other woody ornamentals. They have a chance to get well-established during the cooler weather. Flowers and vegetables can also be planted and I swear the flowers have better color and vegetables are tastier when planted in fall.
Preparing the Garden
Even though it's still hot outside, now is the time to prepare the soil for fall gardening. In late August and early September I'll plant the last of the warm season vegetables and flowers such as beans, squash, and sage. In September and October I'll plant cool season veggies and flowers such as lettuce, broccoli, and pansies.
In the sultry South organic matter decomposes fast. It's important to build organic matter content with seasonal additions of a few inches of compost in late summer and late winter.
I also build raised beds to facilitate drainage. Believe it or not, it will rain again soon. When fall rains start, they often don't stop for a while. Raised beds help drain excess water away from the plants.
Warm season seeds and transplants need to be planted now so they'll have time to mature and ripen before the first fall frost. The blazing August heat is too much for them so I shade the beds with a section of shadecloth or a doubled section of rowcover fabric suspended over the bed until they get started.
I have also used a lean to for shading beds made from 2 boards or a palm leaf stuck in the ground. They provide transplants a break from the hot afternoon sun. After 1 to 2 weeks, plants are usually acclimated enough so the shade structures can be removed. However, they need to be kept well watered.
Starting Cool Season Plants
I'm starting my cool season vegetable and flower transplants these next few weeks too. Although they won't go into the garden until late September or early October when the weather cools a little, they need to be started to mature on time. I seed them in a bright, shady area outdoors or indoors where temperatures are moderate.
By planting now, you'll receive rich rewards when the cool weather of fall comes. However, work slowly and in short spurts this time of year. An hour here and there each week in the early morning when temperatures are cool is enough to set you up for a beautiful, bountiful fall gardening season.
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