Introducing: From The Professor's Greenhouse
Season-relevent tips on planting, growing, and maintaining thriving gardens and landscapes from Professor Kevin Jones, Botanist & Biology Professor at Charleston Southern University.
Is It Too Late To Plant? Part 1: Summer Vegetables
In the first installment, The Professor addresses the do's, dont's, and particulars of late-season vegetable gardening.
Many vegetables can be planted late into the summer for fall harvest. The key is knowing which ones, and whether to plant from cuttings or seeds,
Is it Too Late?
What can I plant this late in the season? This is a question often asked going into July.
The usual focus in planting vegetables is on getting started as early as possible in the
season, but life happens; the home garden contends with work, school, church, and all
the other things we call ‘adulting.’ Often the timely tasks of the garden don’t happen,
and spring is suddenly summer. But is it too late to plant? With our long season and
proximity to water, many edible crops can be started even into these weeks of summer.
With care to keep the soil moisture up, some of these vegetables started now can be
enjoyed as early as September.
What Can I Plant Now?
Seeds of heat-loving cucumbers, pumpkins, southern peas, beans, corn, and okra can
be planted directly into the warm soil.
Peppers set fruit when night temperatures are in the 50s and 60s. Starting plants in the
summer allows them to mature before the night temperatures are again in their favored
range, providing peppers until the first frosts: often as late as November. Is space
limited? Tuck those pepper plants in among the flowers. This has the added benefit of
access to all the pollinators coming to the flowers of the ornamentals.
Tomatoes can be planted from transplants through July for a fall harvest. Even those
less-than-prime transplants are great for starting in the garden. Tomatoes will form
roots on any stem in contact with the soil, so those leggy seedlings can be planted
deeper or on their side to develop even larger root systems.
I have also found that peppers and tomatoes are ridiculously easy to root from cuttings.
Take those inadvertently broken stems and stick them into the soil. As long as there are
three or so inches of stem in the soil and an inch or more out, and the soil does not dry
out, you should have new plants in time to bear fruit before the end of the season.
Squash. The vine borers have likely done their damage by July. But planting summer
squash or zucchini from seed this month will provide a bounty in September and into
October. Planting the new seeds in a different place in the garden, and three weeks
after cleaning up the first crop, will help put off the next generation of the pesky little
Collards and Kale: July and August are prime times to start these from seed. They are
cool-season crops that will mature through late summer and be ready for harvest when
the first frosts come. Both will overwinter here in this area and produce an abundant
crop of leaves the following spring.
Watermelons, cantaloupes, and honeydew melons can be planted from seed through
July. However, it is risky if an early frost comes. But then again, a late first frost has
become the norm for the last several winters.
Root crops like carrots, turnips, radishes, and Irish potatoes can be planted through
July, though turnips would be best planted towards the end of the month.
Celery can be started from seed and set out in the garden in mid-August.
Other July Garden Chores:
1. Harvest vegetables frequently as they ripen. Even a day or two can mean the
difference between fresh deliciousness and ‘too late.’
2. Water as needed. A good recommendation is an inch of water a week. Frequent
shallow watering makes the plants dependent on you, whereas deep watering
encourages the roots to spread farther and deeper, making the plant more
resistant to periods of drought.
3. Adding a layer of mulch is Another way to keep moisture in the soil, with the
added benefit of keeping the soil cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Organic
mulches, such as straw, leaves, etc., further break down and improve the soil's
quality and fertility.
4. Feeding. Giving the plants a good feeding now and again in early August will
boost yield and make healthier plants. Be cautious of feeding after August as it
encourages new growth that may not have time to harden off before the weather
5. Deadhead spent blooms from annuals and perennials unless seeds are wanted.
Removing the flowers before they begin to set seeds will encourage another
flush of blooms in many plants.
6. Pinch back and remove flowers as they appear on many herbs and annuals
grown for their foliage, such as coleus. This will encourage denser, bushier
growth. Consider taking cuttings to root new plants to set out in late August and
September to replace or add to the plants that went through summer. Many
annuals suffer in our long, hot summers.
7. consider planting a fast-growing cover crop such as field peas in beds that are
being cleared of crops. This will discourage weeds from moving in, add nitrogen
to the soil to boost fertility, and give the bonus of a late crop of peas.
Stay Tuned for Part 2: Late- Season Flowers and Ornamentals
The Professor will be a regular contributor to the Santee Hardware Projects page. Next he will follow up on the late-season theme with tips for flowers and ornamental plants.
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Professor Kevin Jones, in his preferred habitat.