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Fall Vegetable Garden Plan Essential, Says LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

If you hope to do well with your fall garden, you really should have a suitable plan. Thatís the advice from LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Tom Koske.

"In the fall, we go from too hot to too cold," Koske says, but adds, "Too cold isnít all that bad unless thereís an early killing frost." Overall, though, he says fall garden preparation is similar to spring planting.

Within the limits of heat and frost, timing becomes critical. Some fall crops, like tomatoes and bell peppers, should be planted before August, because they need to get some size before a frost hits. Other plants, like pumpkins and watermelons, should be planted early, because they take a long time to grow.

Many of these cold-sensitive crops slow down with shorter days and cooler nights, making fall fruiting a lot different than fruiting in late spring or early summer. Thereís less production potential compared to warm-loving crops. The heat of late summer often causes poor pollination on mature plants, and thus delays fruit set.

Fall is also a drier period unless we have hurricane rains. It is still hot and usually dry in August and September, so we will need to pay more attention to the soil moisture. Water as needed for the season, because the fall growing season is short enough as it is, and we canít afford to lose good growth because of low moisture.

Koske highly recommends mulching to conserve moisture.

Fall marks the end of the general growing season, the period when insect pest populations were growing, too. Many insect populations are at their seasonal peak before frost. Caterpillars give us fits with corn and leafy crops at this time. Stinkbugs and various other bugs and beetles are mature, tough-skinned and hungry. Extra pest control and special vigilance is usually necessary. Fall is especially challenging for organic and non-pesticide gardeners.

Soil fertility needs to be considered. Koske says itís common to practice crop rotation by replacing one crop with another to help suppress common soil pests.

If a heavy feeder is followed by a light feeder like peas or beans, there may well be residual fertility, which could result in a bushy plant with little or no fruit. On the other hand, if a heavy feeder follows a light feeding crop, you will need to apply a complete fertilizer before planting.

Since timing is so important with the fall crop, choose crops that will produce well within this short time. Look for fast-maturing or bush-type cultivars to ensure a good yield.

Crops to seed in August include turnips, sweet corn, summer squash, southern peas, mustard, Irish potatoes, cucumber, collards, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, bush snap beans and bush butter beans.

Cauliflower and green shallots can be transplanted in August. North Louisiana can seed head lettuce and transplant broccoli and brussels sprouts.

"Some forethought and strategy applied to the fall vegetable garden will give you a better chance for success in this challenging season," Koske says.

More information on lawn care is available at your local LSU AgCenter office. In addition, look for lawn & gardening and Get It Growing links in the LSU AgCenter Web site:


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