Fall is my absolute favorite time of year here in Southern Arizona and fall gardening is fun! There are so many plants to try out that will just thrive in the cool nights and warm days.
Now that most summer veggie crops are coming to an end, don’t be sad and certainly don’t give up on your garden! Pull out your old summer crops and compost them (unless you have a known pathogen or insect infestation in which case throw them in the trash.) Mix some fresh compost into your soil before you plant, and this will be sufficient to carry you through the fall and winter months.
Fall is the perfect time of year to plant perennials like trees, shrubs, flowering plants, spring blooming bulbs, and herbs. Remember, perennials to our area should be hardy to zone 8. Warm days and cool nights are perfect for new plants to develop a good root system before the first killing frost arrives (end of October to mid-November for us). They may die all the way back to ground level in some cases, but by the time spring comes around their roots and crown will be primed and ready to grow. Some perennials when sewn from seed, actually require a period of cold (called vernalization) after germination for flowering in the following spring or summer.
Fall is also a great time to take note of how everything did this summer and think about how you can improve. Do you have a spot in your garden that looks bare and could really benefit from a tree or perhaps a flowering vine or shrub? While plants are still alive and growing, you can really visualize where, and if, any new plants can fit into your landscape. Take photos of your garden while it is still growing to keep as a reference this winter when the itch for spring planting starts.
What to plant in in October: Directly plant from seed into the ground root crops such as beets, carrots, radish and turnips. Direct seed or transplant from starters leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, kales, Asian greens, mustard greens. Direct seed or transplant green onions, cilantro, parsley, chives. Lettuce needs light to germinate so do not bury it with soil. A very, very light dusting of soil over top of the lettuce seed can help hold the seed down.
Cilantro and parsley will not germinate until they have had a period of moist and cold temperatures (called stratification). To speed this process along, fold cilantro and parsley seed into a damp, not soggy paper towel, and put in a sealed container into to the fridge for two weeks before planting.
Plant hard or soft neck garlic. Hardneck garlic has a stiff central stem or scape and is the most cold tolerant and flavorful. Soft neck garlic is the typical grocery store type garlic with a long storage life. Garlic takes around six months to mature before harvest.
All of these plants can take a freeze but what they won’t do is grow much once it gets really cold. To remedy this, use a hoop house or floating row covers to protect them. This is especially true for things (lettuces and such) that you want to continually harvest throughout the coldest months.
And don’t forget to mulch! Mulching will keep those plants protected from cold temperatures.