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When do you plant a fall vegetable garden?

This weekend is too hot to plant -- but not to plan

Check your seeds and decide where and when the new plants will go in.

Check your seeds and decide where and when the new plants will go in. Kathy Morrison

When do you plant a fall vegetable garden? It depends.

In Sacramento, Labor Day weekend traditionally marks that crossover from summer harvest to fall planting – but only after the tomatoes stop producing.

This summer, most of our tomatoes are already spent, victims of a very dry, very hot 2022. Those conditions put extra stress on plants. Heat-loving spider mites moved in and made themselves at home, sapping vines of energy.

For many tomato growers, the 2022 harvest was below par or nonexistent. Due to so many triple-digit days (35 and counting), tomato pollen dried up before it could fertilize flowers.

So, yeah, now is probably a good time to turn the page and pull the vines.

But when do you plant the fall veggies? Not quite yet, but soon. So, it's time to plan if not to plant.

With forecasts of record-high temperatures for this weekend, conditions are not good for setting out baby transplants; they’ll immediately be stressed. But as soon as the weather cools back to normal – mere 90s, not 100s – the fall seedlings can go in the ground. That could be next week.

Why plant cool-season crops when it’s still hot? Warm soil promotes rapid root development – a big plus for a good harvest in November, December and January.

Many cool-weather favorites – such as cabbages, head lettuce, broccoli and Brussels sprouts – take months to develop to maturity. Cabbage, for example, takes 60 to 100 days to form a solid head. Plant in September for Christmas cabbage.

Just not this weekend.

When it is cool enough to venture outside, prepare garden beds before transplanting. All those summer veggies sucked up a lot of nutrients. Cultivate and add compost to the soil. Let it rest a week or more before planting.

What to plant? In September, plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

Transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower as well as lettuce seedlings. It’s not too late to start those seeds indoors and transplant in October or early November.

It’s a great time for flower planting, too. Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies. Also, transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

Whatever you plant, remember to water regularly. Seeds need even moisture to sprout. Avoid stressing new transplants by making sure soil doesn’t dry out.

And just like in summer, mulch works wonders, retaining soil moisture while cutting down on weeds. A new layer of mulch will help get those new seedlings off to a great start.

 

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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