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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 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

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

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

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

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

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

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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