It might be difficult to think about the cool temperatures and brisk air of autumn while in the midst of sweltering summer heat, but now is the time to begin preparing your garden for fall.
"Fall is a really good time to go for a vegetable garden," horticulturist and pest management specialist Debby Smith Fiola said. "Get that fall garden going by Labor Day, and you'll be harvesting into October."
She added that a fall harvest often has a greater yield than a spring harvest of the same crops.
"It's tougher to get your plants established when youre planting for the fall, but then you wont have the bugs, the heat or the dryness," Smith Fiola said.
Planning for fall
Master Gardeners Chuck Koeneke and Linda Burns explained that there are different growing seasons between spring and fall, and different crops are suited to different seasons.
Cool-weather crops can be planted from late March through the month of April and again from mid-July to early August, and warm-weather crops are planted in May and June.
"You're starting to plant now, so when your warm weather plants are done, your cool weather plants will already be started," Koeneke said. "Once the high heat is over, you can replant Swiss chard, kale and lettuce."
"Other crops that can be planted now include spinach, asparagus, peas, parsnips and carrots," Burns said.
Smith Fiola suggested broccoli, leeks, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers and green beans. She also advises gardeners to look for the early-maturing varieties of green beans and cucumbers.
Koeneke said planning is necessary because some warm-weather plants, such as tomatoes, will last until the first frost.
To prepare your garden for planting the fall crops, you must maintain it during the heat of the summer. Burns described simple steps for garden maintenance that include keeping it watered and clear of dead plant debris.
"The garden needs about one inch of rain per week," Burns said.
She said some people keep a rain gauge in their garden to check the rain level and others watch the soil and water when it gets dry.
Burns said it is also important to remove dead plants (both vegetables and flowers) from the garden, and suggested that the dead plant matter be used to create compost.
"As long as nothing in your garden is diseased, it can be used in compost," Burns said. "All summer long, you're making compost."
"Compost should be mixed into the soil before planting seeds for cool-weather vegetables," Smith Fiola said.
"Maintenance is also important once seeds have been planted," she said.