Fall: A good time to plant a garden?

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By the time the leaves begin to fall, most gardeners are rolling it up for the year, composting the spent remains of warm-season crops, canning and preserving the harvest for winter and thinking about next year.

But with the days growing shorter, and particularly cooler, fall is a great time to get outside and plant a fall garden full of leafy greens and root vegetables you can enjoy right out of the ground most of the year.

According to a data sheet at the Clemson University Home and Garden Information Center website (http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic), an invaluable resource for gardeners in South Carolina, right now is a great time to plant:

  •  Garlic (through Nov. 15)
  •  Kale (through mid-September, hurry)
  •  Mustard (through Oct. 1)
  •  Onions, sets (through Nov. 15)
  •  Onions, seeds (through Oct. 15)
  •  Radish (through Oct. 25)
  •  Spinach (through Oct. 20)
  •  Turnips (through Oct. 1)

Keep in mind that these dates are approximate, and an early frost could wipe out your crop. Cool-season crops like these will happily grow right through a freeze, but only if planted early enough to mature before hard freezes hit.

Also keep in mind that the sun rides through the southern sky lower and lower each day, and areas that may have been in the sun all summer are now in shade. Cool-season crops still need the sun. Plants will require less watering in cooler seasons than in the heat of summer, as well.

Use your fallen leaves to mulch your fall garden.

Also a good time to transplant

Autumn is the best time to transplant established trees and shrubs, divide summer-blooming perennials, plant bulbs and generally move things around after they've finished blooming.

Trees and shrubs set for moving in the fall should be root-pruned in the spring to reduce the size of the ball that must be dug and to encourage a new flush of root growth during the fall and winter to get ready for spring. Local garden centers should have a wide variety of trees and shrubs available to plant this time of year.

Perennials that bloom in spring and summer should be divided and relocated in the fall. You'll want to allow four to six weeks before the ground freezes for the plants to get established after they're divided and replanted.

Now is the time to choose and purchase bulbs to plant, but actual planting should wait until later in the fall, when soil temperatures remain below 60 degrees. Most bulbs need to be chilled before they are planted to produce flowers. Often this is done by bulb suppliers, but storing them in the refrigerator until time to plant can help ensure enough of a chilling period to bloom.

We fell in love with fall gardening because our summers were too busy with activities, and, let's face it, because it's just too hot sometimes to enjoy being in the garden unless it is first thing in the morning. Fall is a good time to get the fertile chaos of summer under control, but you need not give up on fresh food from the garden just because the weather is turning a bit cooler.