A website from UGA Cooperative Extension

Fall Gardening
Article by: Jessica Warren, ANR Agent, Camden County

Summer in Coastal Georgia is an intense time. As we look forward to a reprieve from the heat, we can turn our thoughts towards cooler times and start planning and preparing our fall garden. One of the benefits of our (excessively) warm climate is that we can get a second harvest of summer veggies in early fall if desired. In fact, spring and fall are the best times to grow slicing tomatoes as our summers are just too hot for them.

When planning a fall garden, select a site that receives 8-10 hours of sunlight and is located close to a water source. Select a site with well-drained, high-quality soil or build raised beds. Either way, be sure to incorporate plenty of organic matter for improved nutrition, moisture management, air flow, and nematode suppression. Perform a soil test through our office several weeks before planting and amend soil and correct pH as directed – and remember, never apply lime unless directed to do so by your soil test!

As you plan your garden, sketch out a plan and keep notes on what you plant where so that you can rotate crops appropriately in future years. Plants from the same family shouldn’t be planted in the same area for at least three years to limit pest and disease problems. For example, you shouldn’t plant peppers, potatoes, or eggplant where tomatoes were planted last year. Group plants by their moisture needs. You don’t want to plant something that requires a lot of water next to something that can’t tolerate heavy watering. Select plants appropriate to your hardiness zone with disease resistance. If using transplants, select plants free of signs of insects or disease and avoid those that are already flowering.

Fall crops include broccoli, lettuce, carrots, beets, collards, cauliflower, kale, arugula, Brussels sprouts, radishes, mustards, turnips, Swiss chard, garlic, and onions. Options for the herb garden include coriander, basil, lemon balm, chives, fennel, sage, dill, parsley, tarragon, lavender, oregano, thyme, and marjoram. Depending on what you plant, you may be planting from seed or transplants. Transplants give you a jumpstart, but seed is more economical and offers many more options for variety. The seed package or plant tag should give you directions for appropriate plant spacing, conditions, and disease resistance.

Managing pests and disease is a challenge in any garden – especially in Coastal Georgia. As mentioned earlier, incorporating organic matter, rotating crops, and selecting plants appropriate to your hardiness zone with disease resistance are important to pest and disease management. It’s important to remember that not all insects on your plants are harmful. I see more beneficial and/or predatory insects and pollinators in my (no-spray) garden than I do pest insects. Many wasps and other beneficial insects feed on or parasitize pest insects. Applying insecticide often leads to higher pest insect populations since it also kills off beneficial and predatory insects – and pollinators. Soldier beetles, big-eyed bugs, hover flies, tachinid flies, pirate bugs, lacewings, assassin bugs, lady bugs, spiders, and all wasps are just some of your beneficials. When you do have pest insects, remove them by hand if possible. I find this is the easiest way to deal with aphids and mealybugs (my most prevalent garden pests). I gently rub my fingers together on the plant stems or leaves to squash them. If you must use an insecticide, use a contact insecticide like insecticidal soap (not an actual soap and you can’t DIY it) or horticultural oil to reduce mortality of your pollinators. If you are using an insecticide, always use sprays instead of powders or dusts as these are incorporated into pollen stores that are carried back to the hive – killing many pollinators instead of just one. Without enough pollinators and proper pollination, your garden won’t set a crop. If you are applying anything, it is best to do so late in the evening when pollinators are less active. Scout the garden twice a week for insect and disease problems and remove any diseased leaves or plants to reduce spread. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation will reduce disease pressures and conserve water – overhead watering increases disease and spread of disease through wet foliage and splashing of spores. Harvest ripe crops promptly and remove any unproductive plants. Pull weeds in the garden to reduce harborages for insects and disease. Be sure to remove any expired plants at the end of the season if not before to reduce habitat for diseases and pests to overwinter.

If you’re not feeling up to planting this fall, cover crops are a great alternative. Cover crops suppress weeds, prevent erosion, and enrich soil. Choose a clover or other legume to add nitrogen to the soil and choose a flowering cover crop for pollinator forage. Crimson clover is an option that checks both of those boxes and is quite pretty when it blooms in early spring.

One of the best things that you can do for your garden and your landscape is to leave the leaves. Leaves are the best mulch available and are critical habitat and breeding ground for many pollinators, wildlife, and beneficial insects. Leaf mulch helps maintain appropriate moisture and temperature levels, and leaves contribute natural fertilizer and organic matter to the soil as they break down. Fireflies (in addition to some butterflies, moths, bees, frogs, and salamanders) require leaf litter to reproduce. The two main factors that have been connected to the decline of fireflies are the loss of leaf litter in landscapes and the use of insecticides. Many other species such as small mammals, turtles, and songbirds (and those previously mentioned) require leaf litter for food, shelter, and warmth over the winter. It is best to rake leaves into beds and mulch rings, but you can mow leaf litter on lawns to build organic matter in the soil and increase fertility. If you don’t like the look of leaf mulch in your beds, you can always add a layer of pine straw or wood chips on top.