The Vegetable Garden’s Second Season: Planning and Planting for Fall

For gardeners in Maine, spinach seed sown in August is likely to produce a better crop than seed sown in early spring.

Mid- to late-July, less than a month from now, is the beginning of the vegetable garden’s second season.  It is not too early to start planning.  Which late summer and fall crops do you want to grow?  Will you grow your own transplants or depend on local garden centers for garden transplants?  Which crops can be successfully started from seed in the garden?  Now is the time to buy those seeds and to track down sources of transplants.

In the following guidelines for planting your late summer and fall vegetable garden, sowing and planting dates are for USDA Zone 5.  Gardeners in Zone 4 should add one week, those in Zone 6 should subtract one week.

Cilantro and Dill

In the second week of July, sow seeds of cilantro and dill directly in the garden, taking advantage of spaces that have opened up as summer crops were harvested.  By mid-August, you will have plenty of fresh cilantro leaves and tender dill shoots for use in the kitchen.

By mid-July, earlier sowings of these two annual herbs will be flowering.  Let a few of these plants go to seed, then either collect the seed for use in the kitchen or allow the plants to self-sow next year’s crop.

Basil

Basil sown in mid-July, in the garden or in pots, will be ready for harvest by mid-August. Basil is very sensitive to frost, so be sure to get your last cutting of fresh leaves when that first frost of the season is imminent.

Brussels Sprouts

Start these crops from seed indoors now so that you will have four-week-old transplants for the garden by the end of July.  You should be able to harvest sprouts in about 90 days from planting, after they have been kissed by a frost.  If, like me, you’ve had enough of the “grow your own” approach, see if you can locate a local garden center that produces transplants for late July or early August planting.

Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Cabbage

Seeds of these brassicas should have been planted in mid-June to produce garden transplants for early August.  If you did not make this sowing, perhaps your local garden center did.  When shopping for transplants, be sure to purchase young transplants produced for early August planting, not pot-bound, worn-out leftovers from the spring crop.

Spinach and Other Leafy Vegetables

Because of problems with early bolting of spring-sown spinach, many gardeners in northern New England are waiting until the first week of August to sow spinach.  Late-summer-sown spinach will continue to produce leaves until the plants succumb to freezing temperatures.  Recommended varieties for fall sowing include Avon, Indian Summer, Melody, Razzle Dazzle, Olympia, and Tyee.

August-sown spinach seedlings will need shading through periods of hot weather and plenty of water.  Spinach only needs 30 to 45 days from sowing to harvest, so you can continue sowing into early fall.

Use the “cut and come again” method of harvesting your spinach, removing the older, outer leaves of each plant while allowing the young inner leaves to continue growing for a later harvest.  If you need a lot of spinach, cut entire plants about an inch above the crowns; the plants will likely send out a new flush of leaves.

Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, and leaf lettuce are second season crops that should be harvested before their leaves reach full size.  The small leaves are often more tender and tasty than mature ones. These crops can be planted in succession every few weeks from mid-July until mid-August, as small spaces open up in the garden, to provide a steady supply of young leaves.

Other Crops for Vacant Spots in the Garden

Seeds of bush beans, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, and turnips can all be directly sown starting in mid-July, as space becomes available.  If you have the garden space and leftover seed, start a fall crop of garden peas with a mid-July sowing.  Success varies from year to year, but even a small crop of fresh peas in September is worth the effort.

In general, be sure to incorporate compost or organic fertilizer into the soil before starting andy of these fall crops.  If you need more seed for these second-season crops, get it now while garden center racks are still stocked.  Many mail-order seed companies are still filling orders, as well.
Don’t tarry in planning and planting the vegetable garden’s second season!  The number of frost-free days remaining is uncertain, but steadily decreasing.

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About Reeser Manley

I was born in Laramie Wyoming but moved to the southeast at an early age. I was educated through my B.S. in Biology in the Columbus, Georgia area, then crossed the Chattahoochee River to earn my M.S. in Botany at Auburn University. For the next ten years, I worked as Horticultural Manager for the George W. Park Seed Co. in Greenwood, S.C. At 40 years of age, I decided to return to graduate school and in 1994, I earned a Ph.D. in Horticultural Science from Washington State University, Pullman, Washington. Fast forward through 10 years at university (7 at UMaine, Orono) and you find me teaching high school science in Eastport, Maine, the edge of the world, and writing a weekly garden column for the Bangor Daily News. My new book, The New England Gardener's Year, a Month-by-Month Guide for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Upstate New York”, will be published later this year by Cadent Publishing. You can learn more about the book by visiting its Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-New-England-Gardeners-Year/187285218055676.)