how to make good use of fall leaves

While in the north gardens are getting ready to go to bed at the end of September, in the south, it is time to transition. The cool season is the best time to have a garden in the south since temperatures are cooler and humidity is lower. Disease and pest problems also are not as frustrating as they are in the warm season. With that said, there is the problem of how to transition a southern garden to the cool season at the right time.

The change of season in central Texas, or the south in general, is not as smooth as someone would wish. Summer temperatures could linger way into December, which can delay planting cool-season crops. This may not present a problem to tomato lovers if the harvest is still coming. Yet, for those who enjoy winter crops, this means the cool season is most likely going to be shorter.

I have been applying the following tips for years to make the seasonal transition as smooth as possible.

#1 Every end is a new beginning

New gardeners might find it heartbreaking to get rid of the spent plants at the end of summer. After months of caring and nurturing, how could someone destroy their garden?

Having the right mindset is key in this situation. Rather than looking at it as destruction, look at it as clearance. By removing the old plants, we are making a way for a new life to begin.

#2 Overlap the crops

Drastic temperature fluctuations during seasonal transitions may cause frustration among southern gardeners. Summer crops are still thriving in the garden. They won’t give up until the first freeze, which can be as late as late December. Winter crops, if planted now, can bolt if temperatures stay above 75F(25C) for too long.

A possible solution is to interplant slow-bolting winter varieties within the existing crop. Then, when it’s time to get rid of the old plants, cut them at the soil level instead of uprooting them. This way, you won’t disturb the neighboring plants.

How to transition your vegetable garden to the cool season

#3 Have a spare bed

Keeping a spare growing bed bare is another solution. It provides extra room to plant a new crop for the new season without disturbing the existing one.

I say bare, but that does not mean to keep it unplanted all season long. That will only create a new problem, and that is dealing with weeds. Instead, plant a quick maturing crop for quick cleanup or a cover crop to use as green manure.

#4 Provide shelter

If space is not an issue and you can plant cool-season, protection from the sun using shade cloth is crucial. There are two things to look for in a shade cloth: the fabric material and the density percentage.

Cool-season plants are heat-sensitive. It triggers a stress signal which causes them to go to flower, so providing the right level of shade is critical. There are different levels of density in the market today. A 30% cloth offers light shade, and a 90% offers heavy shade. In this case, a 60% density is ideal for cool-season plants.

#5 Out with the old

Once the new season arrives and the old crops reach their end, start the clean-up process. It does not have to happen all in one shot unless help is available.

Start with the diseased plants and the ones that are looking miserable. Discard them away from your garden to prevent any potential spread of disease or pest. Make sure to clean the beds from any plant debris for the same reason.

#6 Revitalize the soil

When talking about revitalizing the soil, fertilizers come to mind. They are, indeed, an option but not the only one. Fertilizers are like prescription medication. They provide relief to a certain deficiency in the soil but do not contribute to its overall health. Adding compost, instead, will feed soil life. In return, the latter will help create balanced soil chemistry.

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