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Plan now for a glorious fall garden


By Darlene Underwood

It’s July in Mississippi, which means our gardens are struggling with heat and potential drought conditions. Vegetable plants either have produced their fruits and are ready to be removed or they have stopped blooming, a form of hibernation, until ambient temperatures cool down in October. 

The heat notwithstanding, it’s a great time to inventory your seeds and plan a fall garden. For instance, tomatoes, which are essential to my summer diet, no longer are blooming due to the heat. Now is the time to replant them for fall. 

Fall vegetable gardens can produce a tremendous yield if planted early enough to mature before winter’s harsh temperatures arrive. The best way to determine when to plant is to consult the seed pack for the number of days until maturity of that vegetable. Count that number of days backward from the generally accepted earliest frost dates. 

Late-season vegetables to consider are tomatoes, fall bush snap beans, leafy greens or late Southern peas, winter squash, pumpkins and fall greens. The guideline for planting any garden is to place it in an area that receives at least six hours of full sun daily. 

Here are some other tips:

  • Completely remove any existing dead plant material, including roots. 
  • Thoroughly till in well-composted soil amendments. 
  • Apply fertilizer at the rate of 1-2 pounds per 100 square feet. Do not add lime. 
  • Pests and diseases have developed during summer, so check plants often for problems. 
  • A nearby water source for irrigation is necessary for success. 

Publication P1091 Garden Tabloid, available from Mississippi State University Extension Service, is an excellent guide for home gardeners. Contact your local County Extension Service to get this free resource. 

If you brave the heat to work in your garden, do so in the early morning or late afternoon when temperatures are cooler. Stay hydrated, and wear sunscreen and a hat. Long sleeves in lightweight fabrics bring more protection from UV rays. 

If you have container plants, cover dark pots or put them inside lighter-colored ones. Grouping pots together also helps with water retention. Some pots may require watering twice a day. 

We in the deep South enjoy almost year-around gardening, so now is the perfect time to visit family and friends under the air conditioner, enjoy a glass of iced tea and dream of cooler temperatures. 

Darlene Underwood is a Mississippi master gardener, national accredited flower show judge and Garden Clubs of Mississippi third vice-president. Reach her at

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