How to Extend Your Gardening Season

The end of the growing season brings sadness to the hearts of even casual gardeners. How do you live without all those flowers and vegetables? Although you can’t stave off winter forever, consider these tips on foiling the first frosts of autumn:

  • Cover up: You often face an occasional light frost before the first big killer. On those crisp, clear evenings when a light frost is forecast, throw a few bed sheets or floating row covers over tender crops. With a little effort, you can prolong the harvest of summer crops.

  • Spray on frost protection: What if you forget — or are just too tired — to cover up crops on a chilly evening? Well, you have a second chance to save them (after you’ve rested, of course). Turn on your garden sprinkler during the late-night hours (as soon as the temperature drops below 33°F, or 0.5°C). Leave the water on until the sun has warmed the air up above freezing. A fine spray of water is more effective than large water droplets.

  • Plant again: Cool-season plants tolerate frost. You can plant a second crop of many flowers and vegetables in mid-to-late-summer for a late autumn or winter. These plants grow quickly in the still-warm soil of summer and start maturing about the time tender crops are declining. Kale (both edible and ornamental), beets, chard, pansies, and turnips are among the stars of the post-frost harvest.

Frost is the culprit that usually dictates the beginning and end of the gardening season. Planting dates revolve around the first and last average frost dates. If you don’t know the dates for your area, ask a nursery professional or call your local cooperative extension office. The extension system phone number is usually listed in the phone book among the state university numbers or under Extension in the business section. (The extension program is a cooperative partnership between federal and state partners. Organizations in colleges and universities are authorized by the USDA to provide services that focus on research, education, and economics.)

In mild-winter regions, where an occasional light frost is as bad as it gets, the best way to stretch the season is to keep on gardening right through winter. Winter gardening has many benefits: Pest and disease problems are fewer; you don’t have to water much, if at all; and winter crops are varied, nutritious, and delicious. In addition to the cool-season vegetables, annual flowers such as pansies, calendula, stock, and primrose thrive in winter. Autumn is prime planting time for winter gardening, although you can plant some crops, such as lettuce and beets, in succession through the winter.

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