Some vegetables and flowers require cool-weather planting for warm-weather yields
By Samantha House
Autumnnever approaches quietly. When summer cools into fall, just look for nature’s gradual wardrobe change. Leaves begin to blush in shades of persimmon, amber and gold. With a nudge from the autumn wind, the colorful confetti leaves part with their branches, carpeting the ground, leaving tree limbs bare. The sun quits shining sooner, forcing reluctant Central New Yorkers out of short-sleeved shirts and into hooded coats.
And sure, the color-changing leaves blaze brilliantly as they die. But their ironic beauty also signals the hibernation of animals, the winterizing of homes and the expiration of summer gardens’ more fruitful days. To most people accustomed to New York’s cold temperatures and inclination to snow, fall signals the end of growth, the end of gardening.
But despite declining temperatures and shorter days, the arrival of autumn doesn’t mean gardeners need to retire their shovels and spades just yet. Before winter frosts the soil into a 6-monthlong sleep, Central New Yorkers can enjoy a few more crops and pre-emptively plant for the spring.
Nathan Funke, a garden associate at the Auburn Home Depot, knows plants. Along with helping customers find organic fertilizer and healthy plants, Funke is a gardening enthusiast. Aside from growing a personal garden—filled with corn, potatoes, broccoli, grape tomatoes and romanesco—for the past four years, Funke says he grew up helping his mom cultivate an organic garden larger than most people’s back yards. “It’s something I can produce for myself that’s the best quality,” he says.
Although Funke admits that fall narrows down the list of plants that can be sown and reaped before the first frost, he says a few easy-to-care-for crops are perfect to plant in the early autumn months. While some—like spinach and kale—will be ready to eat before winter, others—such as garlic and tulips— won’t appear above the soil until spring.
Most of the edible plants that can be planted and harvested in the fall are leafy, green and belong to the brassica genus or Cole crops, a type of vegetable that produces cold-weather, er produce, says Funke. Spinach, cauliflower and kale—a variety of cabbage—tolerate frost well, making the plants perfect for Central New York’s cool fall temperatures.
After planting the seedlings in welldrained soil in September, Funke says to make sure to water the plants a couple times a week to keep the ground moist, especially in the seedlings’ first week living in the soil. The maturity rates for each plant vary slightly, so it is impor tant to harvest spinach after 40 to 50 days in the ground, cauliflower after 52 to 56 days and kale after 55 to 60 days.
Another cold-weather crop that thrives in Central New York is garlic, a bulb that needs to be planted in the fall, notes Funke. And although this culinary seasoning favorite won’t be ready to harvest until July, it must be sown in autumn. To ensure that garlic pops up in the summer, plant separate cloves, roots facing down, four weeks before the soil freezes, leaving a few inches between each clove. By the end of the following July, the garlic will be ready for harvesting.
For a naturally decorated lawn in the early spring, plant flower bulbs in the fall. Perfect plants for the Central New York region include tulips, daffodils, lilies, crocuses and hyacinths. Like garlic, flower bulbs must be put in the soil about four weeks before the ground freezes. Plant the bulbs about four to six inches under the soil and enjoy the bursts of color that will brighten lawns in the early spring and act as harbingers of summer.
Although Funke says the cold-weather crops harvested in the fall don’t need to be mulched, he recommends covering the garlic and flower bulbs with mulch after planting them to prepare them for freezing temperatures. “When you winterize, you protect your plants, even when they appear dead,” Funke says. “In general, mulch is anything that holds in moisture and insulates the plant. So that could be newspaper, burlap, rubber or woodchips.” To create free mulch, Funke suggests running over fallen leaves with a lawn mower and using the shredded, bagged leaves to insulate your garden.
the cooling temperatures and the sleepy appearance of nature, Funke
says tending an autumn garden is worth the effort. “It’s good to grow
for yourself. Gardening is relaxing and rewarding,” he notes. “Besides,
you can extend the growing season a little longer.” And once you see and
eat what you reap, sowing seeds in autumn will make fall feel quite
full of life.