Even though daytime temperatures still climb into the 90s, it's time to prepare for fall gardens. • I hope you are ready to try at least a few vegetables. This can be a difficult area to grow edible plants, but the effort is worth it. Start with a few herbs to almost guarantee success.
Tuck herbs among your ornamental plants or plant a designated bed. Here's a list of herbs that are hardy and usually successfully grown in our area. Start with a plant, not seeds, and your success rate will be much higher. Try basil (a favorite of mine), bay laurel, ginger, horehound, lemon balm, marjoram, Mexican tarragon, mint, oregano and thyme.
Basil comes in many different flavors including lemon, so try a number of them if you have the room.
Don't forget rosemary, but make sure you plant it in a location where it will be happy for years to come. It doesn't like wet feet, so good drainage is a must. And remember, this shrub can get quite large — a good 4 feet by 4 feet.
Prepare the soil before planting herbs by adding compost. Keep the roots moist and pinch back foliage regularly to encourage a bushy plant.
Now make a list of vegetables your family enjoys and see if you can't make room for them in your garden. Cool-season vegetables include beans (easy), broccoli (surprisingly successful last year), cabbage, celery, collards, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, English peas, lettuce (plant multiple crops throughout the fall and winter), mustard, onions (both bulbing and green), pepper, radish, Southern peas, strawberries (requires a little more preparation for a good crop), summer squash, tomatoes and turnips.
I encourage everyone to try one or two vegetables if you have the room. They taste so much better when picked fresh than when purchased at the grocery store.
Soil, fertilizer and pests
Good soil is a must, so add compost now and some slow-release fertilizer before planting. Most vegetables are easier if starter plants are used instead of seed, but corn, lettuce, radishes and peas are exceptions.
Now is a good time to decide whether you are going organic or not. If you are, be prepared to share some of your bounty with insects. There are a number of insect and disease controls that are organic, and they are often found in the big box stores. Check your plants every day, and hand-pick the large pests and wash the small ones away with a stream of soapy water.
Take care of tools
This is also the time to clean, repair or replace your tools. After working in the garden for many years, there are only a limited number of hand tools that I wouldn't want to be without. The tool I carry around the yard almost all the time is a good, sharp pair of hand pruners. There always seems to be a wilted flower, erratic branch or broken stem that needs to be cut away. If you think you have used your pruners on a diseased plant, wipe the blades with rubbing alcohol. It pays to purchase a quality pair. With proper care, hand pruners will last many years. I had a pair that lasted almost 20 years before I needed a replacement.
A small, folding 7-inch hand saw is also a necessity in my tool box. It works well for pruning midsized branches on the crape myrtles and the smaller branches of oak and maple trees. The wooden handle needs little care to remain in good shape. Don't buy a cheap pair or you will regret it. Spend a little on quality, and they will serve you well.
The one point hand hoe is a multiuse tool. I use the hoe to clear weeds while the point draws channels for seeding and transplanting.
Trowels come in different sizes, shapes and materials but one of good quality will last for years. With the sandy soil, it is usually easier to dig a small hole with the trowel than to go get the shovel. I have an inexpensive molded plastic trowel, but I really prefer my trowel with the hardened steel head and wood handle. It just seems to slip through the soil easier.
If you have a few favorite tools, clean them and prepare them for the fall planting season. Lightly sand and then oil wood handles. Remove rust and grime from the metal parts. A bucket of sand mixed with a little oil is a good place to store hand tools. After use, wipe the tools clean and bury the metal portion in the bucket of sand. They will be ready for the next use and, if cared for properly, will serve you for many years.
Mary Collister can be reached at email@example.com.