7 Steps to Prepare for the Fall Garden

Fall gardening starts in the summer. While it may be way too hot to think about sowing or transplanting today, there’s plenty we can do to prepare. In this post, we’ll go over how to get your fall garden beds ready for another round of crops, plus how to get some of the trickier, cool weather crops growing in this summer heat. Get growing with us this week!

Remove Any Old Plant Material 

It’s best to give beds a tidy before we start sticking in new plants and seeds. Remove any of the crop residue and weeds. You can use some weeds and plant residue to bulk up your compost pile. 

However, I like to avoid using weeds that have gone to seed and any plants that may be carrying pests and diseases into the compost. Without careful management, it’s unlikely that home compost piles will reach the temperatures required to kill weed seeds, fungal pathogens, pest eggs, and other troubling issues that could be lurking in your garden debris.

Spread Compost in Your Fall Garden

As your summer crops have flourished, they’ve pulled nutrients from the soil to make the vegetables that nourish you! To achieve continued production, we need to offer our soil some nutrients by adding a couple of inches of finished compost to the top of the bed. Compost adds organic matter and nutrients and improves soil structure.

Determine Proper Sowing Dates

Precisely when you should sow crops depends on your estimated first frost date, the weather, and your chosen variety. 

Generally, we like to take a crop’s days to maturity, add 14 days for any crop we direct sow, and 14 to 28 days from any crop we transplant. Then, we count backward from our estimated first frost. This gives us our last possible planting date. The extra 14 accounts for the shortening days, causing slower plant growth in the fall. 

For example, let’s say we wanted to plant Capitan Bibb lettuce (62 days to maturity) in a zone 6b garden with an estimated first frost of October 20th. We’ll take 62 days and add 14 days to get a total of 76 days. If we look at a calendar and count backward 76 days from October 20th, we get August 7th. Therefore, we can sow Capitan Bibb lettuce up to August 7th in this garden and expect harvests.

Set Up Shade Cloth in Your Fall Garden Beds

As many fall crops need to be started well before it’s actually fall, it’s a good idea to give them some protection. Using shade cloth or row cover to provide shade, particularly in the afternoon, can help your plants thrive. Alternatively, you can plant in sections of your garden where trees, cucumber or beans trellises or other structures provide afternoon shade. 

Savoy Perfection Cabbage
Savoy Perfection Cabbage

Deciding What to Plant in Your Fall Garden

In most of the Southeast, you can sow plenty of crops in July to get a second crop in late summer or fall. Maybe you want a second round of the yellow squash your family has been enjoying, or perhaps you’d like some storage carrots like oxhearts to fill your root cellar for winter.  There’s plenty to choose from:

  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbages
  • Summer Squash
  • Beets
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Southern Peas
  • Chinese Cabbage
  • Swiss Chard 
  • Collards
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Parsnips
  • Rutabaga
  • Broccoli

Starting Crops Indoors During Hot Weather

Much of the fall garden can be carefully started indoors while it’s still too hot to plant. This is also helpful for specific crops like lettuce and cabbages that we could direct sow but struggle with warm soil temperatures. For crops that prefer chilly temperatures, we can stick flats in the refrigerator or root cellar for the first day after planting. 

Gather Mulch

Mulching around your fall crops is critical to keeping the soil moist and cool. We like to start stockpiling mulch like grass clippings, wood chips, and straw near the beds so that it’s ready when needed. Don’t forget that mulch is a cure-all; watering consistently is still essential, especially during hot, dry weather.


Even if you’re not ready to plant your fall garden just yet, there’s plenty to do to prepare. Complete these tasks to prepare for your fall garden. Your future self will thank you!

8 Reasons to Grow Rhubarb (Even in the South)

We’ve seen an uptick in interest in adding fruit and perennials to the garden. Though it isn’t technically a fruit, one of our favorite options for mid-Atlantic growers is rhubarb, also known as the pie plant. This hardy perennial is great for small space gardeners, produces in early spring, and is easy to grow from seed, making it an exceptionally affordable option. 

The variety we grow at Southern Exposure is ‘Victoria.’ It’s an English heirloom named for Queen Victoria, first available in 1837. Today, it remains a popular variety with home gardeners and commercial growers. 

Reasons to Grow Rhubarb

We think rhubarb doesn’t get the praise it deserves. Here are some of the many reasons we appreciate this wonder crop and why you should, too:

1. Rhubarb makes some delicious baked goods, from the classic strawberry rhubarb pie to tasty new recipes like a rhubarb fool or rhubarb pound cake.

2. Rhubarb contains anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that has demonstrated heart and brain health benefits and may reduce your risk for certain types of cancer and type II diabetes.

3. You can take your spring cocktails up a level with rhubarb harvest and easy recipes like Pinch and Swirl’s rhubarb cocktail.

4. Rhubarb provides a tasty, fruit-like crop long before most other crops are ready to harvest.

5. Rhubarb isn’t good just for sweets! You can use rhubarb stalks to create savory recipes like rhubarb and cinnamon red lentil curry or spring rhubarb salsa.

6. Rhubarb is high in vitamin K, essential for bone health, blood clotting, and cardiovascular health.

7. In zones 7 and 8, you can utilize the shade parts of your property by turning them into rhubarb beds. They will appreciate partial shade in these warm climates.

8. Rhubarb has an interesting history. It is native to the cooler climates in China, Mongolia, and Siberia, and the Chinese have used it medicinally for at least 5000 years.

Only rhubarb stems are safe to eat. Don’t eat rhubarb leaves as they’re high in oxalic acid, which can cause kidney problems.

Rhubarb stalksGrowing Rhubarb in Zone 6 and Lower

Rhubarb loves cool climates and thrives as a hardy perennial in these zones. Each fall, your rhubarb will die back to the ground with hard autumn frosts, but it will pop up again next spring and is usually ready to harvest by late May or early June. Harvest just a few stems at a time during the spring and fall, leaving some leaves to continue growing.

Growing Rhubarb in Zone 7 and 8

In our 7a gardens and the rest of zones 7 and 8, rhubarb tends to behave more like a short-lived perennial. Hot summer days are hard on it, so it’s essential to plant it somewhere that it will receive afternoon shade. It’s an excellent crop for making use of shady spots in the garden.

Growing Rhubarb in Zone 9 and Higher

Unfortunately, rhubarb isn’t a big fan of the long, hot summers, short winters, and fungal diseases found in the deep south. However, this doesn’t have to totally eliminate it from your garden plan. Rhubarb can be grown from seed annually in these climates. ECHO (“Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization”) in Florida has had good luck planting rhubarb seed in August and harvesting in March-May. 

Learn More About Growing Rhubarb from Seed

Growing rhubarb has many benefits, and knowing how to grow it from seed makes it an affordable option for any gardener. Learn to grow rhubarb no matter where you live with this comprehensive guide from Ira Wallace, the godmother of southern seeds. 

Can Flowers Tell Time?

Most gardeners quickly realize that not all flowers bloom at the same time. Not only do they bloom during different parts of the season, many bloom at different times of the day.

You may have noticed a few names in our catalog that hints at this pattern, like Morning Glories, Evening Primroses, and Four O’clocks. We also have heliotropic flowers like sunflowers that follow the sun as it moves across the sky during the day.

So why do these flowers bloom this way, and how do they know when to bloom? Can plants tell time? In this post, we’ll dive into how these plants operate.

Circadian Rhythm 

You may have heard of a circadian rhythm in relation to human beings. In simple terms, it’s our internal clock that functions on a 24-cycle and regulates our alertness and sleepiness by responding to changes in light and our environment. 

So, what does this have to do with plants? Researchers have found that plants have circadian rhythms, too. This biological clock regulates processes like photosynthesis, stomatal movement, and, in many cases, flower formation and opening. Some plants even use their circadian rhythm to time preparations for attacks by daytime active pests!

So Why Bloom at Different Times?

Despite plants having a functioning circadian rhythm, not all flowers open at the same time of day. This is because there are advantages to blooming at specific times.

Purple Morning Glory bloomsMorning Glories, Spiderwort, Daylilies, and other Daytime Blooms

There are several flowers like morning glories, spiderwort, and daylilies with blooms that open just a single time. Many of these, like morning glories, open when they’re hit by the sun in the morning. You may have noticed that if you plant morning glories in shadier areas, they may not open until later in the day. 

These flowers take advantage of daytime pollinators like bees and butterflies. Morning glories, specifically, co-evolved with Morning Glory Bees (Cemolobus ipomoea), which are thought to be most active in the morning!

Tina James’ Magic Evening Scented Primrose
Tina James’ Magic Evening Scented Primrose

Four O’Clocks, Moonflowers, Evening Primroses, and Other Evening and Nighttime Blooms

While many flowers bloom during the day, others open in the evening. These night owls aren’t confused; they’ve evolved to take advantage of nocturnal pollinators. Worldwide, bats and moths take the night shift, pollinating a number of plant species. 

Around here, most of these flowers, including those listed above, are primarily pollinated by the Sphingidae family of moths, commonly called hawkmoths or sphinx moths. This family includes about 1450 species of moths with long tongues and the unique ability to hover while pollinating flowers. This hovering has evolved only in a few other species: hoverflies, certain bats, and hummingbirds. Hawk moths hover so well that they’re often mistaken for small hummingbirds!

Why Do Sunflowers Move?

Sunflowers, on the other hand, stay open longer than all of these flowers but move each day! What’s up with that?

Sunflowers are the poster children for plants with heliotropism (directional growth in response to sunlight)  and circadian rhythm. Each day, they track the sun across the sky, starting facing the eastern sunrise in the morning and finally facing the western sunset in the evening. 

It goes further than that, though. Not only do they respond to the sun, they anticipate it. As the sun sets each night, the plants face west, but overnight, they slowly move to face east in anticipation of the morning sun. 

Researchers say that the plant’s circadian rhythm times this movement, while the plant’s growth rate controls the actual movement. Scientists discovered that growth rates on the plant’s east side were high during the day and low at night, while the growth rates on the plant’s west side were high at night and low during the day, resulting in the plant turning.


We can learn so many fun, odd, and exciting things from a garden! Our flower’s adaptations to the world around them are just one of many factors we’re beginning to understand, but there’s so much more we don’t know. We should always keep growing and learning. 

Saving the Past for the Future