Tag Archives: fall garden

Garden Checklist: Late Sept. & Oct.

It’s officially autumn. We’re finishing up with the major summer harvests, but September and October are still important months in the garden. This fall, a few chores can help you have winter harvests, build healthy soil, and have a beautiful, productive garden next season. Here are a few of the tasks we think it’s important to consider this time of year. 

Buy and plant perennial onions, garlic, shallots, and bulbs.

Spring isn’t the only planting season. If you haven’t already, it’s time to select and order perennial onions, garlic, shallots, and certain fall-planted flower bulbs like daffodils and tulips. The sooner you order, the larger the selection you’ll have to choose from.

Exact planting dates may vary depending on your hardiness zone, but here in Virginia, it’s best to plant them between September 15th and November 15th.

Think about winter composting.

It takes a bit of work, but you can keep composting all winter. We recommend building a large pile and covering it to give your compost more protection from the elements. We have a whole article which you can find here for those interested in making compost all winter long. 

Add more mulch.

September and October are good times to apply a layer of mulch before winter. We like to mulch around perennials like asparagus, fruit trees, rhubarb, strawberries, and in between rows of fall crops. Mulch will help keep the soil around these plants warmer for a little longer and helps prevent heaving.

Sow more quick-growing fall veggies.

In zone 7a, where we’re located and farther south, you’ve still got time to sneak in a few more crops. You can still sow mustards, spinach, radishes, and turnips. 

Create season extension.

You don’t need a fancy greenhouse to extend your garden’s season. There are many affordable, easy ways to give fall and winter crops a little extra protection. From low tunnels to hotbeds, check out all of our ideas on our post, Easy Season Extension for Fall.

Sow fall cover crops.

If you only complete one fall gardening task, it should be to sow fall cover crops. Fall cover crops have a myriad of benefits. They protect soil from erosion, add organic matter, encourage beneficial insects, and more. Some of our favorites include crimson clover, winter rye, hairy vetch, Austrian winter peas, and white dutch clover. Learn more about choosing a winter crop for your garden and how to plant them here.

Collect leaves.

Autumn leaves are gold for gardeners! They’re a great carbon-rich ingredient to add to your homemade compost, and they make excellent mulch by themselves. You can also shred them to create leaf mold for DIY potting mixes.

All you need is a rake and somewhere to pile them where they won’t blow away. Multi-bin compost set-ups are great for this. You may also be able to collect them from friends and neighbors too. Just make sure the yards you’re getting them from haven’t been treated with herbicides that could contaminate your garden.

Be diligent about draining your hose and sprinkler.

Depending on where you’re located, the first fall frosts are getting closer. It’s time to make sure you drain any sprinklers and nozzles and disconnect hoses after each use. Taking care of your equipment this fall means you won’t have to buy new next spring.

Save seeds.

In much of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, September and even October are still bringing in good harvests. This can also be an excellent time to save seed from some of your favorite varieties. Check out our Seed Saving for Beginners article to learn how to save seed from tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, peppers, peas, and beans. Here are some of our other favorite seed saving posts:

Get a soil test.

Testing your soil is an often overlooked aspect of gardening. Fall is a great time to get this done so you can amend your garden before next season. Especially if you consistently struggle with certain crops, a soil test can make a huge difference in your gardening success. Soil tests will tell you the availability of macro and micronutrients in your garden, as well as the soil pH. They’re readily available through most county extension agencies.

Check out Understanding Soil Tests to learn more.

Leave some standing dead plants.

It can be tempting to give your garden a clean sweep in the fall but don’t do it! Leave some standing dead material like echinacea, sunflower, and other flower stalks. These are vital habitats for many beneficial insects, and they often provide winter food sources and perches for songbirds. 

The exception to this is removing pest-ridden or diseased material such as tomato plants with fungal diseases or dead asparagus stalks that had asparagus beetles. We recommend burning material like this as most home composts don’t get hot enough to kill insects and diseases.

Continue watering.

If your area is getting plenty of rain, this won’t be an issue. However, if you’re still experiencing some warm, dry spells, keeping up with watering is vital. Water any fall crops that are still growing and perennials, especially those you just planted this year.

Store crops properly.

If you’re still bringing in crops, it’s essential to harvest, cure, and store them properly. Here are a few of our guides to help you put up the harvest:

Sow flowers.

It may come as a surprise to some but fall is a great time to start your spring flower garden. Many cool-weather loving flowers are great for fall sowing, including violas, sweet peas, echinacea, and coreopsis. Check out our Spring Flowers: Fall Sowing post for more ideas and a few planting tips.

There are so many fall activities to enjoy, but don’t forget to take some time for your garden. Cool fall weather is the perfect time to complete these essential garden tasks. 

Growing, Storing, and Using Fall Turnips


The first day of fall is just a few weeks away! Most planting is done for the season, but you still have time for a few crops in the south, including turnips. These versatile vegetables are one of our favorites for their greens and their sweet, mildly spicy roots. 

Turnip Varieties

At SESE we carry 5 varieties of turnip. They each have their have unique qualities that may help you select one for your garden.

Amber Globe (Yellow Globe) Turnip (63 days)

One of our favorites for fall, this variety dates back to before 1840. These turnips mature in about 63 days and are best when harvested at a diameter of 3 to 4 inches. Their sweet, fine-grained flesh is creamy yellow. 

Purple Top White Globe Turnip (50 days)

Purple Tops are our go-to for classic turnip flavor. This variety dates back to 1880 and gets its name because the tops of the roots turn purple where they’re exposed to sunlight. They mature in about 50 days and are best when harvested at 3 inches in diameter or less.

Scarlet Ohno Revival Turnip (55 days)

These lovely scarlet-skinned turnips are a Japanese variety reselected by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds. They produce some round and some flattened roots. The leaves are shiny and hairless with pink and scarlet stems.

This is an Open Source Seed Initiative variety. The OSSI pledge: “You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.” Read more about OSSI here.

Seven Top (Southern Prize) Turnip Greens (45 days)

This variety dates back to before 1880 and is grown only for the delicious greens, not the roots, which are woody. It’s a popular southern variety and great winter green. The leaves grow 18-22 inches tall but should be harvested when young and tender.

Included in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste. Read more at Slow Food Foundation.

White Egg Turnip (48 days)

Ready to harvest in just 48 days, this fast-growing variety is popular in the south. It’s named for its egg-shaped roots, which grow partly above the ground and have a slight green tint on the crown. It’s a good bunching variety, and the flesh is white, fine-grained, and mild-flavored. 

Amber Globe (Yellow Globe) Turnips

Planting Turnips

The key to great turnips is preparing your soil. You want loose, friable soil to allow roots to expand. We recommend forking your bed and adding a couple of inches of finished compost. We generally recommend against fertilizing. High nitrogen can cause turnips to grow large leaves and tiny roots. 

Turnips should always be direct sown. Sow seeds 1/4″ deep and thin to 2-4″ apart, rows 10-12″ apart. Thinning is essential for proper root growth. Fall plantings should be watered consistently if there isn’t rain, especially as the seeds are germinating.

Keep the beds weed-free and mulch around the turnips with straw, old leaves, or other natural mulch. 

Harvesting

When harvesting leaves, it’s generally best to harvest them when they’re fairly small. They’re best when they’re young and tender, especially if you’re using them raw. Cut leaves about 2 inches above the crown. 

Roots can be harvested at any size but are generally best when they have a 2 to 3-inch diameter. 

For longterm storage, harvest roots after it has been dry for a couple of days. A couple of light frosts can make roots sweeter but be sure to harvest before any hard frosts. Gently pull the roots. You may need to use a fork to avoid damaging them.

Storing

Turnip roots can keep for up to 4 months when stored properly. Brush off as much soil as possible but don’t wash your roots. Any bruised or damaged should be set aside for immediate use.

Using a sharp knife or shears, trim leafy tops to 1/4 to 1/2 inch above the root. Don’t trim root ends or hairs; this invites rot!

Turnip roots store best between 32° and 38°F. A root cellar is ideal but, an insulated outbuilding, cool corner of a garage or basement, or a root clamp can also work. 

They can be stored in various containers, including plastic totes, waxed cardboard boxes, 5-gallon buckets, or even an old cooler. It’s best if there’s some airflow, so avoid putting the lid on tight, and you may even want to drill some additional holes in the container. 

In these containers, you want to keep your roots from touching the container or each other. To do this, you can layer them in damp sand, sawdust, or even old leaves.

You can also store turnips in your refrigerator in the crisper drawer. You don’t want them to dry out, but too much moisture can cause them to mold. It’s best to use perforated plastic bags when storing them in the fridge. Try to set the bags in so that the roots in each bag are in a single layer.

You should check on your turnips every week or two and remove any beginning to soften or rot. The smallest roots generally don’t store as well and should be eaten first. 

Freezing

Alternatively, you can cube, blanch, and freeze turnips. Blanch turnips for 3 minutes, immediately cool them in ice water, drain well and freeze. 

Using Turnips

Depending on what variety you grow, turnips provide two useful and tasty products greens and roots. Turnips roots are generally peeled, sliced, and cooked before using. The leaves can be eaten cooked or raw, especially if they’re young and tender. 

  • Add the leaves and grated roots to kimchi
  • Lacto-ferment slices of the roots to add a tasty crunch to salads and sandwiches.
  • Roast them with a bit of olive oil, seasoning, and other root veggies.
  • Add the young leaves to fresh salads.
  • Use the roots and greens in soups.
  • Grate the roots up for spring rolls and wraps.
  • Sauté the tops as you would other greens.
  • Carve the roots into Jack O’Lanterns! In 19th century Ireland, turnips were the traditional JackO’Lantern and were thought to help scare away evil spirits.
  • Enjoy the greens on New Year’s for good luck.

Spring Flowers: Fall Sowing

If you garden at all in the fall, you probably think primarily about leafy greens and root crops. The big focus is garlic, perennial onions, and tough vegetables that can overwinter in hoop houses and cold frames. However, fall is also a great time to start working on next season’s flower garden. 

Fall sown seeds will bloom earlier, helping you create a colorful garden throughout spring and summer. They won’t grow during the winter but will take off in the spring much faster than spring-sown flowers. Fall sowing can also allow you to direct sow more seeds rather than start them indoors in the spring. 

Cool-season annuals, flowers that readily self-sow, perennials, biennials, and native flowers are generally good choices for fall sowing. Some flowers like certain varieties of echinacea and Dara will grow better when fall sown. This is because these seeds require a cold period to germinate well. 

Helen Mt. Johnny Jump-Up

Flowers you can sow this fall include:

Generally, it’s best to sow or transplant these flowers 4 to 6 weeks before your first fall frost. You’ll notice that many flowers are dropping seeds around this time. This gives them time to establish a good root system before winter begins. Sow these flower seeds in beds that receive full sun. Prepare your bed ahead of time by loosening the soil with a garden fork or broad fork, adding a couple of inches of well-aged compost, and raking it smooth. Plant each variety as usual, according to packet instructions. 

Northern gardeners may need to provide their plants with extra protection such as low tunnels or wait until early spring.

You may also want to consider preparing for next summer by gathering materials for staking or trellising flowers that require it, such as sweet peas and hollyhocks. If you’re growing cut flowers, setting up a horizontal netting while the plants are still small and allowing the flowers to grow up through it can help keep them straight and tidy.