We are rapidly getting to the end of summer and before long the heat will moderate making it more comfortable to work outside. We still have a long way to go before we get a frost though but just like spring, you need to be thinking about those cool weather vegetables that enjoy early fall weather and these plants are started in August. So like spring, it is time to get some new seeds going so that you are ready for fall in the garden. There are some big differences to spring in that the temperatures are still very warm, and the day length is getting shorter but the seed starting is just the same.
The basics for starting fall crops is to get a good seedling mix with fresh seeds. Although, seeds purchased for spring, if kept in a cool place, will still be good. For cool weather vegetables -- like the cabbage family -- I like to start them indoors where the temperatures are cooler than outside. Once they have germinated and started to grow well, they are taken outside to a shady place until ready to plant.
Ideally you start by thinking about when you will be harvesting the vegetables, and which can tolerate some frost. In Orangeburg County we have an average frost sometime in November -- though after many years it has been even later. The average time from seedling to maturity is usually noted on the seed packet but that is based on spring growing days. For the shorter days of fall add a few days to this date. Some good vegetable options for starting in August are in the cabbage family – cabbages, Brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower; onions – short day varieties; and some quick maturing varieties like kales or lettuces. Leaf lettuce and radishes can be seeded directly outside in a shady spot to save on indoor space. Most of the cabbage family can tolerate a little frost and both kale and Brussel sprouts are reported to taste better after the first heavy frost of fall. Peas are directly sown but as they grow quickly, they are best started about mid to late August.
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For flowers, pansies take a long time to grow big enough for outside and should be started indoors as soon as possible too. Other cool weather flowers such as poppies, snapdragons and delphiniums can also be started and planted out in September to give a nice variety of fall flowers to pick.
Later in fall, some of these flowers can also be seeded outside to germinate in late winter/early spring. These need cool soil so wait until November or later to plant these along with your spring bulbs.