Late Summer Vegetable Gardening

William Hogan  |  8/19/2011 6:24:31 PM

Even though August is not considered the best month to start a warm season vegetable garden, it might be our last chance to successfully produce these vegetables in 2011. The vegetables planted in March and April are finished by now. Most of them took a real hit from too little rain in their prime producing period. Gardeners who irrigated were generally able to insure that their vegetables survived, but the production was less than most wanted. With the lack of rain, there was less plant disease than we normally see. The one exception to this was a large amount of blossom-end rot in tomatoes. While this is caused by a deficiency of calcium in the tomato plant, a shortage of soil moisture always intensifies the condition.

We haven’t had an exceptionally bad year for insect pests. Stinkbugs and plant bugs (the big, black bug with the strange looking legs) haven’t been as numerous as in most years. But, be aware that their populations peak in the late summer and fall. They’ll make an appearance as the year progresses.

There are a few perennial vegetables that hold over for fall production. There are other plants that may be started now for a late season garden. Late season vegetables usually aren’t as productive as spring gardens. However, they furnish fresh vegetables into the fall if properly started and cared for. Lack of water can be a factor in fall gardens. Drought is always a possibility going into the fall. Be prepared to irrigate if necessary. The insects that I mentioned are also more common in the fall. Control these pests with a regular spray schedule. Here are some warm season vegetables that can be used in the fall garden.

Peppers can be held over from the spring. If foliage is healthy, continue to maintain good soil moisture. The plants will bloom, but might not set fruit in hot weather. As soon as the weather cools, fruit will begin to develop. Bell peppers quite often produce more fruit in the fall than they did in the spring. Their production will continue until they are killed by cold weather. Sometimes, they will survive a mild winter and begin to produce the next spring. Young peppers can also be transplanted now for fall production.

Tomatoes can be transplanted now. Be sure to irrigate if necessary and control the bugs. A regular, weekly application of a recommended fungicide is also necessary for successful fall tomato production. The fungi that cause leaf spots and “firing-up” from the bottom of the plant can be managed by these fungicides. One advantage of fall tomato production is that spotted-wilt virus is much less common. The winter weeds that harbor the virus are long gone and haven’t emerged for next year. Those varieties that aren’t spotted-wilt resistant usually produce much better in the fall.

Irish potatoes can be planted from mid-August to September. Plant small, whole potatoes into a moist soil. Mulch with straw to conserve moisture and combat weeds. It often takes a while for potatoes to sprout in the fall. If harvested in the spring, the seed tubers often require 90 days of physiological rest before they initiate sprouting. Be patient. Fall yields are usually lower than in the spring.

Seeds to plant in August include bush snap beans, bush lima beans, cucumber, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, purple hulled peas, mustard, and shallot sets. Collards are the only good green that must be started this early. They have a long growing season. Brussel sprouts also have an extremely long growing season. Seed them now or transplant them in the end of August. They won’t produce sprouts until spring.

Squash and cucumbers can still be planted in August and that's good news to many gardeners didn’t have much success with these vegetables in the spring. If transplants are available, these will speed-up the process for production. They are usually ready for harvest in six weeks, when planted in late summer. Yields will often be lower than spring planted squash and cucumber, but they could give you fresh produce at a time of year when these are less available. As with all fall planted vegetables, insect pests will probably be more numerous. Always maintain good soil moisture and mulch. New cucumber varieties to try include: Daytona and Stonewall. New squash cultivars are Medallion, Fortune, Lioness, Justice, Lynx and Leopard.

I also want to mention an annual cause for concern to many gardeners that really is not a problem.

Psocids form webs on the bark of tree trunks and limbs. Recently, I have received questions on this old favorite topic -- psocids.  These webs adhere very closely to the bark and give the appearance of a silk stocking over the trunk or limb. Psocids are not harmful to the plant or to animals. They are small, primitive insects that feed on dead bark scales and lichens growing on the tree bark. The web protects them from predators. These insects are nature’s clean-up crew. In the winter, they will return to the leaf litter on the ground. Their webs will tatter and blow away over the winter. The area under the web will look much cleaner and fresher after they leave. Don’t let psocids worry you. No control is needed. If you find the web unattractive, sweep it away or use water pressure to remove it.
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