Based on the number of calls I have received, the end of summer has not ended the interest in vegetable gardening. We can grow many vegetables through the winter and have the advantage of year-round vegetables, if the weather is not too uncooperative. I have even received questions about squash and okra harvest. My advice on any of the warm season vegetables, at this time of year, is to harvest them as soon as they ripen. Frosts will put an end to their production. Fall planted tomatoes, peppers and other warm season plants may hang on a little longer, but not for very long. It’s probably best to invest your efforts on those vegetables that are better suited to winter production.
Planting Cool Season Vegetables – Greens (mustard and turnips) can be planted anytime in the winter in our climate. The short day length will make for slower growth, but our soils are still warm enough for good germination. Thin mustard and turnip plants to a 3- to 4-inch spacing to allow for larger leaf development. Planting a “fresh” green patch every few weeks is a good way to insure tender greens all winter long.
Spinach is not a widely grown vegetable in our area. But, it requires little more attention than mustard. Select a sandy or well drained site for spinach planting. Spinach produces best at a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Apply 4 to 5 pounds of a complete fertilizer per 100 feet of row about 10 to 14 days before planting. You may side dress with 1 pound of ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) per 100 feet of row about one month after seeding. This additional nitrogen fertilizer will keep the spinach growing rapidly and produce more tender, higher quality leaves. Plant seeds about ½ inch deep, and thin plants to a 1 to 3 inch spacing in the row. Keep the soil moist until the seeds have germinated.
Many of the broccoli and cauliflower plants set out in early fall are beginning to come into production. Cabbage is beginning to form heads, but usually takes longer to mature than broccoli. I recently had a question on the maturity time of Brussels sprouts. My experience is that it takes longer for them to produce than most of the other cool season vegetables. It really can try your patience, but have faith. The little sprouts will form at the bases of the leaves in early to mid-spring.
Cabbage and broccoli can still be transplanted in late November. Growth will be slower than those planted in September, but they can provide spring produce. Keep an eye out for caterpillars and control them with BT material.
Shallots are another vegetable that can be transplanted all winter long. When you harvest, replant one shallot per bunch. They will multiply in a few weeks. If you want shallots with large bulbs, those transplanted now through December usually produce the best. Bulbs can be harvested next spring and stored for seed or used for seasoning in a dried state.
In addition to winter vegetables, there are also flowering plants adapted to cool weather. The pansy is well adapted.
Pansies are one flower that is often transplanted too early in the year. November is a good time to set them out. These delicate, little plants do not bloom or even survive in hot weather. The temptation is to transplant at the first sign of autumn. Unfortunately, the weather turns hot again and the pansies suffer. Quite often they never recover.
Select a site for pansies that is well drained. A raised-bed garden works well. Even though they are shade tolerant, pansies perform best and make more blooms if they receive at least a few hours of sun each day. Try to plant blooms of one color all together. This mass planting of a single color is more attractive than a sprinkling of many colors. If you prefer several colors, plant multiple beds of a single color in each. If you mix pansies with other winter annuals in a bed, be sure to plant the pansies toward the front of the bed. Pansies are short and low growing. Tall plants such as snapdragons, hollyhock and ornamental kale will overpower the pansies and hid them if planted in front. The LSU AgCenter has conducted pansy research at the Burden Research Center in Baton Rouge. The following cultivars have performed well there: Crystal Bowl, Bingo, Majestic Giant, and Delta.
Here’s one winter garden chore. This one will make for better blooms in the spring: Amaryllis will repeat as a bedding plant year after year. Like many of our other bedding perennials, it prefers a refreshing, re-bedding every three or four years. October through November is a good time to dig and replant amaryllis. When replanting, set bulbs so that the top of the bulb can be seen at or just above the soil line. Bulbs planted too deep will not bloom. Good drainage is essential for successful amaryllis growth. Amaryllis require an extended rest period during the winter. Be sure to mulch with pine straw or leaves in case of severe freezing weather.