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It’s time to start planning for fall vegetable gardening in Charlotte

Broccoli makes an excellent fall crop from young plants set out in late summer
Broccoli makes an excellent fall crop from young plants set out in late summer Observer file photo

It’s getting closer. That wonderful, productive season for gardeners we call fall. Just thinking about it makes me feel cooler. But to really enjoy fall, we have to think about it now, and that means making plans for cool-weather vegetables.

This is the third act of the vegetable gardener’s year, and one that should not be missed even though it is still hot.

It’s been a difficult summer – I think I said that at this time last year – but thinking about and taking action on fall vegetables will help us all turn the page and look forward to what is ahead.

These great crops do very well in the Piedmont garden once planted in late summer. The roots get established in the warm soil, and declining temperatures through the long autumn encourage stem and leaf growth.

Most gardeners contemplating this work already have a garden bed filled with summer vegetables. Crops that are playing out, such as summer squash, can be taken out and the soil given over to the fall crops. Plus there are usually blank spots that can be used. If a summer crop still has a couple weeks of production, give it time, then devote the space to fall vegetables.

Think of your fall garden in three categories, start simply and expand your choices as you gain success with these:

Leafy greens: Leaf lettuce and spinach are wonderful cool-weather plants that perform very well when planted as several small sowings spaced about 10 days apart from now until late September. You must pay close attention to keep the seeds and seedlings from drying out and dying. Young plants of both leaf lettuce and spinach are usually seen in garden centers for late summer planting. With both seeds and seedlings, pay attention to the spacing recommendations on envelopes or tags, especially for spinach. A huge range of varieties is on seed racks.

Root crops: This is mainly beets and carrots, but both do well in the fall in well-prepared, deeply dug soil. Sow seeds of both now and thin the seedlings to recommended spacing. Shorter varieties of carrots tend to do better in our heavier soil.

Broccoli and Brussels sprouts: Grow these great crops from young plants sold in garden centers and try to get them in the ground before Sept. 1. They take space: Broccoli plants should be 18 inches apart; Brussels sprouts, about 20 inches. Do not let them dry out or they will suffer and become less productive.

Fertilizer, applied at the rate directed on the package, is important, especially when these crops are going into spaces occupied recently by other crops.

You have time to get this project going over the next few weeks. Even though it is the third act of the gardening year, you will find it produces some real starts.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I have seen a pretty blue flower called leadwort. It seems to be a late-summer bloomer? Is it difficult to grow?

A. No. Leadwort is a good choice for the front edge or a corner of a flower bed where it grows about 1 foot tall. Give it morning sun and afternoon shade as well as excellent soil drainage. The deep blue color is very distinctive and its best asset.