Local garden writers write about it. Local garden speakers talk about it. Local nurseries promote it. Fall is truly the beginning of the garden season on the Gulf Coast. So why do we still think of spring as the beginning of the garden year?
If we could just turn our calendars upside down, or maybe inside out, we would be better off. National publications and syndicated gardening shows largely focus on zones where winter really does put the garden to sleep, so it’s perfectly understandable that they see spring as the wakening from a long winter’s nap. But our winters offer average temperatures and growing conditions that are milder than some spring conditions up north.
If we start our garden year in the spring, things hardly have time to get a foothold before the wilting heat and humidity of summer are upon us. We would be much better off with the mindset that we start our gardening year in the fall, garden on pleasant days throughout the winter, use spring gardening to prepare the gardens for the summer, and take as much of the summer as we can off!
We can think of September as our “get ready” month, of October as the start of the season, and then look to April and May as our wind down months – months where we get the garden ready to “coast” through the summer with as little attention from us as possible. It’s HOT out there! Our gardens would be better for it, and we would be more comfortable, too.
Trees and shrubs would definitely prefer this calendar. They need time for their roots to become established so they can take the stress of summer. The cooler, moister months of fall, winter, and spring give them a long time to root out and settle in. Roses love this as do many other woody plants. They have 6 – 7 months of moderate weather if we plant them now. The same tree planted in March has barely 3 months before it has to deal with the stress that summer brings. We end up watering more to keep them going and get them through.
Many perennials and herbs fare much better if they are planted in the fall. We all know how pleasant a fall vegetable garden is. There are so many veggies we can plant throughout fall and well into winter – lettuces, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and all kinds of greens and root crops.
Then there are the annuals. Yes, annuals. There is a long list of annuals that are traditionally grown in the spring in much of the country that are perfectly happy growing throughout the winter here in our gardens. Delphiniums, cyclamen, English daisies, alyssum, dianthus, foxgloves, larkspurs, hollyhocks, poppies, snapdragons, sweet peas, calendula, pansies, petunias, nasturtiums, primrose and many more. We can even grow some bulbs as annuals. Bulbs such as tulips and hyacinths that are considered early spring bulbs in much of the country. Some of these will be available as fall color at the nursery. Many of these annuals can be grown from seed. Direct sow the seed from late October into early January.
It’s a good time to top dress beds with compost and mulch or to prepare new beds. Since we have a long window of time, you can prepare a bed and actually have the luxury of allowing it to settle in and balance out several weeks before planting. Chores such as putting in rock borders, cleaning up the deck, or painting the patio furniture are more pleasant now.
Let’s just do it! Let’s just turn it all around and call this the start of it all. It might need a name. If we are turning fall into our spring, is it a Fling??