Late-season container gardening provides fresh salad greens till frost (or longer!)
Planting new crops now may seem a bit late to the party but if you choose some hardy lettuces and other greens, you'll have a small fresh crop to add to your salads, soups and smoothies for a bit longer.
And sowing seeds directly into your garden soil won't do. As the days cool off, your garden soil will, too. Instead, try sowing seeds into a cold frame or a container.
A cold frame is essentially just a bottomless box or frame set over soil that protects plants from colder weather. It creates a microclimate perfect for quick-germinating seeds like certain lettuces and other greens.
Or pick a container that you can move to a protected area and the sunniest places in your yard. When it gets really cold, you can also move it indoors.
If you're going to plant into the cold frame, go ahead and sow the seeds into the soil. Otherwise, once you've chosen your container, fill it with potting soil and then look for greens that prefer cooler temperatures. Wild and rustic varieties of arugula work best, like Sylvetta and Surrey.
These varieties are more adapted to colder temperatures and conditions and they'll grow quickly. Next, seek out some leaf lettuces, like Black Seeded Simpson.
Add in a small crop of things that you normally wouldn't consider planting or harvesting this late in the growing season here, like peas and radishes.
Peas wouldn't have time, warmth or sunlight enough to mature fully but the seeds will germinate quickly and you can eat the shoots! And you could do the same thing with radish and beet greens. The Bull's Blood variety of beet greens is a good one to try.
And whether you're planting your late-season crops in a cold frame or container, make sure your seedlings and greens are getting the most sun possible and staying warm and cozy.
Cover up the plants in the container or the cold frame, especially at night and when the temperatures dip down into the 40s.
And if you planted in a container and it's possible, bring it inside when the temperatures fall.
Q: I have a serviceberry tree and it seems finicky, while other plants in the slope garden do fine. The leaves on the serviceberry start turning yellow throughout the season but the birds love it through all seasons. Can you help? - Velma, in Richmond
A: Serviceberry trees are native to our area and tend to be a pretty carefree tree.
If you do see the leaves yellowing and dropping off early, that means the plant is stressed. It could be stressed from watering issues, either too much or too little. The serviceberry tree might also have problems from insects or disease.
From Velma's note, it sounds like the serviceberry tree is growing in an area where the other plants nearby are growing well. Based on that, you could rule out a watering issue.
In that case, it could be the soil. Serviceberry trees don't really like heavy clay soil. And if that's where the tree is, that might be part of the issue.
Come spring, do a little pruning to rejuvenate it, then add organic fertilizer, and mulch it really well with compost. Hopefully that will help conserve the moisture and give the roots a new area to start growing in.
Q: We had a cement patio poured the summer. Being novice gardeners, we had the contractor put the dugout subsoil on a top layer of cardboard that we placed when we were creating a rock garden. And now we understand that that subsoil might not be good for the garden. What's the best way to amend that soil? - Leanne, in Ludlow
A: If you can excavate out as much of that subsoil between the rocks, that will be the best thing. Subsoil has no organic material and tends to be wet, or heavy clay.
If you can, remove some of that soil and replace it with topsoil and compost mix. If removing it isn't feasible, you're going to have to build up on top of it.
Luckily, most rock garden plants are shallow rooted; their root systems wouldn't require you to dig down super deep. If you went six inches or so, it might be enough soil for the rock garden plants to get established.
And once they get established, plants are miraculous. They start creating the right environment for themselves. The plants will do the work to build up that soil and get adapted to that location.
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