News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Late summer means it’s time to plant winter root crops

Linn County Master Gardener

OSU Linn County Master Gardener.

Garden conversations during the heat of August go three directions:

1. “I started to plant a garden this year, but there were too many weeds and I didn’t get it done.” 

2. “I started a garden but some of it died. I have some tomatoes in little pots that are still alive, and I should get them in the ground.” 

3. “My garden is getting overgrown and I can’t keep up with the squash or green beans!” 

Well, it’s too late to save the tomatoes because they need time to establish after transplanting, before the frosts finish them off. 

If the garden is overgrown, prune some of it back and water it well. The plants will then sprout new growth to produce another crop, extending the season when the unpruned section slows down. 

It is not too late to plant a garden that will continue into winter, but it will not include tomatoes or peppers.

If the garden site has not been prepared yet, start by killing the weeds. Covering the area with clear plastic can “solarize” the soil when the sun intensifies through it. Black plastic or cardboard can also work, but rely more on a slow death of blocking the light. There may not be time to wait for the slow death. 

Some chemicals are designed to kill and allow replanting your garden within days, but chemicals may have other harmful effects on people, microorganisms, and the earth if not used according to instructions. 

It might be easier to cover the area with cardboard and top it with 4 to 6 inches of compost mix from the local landscape supplier if you want to plant now. 

Raised beds, with or without structural sides, provide better drainage when the rains return, too.

Some vegetables that can be planted now for fall and winter harvest include root crops, leafy greens, the cabbage and broccoli family, onions of all types, and all kinds of “cool season” crops. 

Spinach, chard, leaf lettuce, onions, leeks, chives, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower need to be started soon to be mature enough for harvest through late winter and earliest spring. It is best to start them in small pots or trays that can be watered and nurtured, protected from the sun, then transplanted out when they are about 3 inches tall. Transplants have a better survival rate, especially if put in the ground in the cool of evening and given daily doses of cold water until they are established. 

Varieties with shorter maturity times are more successful into fall – add two to four weeks of time to the days on the package to compensate for weather conditions in autumn. 

Leafy greens may freeze this winter, but will recover (just like grass) and can be harvested when they thaw in the afternoons.

Root crops do not transplant well without distorting the roots, so they are best sown directly into their beds. Daily cold-water sprinkling and temporarily covering the planting area with some kind of shade will help keep the little sprouts from cooking when the sun heats the soil. Good drainage will keep the roots from rotting when the rains resume. Being buried protects the crops from winter frosts. 

Cold weather actually improves root flavors because they produce “antifreeze” sugars. Radishes are a quick crop that can be planted every three weeks. Beets, carrots, rutabaga, kohlrabi, turnips and onions can be planted now for harvest through the winter. Even the tops can be cut and cooked in winter soups.  

Onions seeds will do better than sets as seeds require a long growth time for spring harvest. Onion sets are more prone to flower early if planted in fall. Garlic cloves can be planted from October into December for harvest next year.

What not to plant now? 

It’s too late for heat-loving plants to have time for flower and fruit production, even if the summer lingers. That includes cucumbers, melons, winter squash as well as tomatoes, peppers and corn. 

Wait until the rain starts to plant shrubs and trees that need lots of water to establish – the soil is too dry to build root systems now. 

Fall is a good time to establish new lawns, but consider overseeding an evergreen no-mow broadleaf area when rain reappears. 

If nothing else gets planted, we can always harvest dandelion greens – they are less bitter when they are not blooming in winter.

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