Fall Vegetables

Being as hot as it is in July you might not think of fall vegetables while feeling like you are under a broiler every time you step outside. However, fall vegetables need time to grow to be able to set fruit which can be harvested in the fall and winter. Get out your gardening calendar and start writing down planting dates so that you have a bounty of vegetables to harvest once the weather does start cooling off.

If you plan on having your own pumpkins for Halloween plant them in early July. Most varieties need 100 days of growth for a good sized pumpkin. If you do not have much space choose a variety that is labeled “short vine” or you can train the vine up on a sturdy trellis or deck.

When your tomato plants start looking sad from disease or if you have determinate varieties which have finished fruiting you can use a cutting from a mature bush to propagate a new plant, which is much faster than starting plants from seed. Simply cut a healthy looking branch to about 12 inches. Remove all the lower leaves and keep the top two leaves. Using a pencil or stick make a hole about 10 inches deep. Insert the cutting so that only 1 inch is above ground. If you have rooting compound you can use it, but this is not usually necessary for tomatoes. Water deeply and keep the ground moist. Use a holly or other leafy twig as an umbrella to shade the cutting for 10 days. Keep well watered and the cutting will be rooter and growing strongly in about 2 weeks. If you prefer to start tomato plants from seed choose only cherry or grape varieties at this time of year as larger varieties may not have enough time to mature before our first frost date. Tomato seed is best started from June 15 to July 15 for a fall crop.

If your fall tomatoes are not setting fruit this may be from poor pollination due to heat and humidity. Twice a day go through your tomato plants and flick the flower clusters with your fingernail. This will help disperse the pollen.

Around July 1 you can start several vegetables from seed like green beans, English peas, cucumber and cauliflower. Be sure to get these germinated before August 15. Southern peas can also be planted until August 10.

Then starting on August 1 you can work on getting carrots, broccoli, collards, kale, turnips, beets and zucchini in the ground Carrots will grow larger if interplanted with chives, so leave space for the chives, which can be sown starting September 1. Radishes and spinach can also be started on September 1, being sure to get them in the ground before October 15.

In July and August you should also start seeing transplants available in garden centers. These will give you a jump start and possibly have you harvesting your fall crop sooner. Be sure to buy plants that are healthy with strong, white roots that are not pot bound. Also, choose garden centers or nurseries that water regularly and do not allow their transplants to dry out excessively.

Prepare the planting bed well by incorporating compost, even if you added some in spring, as composted organic material will have broken down by now. Top this off with a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch. Keep the mulch away from plant stems and do not mulch seedbeds until the plants are 2 to 3 inches high. Water beds before planting or sowing seed and keep a close eye on soil moisture if we do not get rain.

Do not fertilize at the time of planting. New seedlings and transplants will be stressed by high temperatures in July and August and need to be given a chance to put out a good root system before they start putting on fruit. A starter fertilizer can be applied at this time as it will help promote root growth.

Green onions can be planted from September 1 through March 15. Sow seed every two weeks throughout this planting season for a continuous crop. Dry bulb type onions are planted October 10 till November 10 and again starting in early January. Have these in the ground by March 15.

Rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley can also be planted in September. When buying parsley transplants you will often have more than one plant per pot. Carefully separate the plantlets and space them according to the label instructions for healthier and more robust plants. Bring some Rosemary sprigs indoors to dry for winter use. Herbs can also be chopped finely and placed in ice cube trays, covered with water and frozen.

Enjoy your fall vegetables and start planning for your spring garden by collecting seed catalogues and going over the notes you made on how different vegetables and different varieties performed in your garden over the past year.

By Jane Burke
Ref.: Month-By-Month Gardening in Georgia by Walter Reeves & Erica Glasener
Vegetable Planting Chart by UGA Cooperative Extension – Circular 963

Perennials For Beginning Gardeners In Georgia

Perennials are nature’s miracles. Look at a perennial garden in the dead of winter and what do you see? Nothing, most likely! Then, as the days get longer and the sun begins to warm the earth, little green things begin to emerge from the soil and soon there are bursts of foliage everywhere not long after complemented by blooms in all sorts of colors.

My favorite flowering perennials, in a still young garden, are Sedum “Autumn Joy”, Shasta Daisy “Crazy Daisy”, Daylilies, Gaura “Siskiyou Pink” and Joe-Pye Weed. Let me add to that Baptisia, Asters, Phlox, Bearded Irises, and well enough.

In my garden, plants have to love sun. For that reason I have only a few Hostas and Lenten Roses and other perennials that are not so thrilled about growing in full sun. Thus, my experiences and advice will benefit you if you have a sunny garden: by picking the right perennials, you will certainly be just as successful in your shade gardens. Because perennials are easy to grow! That does not mean that a perennial garden is a carefree garden; quite the contrary, in fact. Once you get started, you will forever be pinching, deadheading, watering, fertilizing, and replanting. A case in point: one Daisy I bought in 2005 is today 14 daisies, in different parts of my garden, in addition to several divisions I have given away to relatives, friends, and neighbors.

The vendor, at a community plant sale, from whom I bought that Daisy, suggested I might want to have Daylilies in my garden also. I was not interested and wondered why anyone would want to bother with a plant that blooms for a day and is then finished. I learned differently, of course, and I imagine you do not share my earlier ignorance. My first Daylilies were “Chinese Princess”, from Bloomin’ Designs in Auburn. Many others have been added since then and one of my newest favorites is ‘Chicago Knockout’.

The Sedum followed the Daisy and the Daylilies into my garden. I was not looking for Sedum, but happened to see three poorly growing, tiny ones at a “Big Box” store, somewhat apart from any display, almost as if ready to be thrown out. Not only did they revive in my garden, but also they have grown beautifully and been divided several times.

The Joe-Pye Weed came next, not because that was the order in which I had expected to make my perennials acquisition, but because I could not fine one sooner. Although ubiquitous in the wild all over North Georgia, not many nurseries carry this wonderful plant. Mine came from Land Arts in Monroe (now closed) two years after I had started gardening, and the anticipation every spring since then has been palpable. I begin looking for it in mid April, but it is often the first week in May before the first pips come out of the ground. Then, a week later they are 6 inches high – with the right temperature
(very warm) and humidity (the higher, the better), you can almost see the plant grow when you stand next to it for an hour.

Joe-Pye Weed is not crazy about all-day sun, it loves ample supplies of water and it needs space, lots of it.

When I decided to become a gardener and bought the book that still inspires me today – Georgia Gardener’s Guide, by Erica Glasener and Walter Reeves – it was the Joe-Pye Weed that became my first “must have” plant and I am delighted I found it.

I first encountered Gaura at the UGA trial gardens in Athens. I had never heard of it. It was not in Georgia Gardener’s Guide, and I had not seen it in any of the nurseries I had visited in Northeast Georgia. But when I saw it in the Athens-Clarke County Master Gardeners’ plant sale, I bought it, brought it home, moved it around a bit and finally found a good place for it between a (low) Lambs’ Ear and a (tall) Viburnum. I’ve added several more of them in the past two years, with bloom colors that vary from subtle to dramatic, and have come to like ‘Siskiyou Pink‘ best. Unlike my Daisies, Joe- Pye Weed, Sedums, and the Daylilies to a certain extent, the Gaura is content to just sit there, without a need, at least so far, for being divided.

A rule of thumb is to plant perennials in the fall, so that they have all winter to get used to their new location and will be ready to be at their best in spring. However, I have divided and planted Daisies in July heat and they have done fine. My Sedums, I divide in late winter, just after they begin popping out of the ground; and Daylilies, I have been told, can be jostled around, dug up, ignored, stomped on – whatever – and will forgive you and do well again the next year.

As a beginning gardener in Georgia, do not overlook flowering perennial herbs. My favorites are Lavender ‘Provence’, Rosemary, whose tapers of blue flowers attract lots of attention in late winter, and Thyme, which delights with white and pink carpet swatches in spring and summer. My favorite purveyor of small herb plants in late April and early May is Cheryle Maddox in Hoschton, who does not have a web site, but can be reached at 706-654-3534. She usually has dozens of perennial and annual varieties available and maintains a beautiful herb garden of her own. Her husband, Ray, grows and sells vegetables throughout the season, beginning with lettuce in April.

Atlanta’s Summer Birds: Listening, Seeing, Watching, Learning

Some of the newer or more casual members of the birding community may think of summer as the ‘slow’ time for birding. And in many ways it is. Spring migration is a done deal. If you so choose, you can hang up the binoculars, put the scope away after a good cleaning, and use your photography gear to capture more land-dwelling forms of life, such as your family, whom you may have neglected during the spring migration! So at the risk of being a spoiler for the summertime you thought you had “off”, I offer a few comments of interest about our summer avifauna in the Atlanta metro area.

Migration and Nesting
One point in this article will be the following: it is erroneous to think that “summer” is the time “after” spring migration and “before” fall migration. It is true that spring migration moves along at a pretty good clip. Birds are on the move to get to nesting grounds and get started with the breeding process. Fall migration, however is a much slower process and elongates from mid-summer to quite late in the calendar year. Yes: fall migration begins in the summer!

In the spring, migration is fast. Pardon my literary hyperbole, but don’t adjust your binoculars, or you might miss it! The glaring exception to this is the arrival dates of the first PURPLE MARTINS in Georgia of early February each year! Birders in Valdosta, Albany, and Bainbridge regularly document these first birds of “spring,” and they are then picked up in small numbers around the late part of February in the Atlanta area.

The survival drive here is for nesting territory, a place to set up shop and get down to the business of reproducing the species. Many arrivals may practice site fidelity or site tenacity. They return year after year to the same territory (but not to the same nest, excepting many raptors and water birds). Other species may be single and in search of a mate, and the largest percentage of them will be first year individuals never having nested before! So they need to find a place to set up and do this thing they know not of, but which will come as naturally to them as ingesting a caterpillar.

The real clarion call opening spring migration to me, though, is the early arrival song coming from deep in the edge underbrush, “chick-a-puh-weeeeoo-chick.” When you hear your first WHITE-EYED VIREO, you know it’s spring! And can the migrants be far behind?

The Zen of Birding: Observing Avian Life in Summer Birding
One of the most rewarding exercises in summer birding is found in just going outside and listening, watching, and noting all the bird behavior you can see. This kind of birding is in stark contrast to a typical birding outing of an organized group. In the latter, the activity is to observe birds, yes, but with the goal of seeing as many different species as possible in the allotted time. So the quest for numbers is the engine driving the birding. In the case of “listening, watching, and noting” birds, the engine is more passive. You are not trying to go to them as much as let them come to you. You are still and not
moving over, say, a 3-mile loop trail. You may be moving slowly, but you stop anytime there is anything of interest, and you watch it unfold, sometimes for 5 to 10 minutes.

How do you find a nest when they are so well camouflaged? You do not find it at all; you allow the birds to reveal it to you. To accomplish this, you have to linger, to be still, and allow the bird to inform you. You note an adult female SCARLET TANAGER in June, as I did in Grayson two summers ago. Is this a late migrant? No, it’s almost too late. But they’re quite uncommon nesters in Gwinnett County, perhaps becoming more common. Why is it moving about in the trees across and back over the same area repeatedly? Wait. She just grabbed a caterpillar. But she’s not consuming it. She’s just moving
from twig to twig, caterpillar dangling. That’s nesting behavior! As she rose to the canopy level, where the nest was, she would disappear into a covering of leaves, then re-emerge, caterpillar removed from her mouth. I never found the nest per se that day, but by being still and watching the birds at work, I learned a lot, and let them show me the area of the nest, without seeing the nest itself. Time elapsed: about 20 minutes. I only saw one bird, but after seeing it I went further – I watched the bird. I allowed it to tell me about its mission, its task at hand. I left feeling informed and curiously refreshed.

At an even more mundane level, consider the BLUE JAY – raucous call, messy around feeders, an avian bully of sorts, chasing smaller species off the platform and slinging seeds right and left. In their defense, however, let me say that they are the first bird in a mixed flock to signal a cacophonous scream as an alarm call if a raptor is seen gliding into the wooded area. But this one day I looked up and saw a jay in my back yard that was perched, still, and quiet. Had I just entered an alternate universe? No, there’s my wife, and there are all my dogs, acting normally. So what’s with this jay? I decided to switch into my mindfulness mode, and so having seen him, I went further and just watched

him. I slowly went into a seated position on a bench (no, I did not fold my legs into a half-lotus). The jay seemed to be watching me back, but I anthropomorphize too much. Just watch him, Joel. After a few minutes, I decided I was too close, almost in trance with this individual. So quietly I rose and took a few steps back, like in the video when the cameral zooms out to give the viewer a wider field of view. That was the right thing to do, for only then did I notice at about the same level as the quiet jay, and on a parallel branch in the next tree, a mother on nest! The nest was built right into the crotch of the branch with the tree, covering the branch collar. Two quiet blue jays, following their genes to do what all birds do. By being still, I learned some jay behavior that gave me a different perspective on this species me, these types of  observations are the true core of birding, and are the way we push through the threshold of current knowledge to learn new information about the avian world. Yes, I once was a compulsive counter, a lister, and a bird chaser. I will still chase a state life bird. I drove to Valdosta last spring to see the first VIRGINIA WARBLER in Georgia, and only the second east of the Mississippi. But the real challenge is to be still and listen, watch, and observe. I think that summer is well adapted
to this kind of birding, and I strongly invite the reader to do more of this. It will also keep you focused, slow your heart rate, and remind you whence you came to emerge as a man or woman on this earth.

Post-Breeding Dispersal
If one throws in the phenomenon known as post-breeding dispersal, it is possible to make a case that new post-breeding birds start appearing in June, though it is not migration in the strict sense. After a successful breeding operation, both the fledged nestlings and the parents hang out in the territory of the nest for a few days up to a couple of weeks. Though the nest itself is abandoned as the young fledge, about one surviving nestling per day, it makes sense for the family to remain in the area of the nest for several days. The parents are feeding the young, and teaching them the art of foraging (which
is also genetically instilled in the juvenile brain).

But then they began to wander. They move about alone, or in pairs or triads, avian nomads gradually ending up far away from the nesting territory. So in the metro area one may observe birds in June and July that are usually not found as nesting birds in the area. Characteristic of this would be the appearance in mid- to late June of some juvenile and adult warblers who don’t nest any further south than Dawson County, and in large numbers only in the north Georgia mountains. This is all part of the exciting challenge of locating birds in this phase of post-breeding dispersal.

Migratory Restlessness: Fall Migration in the Summer
Then, a few days to a few weeks later, the shortening days following the summer solstice slowly trigger an urge these marvelously tuned flying machines cannot resist. The Germans call it zugunruhe, “migratory restlessness.” This endogenous response is hard-wired so that they can move to where the days are still long in order to seek and find sufficient food. The irresistible urge comes fairly soon after post-breeding dispersal. It begins with only a few species first, and then follows with wave after wave of various species in mixed flocks through the end of October.

One of the first evidences of true early fall migration are our RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS. A frequent complaint of back-yard birders from April on is, “Where are all the hummingbirds? I’ve got two feeders out and have only seen a couple of hummers all spring!” Think about it. What are Ruby-throats doing at this time? They are broken off into well-defended territories, and are too busy with their brief nesting window to be bouncing about exploring for your feeders. Now if there’s a nesting pair whose territory overlaps your yard, then you’ll see them daily, as they forage and find your feeders (or know their location from previous years). Then suddenly, where there were only a small number of individuals at a given feeder daily, up to a dozen or so adult males, with their iridescent wine red gorgets, appear as early as the first flocks around July 1. Why so many males? Where are the females and juveniles? The males of this species migrate first after the initial days following the fledging of the brood. The adult females are left with the juveniles, and they gradually disperse to await the urge to migrate. (Permission is granted the female readers at this point to utter a grunt of disgust, with the
word “Men!” expelled in a short burst.)

The beautiful but seriously declining CERULEAN WARBLER is another early migrant associated in this area with an early to mid-August wave leveling off into September. One summer I had 3 in my back yard on August 15. After this time, reports filter in of other early warbler species: BLACKTHROATED GREEN WARBLER, NORTHERN PARULA WARBLER, BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART, WORM-EATING WARBLER, and so on.

One of the best “migrant traps’ in the Southeastern U.S. is located right here in the Atlanta area, and that is Kennesaw Mountain. Going there all through the month of August is sure to reward the observer with up to a dozen species of warbler on any given day, but especially after a southerly to southeasterly front has moved through. These fronts enable nighttime migrants to get a relatively effortless trip, and Kennesaw Mountain appears to them as a forested island of food
sources amid the alien and foreboding concrete jungle surrounding it.

So indeed, “fall” migration begins in the summer! There is so much to “see”, and with the specific meaning I’ve attached to this next verb, there is so much to “watch” if only you take some time to do so. Summer birding rocks!

A Bit of Dirt – Winter 2010

The full pdf copy of this edition is available here.


I’m writing this, as we are just ending spring and a very busy time with volunteer service.

We have just finished a successful Plant Sale making approximately $4000.00. I want to thank everyone involved in the effort.

The Garden Tour will have been completed by the time you read this. I know it will be successful as well. Everyone gets ideas for our gardens from other Master Gardeners homes.

We also will have gotten together at our June picnic at McDaniel Farm to celebrate these successes. I know the plant swap will have been exciting as we exchange plants at the picnic.

July, August and September are usually slower months for us, but I would encourage you to keep working at ongoing projects, such as Bethesda Senior Center, McDaniel Farm Park, Vines Gardens, and answering the phone at the Master Gardener’s Desk at the Extension office.

We have reached the halfway point in our year, and we will be looking for people to serve on the MG board. Please contact Anne Heath, annelheath@yahoo.com, if you are interested in helping out with our activities.

Also, many of the Farmer’s Markets will have Master Gardeners working at them, so be sure to say hello.

Remember that the Gwinnett County Master Gardeners are committed to serve our community through outreach projects that promote the love of gardening, projects, preserving our environment, and encourage the sharing of knowledge. These actions are demonstrated by the gift of thousands of your volunteer hours that are recorded by the UGA Extension office.

Have a great summer.

Other articles in this issue:
Atlanta’s Summer Birds: Listening, Seeing, Watching, Learning – By Joel Hitt
Perennials For Beginning Gardeners In Georgia – By Lya Sorano
Fall Vegetables – By Jane Burke