Lazy Man's Fall Garden

by Betty Jo Page

Each year I encourage a lazy-man’s fall garden by allowing some plants to bloom and drop their seeds in my garden. I even take the dried stalks with seed heads on them and, using the stalks like a wand, I spread the seeds around by waving the stalks where I want the seeds to grow. With this method I distribute several kinds of lettuce, spinach, dill, mustard, borage, marigolds, calendula, and parsley.

After doing this for several years I realized that certain ones came up earlier than others. Then I ran into a seed temperature preference chart (see below) that explained why I always saw spinach and lettuce first, with marigolds and borage much later. Now I realize that when I see the spinach seedlings popping up, then I can plant the other seeds in the same temperature range for quicker sprouting. The lettuce and spinach are in the low-Optimum range of 40 and 45 degrees. I should try finding ones in the higher low-Optimum ranges that will also survive fall planting.

However, planting a fall garden means getting garden beds prepared in the fall. Often there are still crops growing in most of the beds, which presents a problem for keeping things organized. I just find it easier to allow my self-planted seedlings to sprout, then moving them to where I want them.

Sometimes the lettuce actually sprouts in the fall, so I tuck some mulch around them for protection. These babies actually give me lettuce at least three weeks earlier than spring sprouted plants. Parsley and mustard can also sprout in the fall to survive the winter and grow again.

Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination
Joseph Kemble, Extension Horticulturist, Associate Professor, Horticulture, Auburn University; and Mary Beth Musgrove, former Extension Associate.
Vegetable         Min (°F)             Optimum Range (°F)      Optimum (°F)    Max (°F)
Lettuce             35                     40-80                            75                     85
Pea                  40                     40-75                            75                     85
Spinach            35                     45-75                            70                     85
Cabbage          40                    45-95                            85                   100
Carrot               40                     45-85                            80                     95
 Cauliflower        40                     45-85                            80                     100
Radish              40                     45-90                            85                     95
Onion                35                     50-95                            75                     95
Parsnip             35                     50-70                            65                     85
Beet                 40                     50-85                            85                     85
Chard, Swiss  40                     50-85                            85                     95
Parsley             40                     50-85                            75                     90
Celery               40                     60-70                            70                     85
 Turnip               40                     60-105                          85                     105
Asparagus       50                     60-85                            75                     95
Corn                 50                     60-95                            95                     105
Bean                 60                     60-85                            80                     95
Cucumber         60                     60-95                            95                     105
Bean, Lima        60                     65-85                            85                     85
Pepper             60                     65-95                            85                     95
Tomato             50                     70-95                            85                     95
Okra                 60                     70-95                            95                     105
Pumpkin           60                     70-90                            90                     100
Squash             60                     70-95                            95                     100
Watermelon       60                     70-95                            95                     105
Eggplant           60                     75-90                            85                     95
Muskmelon       60                     75-95                            90                     100

Soil temperatures should be taken by inserting a soil thermometer 3 to 4 inches deep into the soil surface and noting temperature. Soil thermometers are available from garden centers, feed and seed stores, and from many garden supply catalogs.  Soil temperatures should be consistent for several days before seeds are sown to ensure that the seeds are being exposed to optimal temperatures for germination. www.aces.edu