The summer growing season is just hitting its stride, but industrious growers know that to extend the harvest, midsummer is also a time for planting.
“Late season planting is sometimes more successful than in spring because the soil is so warm that things germinate really fast,” said Melissa Higgins, wholesale manager at Sprague’s Nursery in Bangor.
Fall planting comes with its challenges, though. Kate Garland, horticultural specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said that the midsummer heat could also create conditions that are too warm for germination. The soil is likely more dry at this point in the season as well. Managing the heat and moisture in the middle of the summer can be more challenging than when you do so in the spring.
“Early season, we have Mother Nature helping us keep soil temperatures more moderate,” Garland said. “Midsummer, it’s a little more challenging to manage those environmental factors. Gardeners need to be more mindful this time of year.”
Another issue with midseason planting is pests. Garland said to watch out for pests like leaf miner, flea beetles, cucumber beetles and imported cabbage worm.
“They’re really here at this point of the season,” Garland said. “In the spring, a lot of the typical pests have not emerged [because it hasn’t] reached that temperature threshold to emerge from the soil depending on their life cycle. If they’re an insect that doesn’t typically overwinter here, it hasn’t migrated its way north yet in the spring.”
Still, though, fall planting is worth the effort, both for the added produce but also to extend the time you can enjoy gardening this year.
“As you harvest some of your crops you planted in the spring, sometimes you find yourself with some extra bare spots,” Higgins said. “You can easily re-plant to continue to have productive crops for [a] late season.”
What you can plant in the midsummer for fall harvest
Typically, Higgins said, you are planting short term crops for late season planting. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has a guide for planting that includes late season planting for fall harvest.
Crops that can be directly sown from seeds into your garden beds include lettuce, kale, bok choy, swiss chard, beets, carrots, turnips and radishes. Garland said we are “on the cusp” of being able to plant peas and beans, though it might be a little too late.
“If you happen to have the seed and you want to wing it, we don’t have a crystal ball to know how warm the fall is going to be and how long it’s going to extend,” Garland said. “You could try some season extension strategies, too. [For] peas, the nice thing is that you can still eat the pea shoots. You’re not really out much if you sow those and they don’t come to fruition.”
Beans can also be planted right now, but Garland said they might be more challenging because they are not a cold-tolerant crop and may perish come fall before you have the chance to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
“I would soak them the night before sowing them,” Garland said. “That will give them a jumpstart.”
Garland said when choosing varieties for a midsummer planting, make sure you are reading the seed packets to get plants with the shortest growing seasons or days to harvest.
“There are some varieties that have significantly fewer days to harvest than others. If you’re looking at seed packets, I would definitely factor that in.”
Higgins said that when buying seeds in the springtime, she always grabs a few extras to have on hand for late summer planting as many garden centers run out of seeds, but some garden centers still have seeds available for purchase. You can also contact friends and fellow gardeners for a seed swap or exchange.
There are crops that you should transplant from seedlings at this point as well, such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
“This is surprisingly the ideal time to transplant those crops,” Garland said. “The flavor of those is typically better in the fall versus those crops you plant in the spring.”
If you have not yet started seeds indoors, you could purchase seedlings from a local nursery. Garland said that if your local nursery has already closed (or stopped selling seedlings) for the season, you can ask your local farmer at the farmers market if they have extra seedlings to sell.
“Email them before the farmers market to ask if they have them available,” Garland said. “Most farmers wouldn’t bring transplants this time of year, [but they] might be growing them for the field and have extras to sell.”
Preparing for a midsummer planting for fall harvest
Preparing your garden bed for a fall planting is not all that different than preparing your garden bed for a spring planting.
“I can’t think of any major differences,” Garland said. “ It’s always good to mulch direct sown crops, but that applies in the spring, too.”
Garland said that before you plant your midseason crops, add a sprinkle of compost to your beds.
“Don’t overdo it,” she emphasized. “Our compost expert always says think of it like putting pepper on your mashed potatoes. A lot of gardeners put that two inches on once a year, but it’s a little bit better and easier for the microorganisms to get a little bit of that organic matter at various times.”
Some techniques for reducing weeds may not be appropriate for midseason planting — for example, covering plots with black plastic tarp to fry a flush of weeds.
“The primary reason I would put black plastic over things in the spring is because [for] a lot of crops, you need to wait a while to plant anyway,” Garland said. “In that period, weeds can take over. Right now, you can just pull whatever you have up [and your new crops] can go right in.”
However, Garland said you are going to want to have pest protection methods like row covers and hoop houses handy because of the increased pest problems that come with midseason planting.
“Anything I would plant right now, I would cover,” Garland said.
When sowing midseason seeds, you also want to make sure the seeds are a little further down in the soil in order to take advantage of higher moisture levels further down in the soil profile. Be mindful of watering as well.
“The biggest issue typically, as seeds are germinating seeds are young, not a well developed root system, need to provide that water at least an inch of water a week,” Garland said. “In the fall, hopefully the weather patterns will kick back in and we’ll get reliable moisture.”