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Planting Cole Crops and Garlic

Trees with yellow and orange leaves line a green meadow
The weather is cooling, but the growing season is far from over. (Photo: D. Mott)

Happy fall, y’all, because it is time to plant! Frost will soon be on the pumpkin, if it is not already, which marks the return of cool days and chilly nights. As I write this newsletter, I am enjoying a drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains at peak fall color, and it is glorious. I must admit, I do understand why 18th and 19th century gardeners were fascinated with plants we are battling as invasives today. Spying Oriental bittersweet, Celastris orbiculatus, meandering up a tree in full fruit is a lovely sight with fall tree leaves as a background; though thinking of the number of new vines those berries will produce next spring gives me pause in my admiration.

The chilly air does not mean the ground will freeze soon, and using season extenders in the garden will capture the warmth remaining in the soil and of the sun to keep cool season plants growing. Creating a tunnel out of polypropylene non-woven fabric and securing it down on the sides and ends will hold that warmth a few weeks longer, providing an extension to the growing season. Create a tunnel with hoops placed down the length of the fabric made from metal, PVC pipe, bamboo, or even flexible branches. This low support system will keep the fabric off the plants, prevent the tunnel from collapsing during a rain, and create a pocket of warm air around the plants. For winter season extension, I like to use a polypropylene winter quilt with a weight of 1.5 oz/sq yard. Water seems to repel off the fabric, but the rain does seep down through forming a mist within the tunnel of fabric. I use a soil moisture meter with a long probe to monitor the soil from outside the tunnel. This allows me to reduce the times I open a gap in the tunnel down to the needs of watering or harvesting. Cole crops such as broccoli, cabbage, collards, and kale plus leafy greens continue growing well under the season extender.

What can grow outside the tunnel is garlic, and now is the perfect time to plant garlic cloves. In central Virginia, soft neck garlic is the easiest type to grow and it's best to rotate the location of the garlic bed around the garden.

To avoid buying infected bulbs with the “ garlic mosaic” or Potyvirus group, always purchase certified organic garlic from a reputable source. I learned the hard way and grew yellow virus-infected cloves last year. The cloves grow to form lovely bulbs, but they will not store well. Presently, I have a lot of pulverized dried garlic powder after I learned the yellow streaked foliage was a symptom of this common garlic/onion specific virus. Betsy Trice, Sustainable Agriculture Professor at Reynolds Community College, has, in a pinch, purchased her garlic bulbs at a local organic grocery store. Some garlic bulbs in mainstream grocery stores are treated with an anti-sprouting product, making the cloves unsuitable to grow on in the garden.

After planting the garlic cloves, consider grabbing your larger tools to tackle moving the shrub on the garden to-do list. Now is the perfect time to update the landscape by planting trees and shrubs. Digging a hole that mimics a cereal bowl, rather than a coffee cup, will improve the conditions for roots to grow because they grow out rather than down. Roots require oxygen, and central Virginia’s soils are rich with oxygen, until 12-18” below ground level. To prevent the root ball from settling, be sure to dig the hole only as deep as the root mass — err on the side of a little too high than too deep. Water the transplanted woody plants well during times of dryness over the course of the next year, even during the winter.

Keeping an eye toward the next season, let us not forget to plant daffodil or other spring-flowering bulbs in your beds for spring color. If you are a procrastinating gardener, aim to get them in the ground around Thanksgiving because by Christmas some are already sending out their roots. Reach for something different and give it a try. I encourage you to buy more than you think you need to fill up the planting space for a spectacular spring show. If you have deer, then plant a container full of layered bulbs, follow depth directions on the package, and place it in a protected location. If deer are your neighbors, like mine, then focus on a mixture of daffodils for blossoms throughout the spring.

Speaking of forgetting something, please move your houseplants in very soon, most cannot tolerate even a light frost. For tips on how to move your plants indoors and leave the insects outside, please visit VHG’s Facebook page for my how-to post.

This is an exciting time of year so let us not waste a day!

Happy Gardening!
- Peggy Singlemann,  Landscape Consultant and Gardening Speaker

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