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Late summer is a great time to start cool-season vegetables. Insect pests have dwindled and weeds have finished the worst of their scramble for territory.

Easy-to-grow green, leafy annuals thrive best as late-season crops. Annuals establish quickly and live out their entire life cycles in one season, and many of them prefer early-late fall conditions.

Plants in the brassica and lettuce families are excellent candidates for beginners. Here are some growing tips and favorite plantings for end-of-summer gardeners:

Site selection

Pick a spot that gets at least five hours of morning sun. Afternoon summer sun stresses leafy greens, so if you don’t have many options for planting locations, consider shading your beds.

Soil preparation

Leafy vegetables prefer rich, loamy soil. Prepare your garden beds by incorporating aged compost into your soil. If you raised summer crops in your beds, apply a general purpose fertilizer to stimulate early growth.

Most brassicas and lettuce varieties do well in containers, provided the soil is never allowed to dry out, and the containers aren’t allowed to overheat. Established brassicas tolerate light frosts, but should be planted about four or five weeks before your first frost date. Lettuces are more delicate, so be sure to plan their sowing so you can harvest them before your region’s first expected frost.

Be sure to add a general-purpose fertilizer to your soil when your plants are about three weeks into production.

Watering tips

Water leafy green vegetables at soil level, avoiding excessive moisture on the leaves themselves. Try using drip emitters or soaker hoses along your rows or in your containers, and a nice cover of mulch to help prevent evaporation and weeds.

Fall Favorites

Reap the most rewards from your late season garden with flavorful and nutrient-dense brassicas, which are best served sauteed, steamed or as an ingredient in casseroles. For salads and sandwich fixings, select a few lettuce varieties.

  • Collards are a southern favorite when cooked like spinach. For added flavor, saute collards in your favorite broth with bits of bacon and shredded garlic. Space plants 18″ x 30″ (45cm x 75cm) apart. Collards mature in 60-80 days.
  • Kale is a close cousin of collards, with a shorter growing period (50-65 days). Kale has become popular due to its flexibility in the kitchen and high nutrient content. Recipes abound for sauteed kale, kale soups, and even oven-baked kale chips. Thin or plant seedlings at 12″-15″ (30-38cm) intervals.
  • Pak Choi is a favorite for Asian stir-fries, but don’t rule out this tender, mild vegetable as a side dish for your favorite grilled meat. Another rapid grower, pak choi matures in 45-60 days. Space your seedlings 15″-18″ (38-46cm) apart.
  • Green and Red Leaf Lettuce grow in an attractive, compact, round rosettes. Space plants 8″-12″ (20-30cm) apart, and in 40-80 days you can harvest the entire plant, or if you’re impatient, peel off leaves as the plant matures for sandwiches and salads. Alternate plantings of green and red lettuce for a visually stunning garden display.

Pests

With careful watering, fertilization and soil preparation, your leafy greens should avoid common vegetable diseases. Brassicas are more resilient than lettuces to mildew and leaf fungus, but both are susceptible to insect pests.

You’ll want to check to make sure your plants are getting sufficient water each day, so while you’re visiting your garden and admiring the various textures and colors of each of the above leafy vegetables, check among the leaves for caterpillars, beetles, and slugs.

Encore!

Cool season crops are a pleasure to grow and enjoy, whether you’re a veteran green thumb or only just dipping your toes into the water. Put a delicious grand finale to your growing season with these nutritious leafy greens!

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