Planting cool season vegetables for the fall harvest is one of the most rewarding — and possibly most misunderstood — gardening activities.
It is a challenge to teach customers, especially beginning gardeners, that the first step in successful vegetable gardening starts with taking advantage of proper planting dates. Planting cool season vegetables, such as lettuce and broccoli, in early spring simply makes sense — it’s an easy sell. But planting cool season vegetables in the heat of summer? That doesn’t sound quite right and is a tougher sell. But if you make the effort at your independent garden center, you can increase sales of a variety of different plants and products, while at the same time helping your customers expand their enjoyment of one of the most popular and rapidly growing types of gardening.
This is a teaching moment
Many IGC employees and managers serve as gardening teachers, and this is a chance to refine your craft and earn the endless gratitude and loyalty of your customers — and increase sales.
Planting cool season vegetables for fall harvest takes ultimate advantage of the seasons. Even though they need to be planted in warmer weather, the vegetables mature as the days get shorter instead of longer. This allows the vegetables to ripen perfectly, seldom bolting or becoming bitter-tasting, which can often happen in spring.
There can also be fewer pests in fall. Many gardeners don’t realize that cool season vegetables can take some frost, so their harvest season extends beyond that of warm season crops like tomatoes and peppers. There is no doubt that it is more challenging to get cool season plants established in warm weather. Planting at exactly the right time is very important, but the results are dramatic, and care is much easier as the weather cools. This is where your teaching and sales opportunities lie.
The planting possibilities
Most cool season vegetables can be planted in summer for fall harvest. Some, like broccoli, which will bear tight side shoots that can be harvested after the main head has been cut, actually grow better in fall. Other vegetables to consider include beets, carrots, cauliflower, chard, collards, kale, kohlrabi, onions, peas, radishes and spinach.
It’s all about timing
Planting at the right time is the key to a bountiful fall vegetable harvest. For most areas, that’s mid-to-late summer. In mild winter areas, it can extend into fall and beyond. In short season areas, cool season vegetables can be planted almost all season long. The important thing to remember is that exact timing is very important. Your local cooperative extension is the best source for ideal planting dates (and recommended varieties). Make copies of local planting calendars available to customers. Better yet, have a copy blown up to poster size and hang it near where you are selling vegetables. University recommendations will help legitimize what seem to be odd planting times.
Promoting planting for the fall harvest will take some careful planning on your part, as well. Many cool season vegetables are easy to sow directly from seed, but as the season moves along, you’ll also want to have transplants, which will take some timely planting or ordering from suppliers. If there is one thing that limits gardeners from a successful fall harvest, it’s the lack of availability of transplants at the proper time.
Planting in warm weather
Starting seeds or transplants in warm weather can be difficult, primarily because plants can dry out so quickly. This presents an opportunity to educate customers on proper planting, mulching, watering and other techniques through seminars, displays and demonstrations. It can also promote sales of a variety of related products, including drip irrigation systems, automated controllers, mulches, fertilizers, soil amendments, tools and pest control products.
And don’t forget the fun
It’s midsummer. The kids are out of school. It’s the perfect time to focus on gardening as a family endeavor. Get the kids involved now, and you’ll create new, life-long customers, provide learning experiences and help parents keep their children busy outdoors — and for that they will be grateful. It’s a win-win for everyone because it also helps sales of children’s gardening equipment, from gloves to small tools to fun vegetable varieties like unusually colored carrots and radishes.
And remember all the other aspects of vegetable gardening that make it so rewarding. Sell the ornamental edibles like colorful lettuces, kales and chard. Many cool season annuals, which blend so beautifully with vegetables, can also be planted at the same time. Stock up on pansies, violas, stock and similar varieties and use them in your vegetable displays. Then, throw in some colorful herbs like purple sage, parsley and lemon thyme to help keep things exciting in the kitchen.
Last but not least, put the spotlight on growing fall vegetables in containers. There are endless possibilities and they open the door to sales of all kinds of pots and potting soils.