Your tomato plants are brown and dropping leaves but you have fresh new growth on top. Your cucumber plants are yellow and shriveled, and the winter squash is covered with fat squash bugs. The sunflowers sport a few new blooms but are ragged and wilted. Some of the new fall plants have dried up and vanished. And you have probably neglected your weeding.
It’s not your fault your tomatoes have blight, your cucumbers have bacterial wilt or something other disease and the sunflowers are just done for the year. It’s been too hot for weeding much, and no one really wins the squash bug war. It’s late summer in the South, and you won’t be seeing any beauty shots of gardens right now unless they feature some of the heat lovers that can take these brutal weeks with a smile: okra, sweet potato, peppers. Or some of the tougher fall plants, like turnips.
Now that we are getting a break from the hot spell last week it’s time to seed more of the fall crops already in the ground to fill in the gaps and start the later fall crops like spinach and radishes.
I know it feels wrong. It’s funny how 90 and not sopping wet humid feels nice after last week, but it sure doesn’t feel like fall. You may not think so, but some of the trees are dropping leaves already, and it’s not drought stress. Trees like Black Gum get started early. They aren’t alone in nature in getting ready to close up for cold weather. The days are getting visibly shorter. Hummingbirds are fattening up and a few have already started migrating south, including one that ruled the backyard feeder until he was the size of a golf ball. He filled up this morning… and I have a new war for feeder dominance going on.
All in all, it’s been a good summer. We had a very strange start to spring, but we had ample rain well spaced out with seasonable temperatures, and only the one dry and hot spell that just passed. We could still get another (or even two), of course. Just because fall is sticking its nose in the tent doesn’t mean summer has left. Your garden, however ugly, should still be ripening fruit for some time. If our fall is warm and extended, you may even get another batch of green tomatoes in time to ripen. So don’t give up and rip everything out.
But when you do pull those ragged, diseased plants, be sure they do not end up in your compost pile where they will reproduce. You aren’t going to completely get rid of our perennial garden problems, but you don’t need to help them along, either.