August and September are essential months to fall gardening in Louisiana. However, some longer-growing crops like tomatoes, pumpkins, peas and okra should be planted a month or two earlier.
Planting gets to be more critical with the fall garden because we have more of an end point with the frost. Plants set out late or started too late will grow, but may not provide enough yield to make the effort worthwhile, examples being bell peppers, eggplants and tomatoes. These crops can easily take 2 to 2 1/2 months from transplanting to producing the first fruit, and then you would want to have a month or more of production to make it worthwhile. All the time, the fall is getting shorter in day length and cooler in temperatures. That's really tough on "warm-loving," full-sun plants like the three just mentioned.
Early fall in Louisiana can be hot and dry. Both these conditions can lead to a failure of flowers to set fruit. We can solve one of these limitations by paying more attention to our fall soil moisture, transplanting a little deeper and using organic mulch to conserve that moisture and shade the soil.
Another challenge in the fall garden is insects. By then, several generations of this year's infestation have led to tremendous insect pressure. Some crops like sweet corn are not recommended for fall because of serious caterpillar pressure in the late season. Thus, this season is especially challenging for organic and non-pesticide gardeners who have fewer control opportunities.
Soil fertility should be considered. It's common to practice crop rotation by replacing one crop with a different type to help suppress common soil pests. If a heavy feeder is followed by a light feeder like peas or beans, there may well be residual fertility, which could result in a bushy plant with little or no fruit. On the other hand, if a heavy feeder follows a light feeding crop, you will definitely need to apply a complete fertilizer before planting.
Since timing is so important with the fall crop, choose crops that will produce well within this short time. Look for fast-maturing and determinant or bush-type cultivars to ensure a good yield before frost.
If planting in early July, you may still set out well-developed, early-maturing transplants of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants if you are in the southern part of Louisiana. Our northern parishes will be 2-3 weeks shorter in the fall growing season because frost comes earlier there. Fall crop choices in northern parishes would be better limited to shorter-season varieties of warm-season vegetables and to cool-season crops.
Crops to seed in August include turnips, sweet corn, summer squash, southern peas, mustard, Irish potatoes, cucumber, collards, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, kale, kohlrabi, bush snap beans and bush butter beans.
Cauliflower and green shallots can be transplanted in August. North Louisiana can seed head lettuce and transplant broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
September starts your root crops, spinach and leafy crops, parsley, broccoli, cilantro and onion seed. You can also now set out transplants of cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
Final fall plantings for October can seed root crops, kale, kohlrabi, greens and loose-head lettuce. Garlic and shallots go out now as well.
The leafy crops excel in the fall. Some of the more popular leafy crops are Swiss chard, collards, spinach, mustard, turnip greens and lettuce. Endive, escarole, kale, arugula and the greens of mesclun mix also do very well during the cooler months in Louisiana. Other leafy crops of great value are cabbage and Chinese cabbage.
Several of these crops can tolerate a hot start, so crops like cabbage, collards and Swiss chard can be seeded in summer through September. Swiss chard is considered a year-round vegetable. Others like Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, mustard and turnips should be seeded August through early October for best success.
With most Louisiana fall seasons, there is a breaking point about mid-September. This is when we start to see some northern fronts move "cooler" nights in. This is when crops like lettuce and endive groups may first be seeded. Continue to seed these until early October.
Head lettuce is a real challenge in Louisiana. You can't start it too early, or the heat develops a very poor product. Seed may be started directly in the rows since the soil is warm, but you must make a special effort on your irrigation since lettuce seedlings are very delicate. Night watering can be helpful for early fall lettuce needs. Lettuce comes in several forms. Crisphead is an iceberg type. Butterheads are known as the bibb or Boston lettuces. Cos or romaine types are tall and cylindrical. Loose-leaf lettuce is an open-headed group that may have green- or red-colored leaves that may be ruffled. The looser the head type, the easier it is to grow.
Kale in the vegetable garden is the eating kind, not the flowering kale. It and collards tolerate quite a bit of frost and develop a wonderful flavor and sweetness in cool weather.
In Louisiana, there is always plenty of opportunity for good table fare.