Homegrown: Plan for fall, winter harvest


After a mid-month spate of cool, drizzly days, it feels as if summer is just now getting off to a good start. But for some garden crops, summer is winding down in late July and it’s time to think about planting vegetables for fall and winter harvest.

There’s still time, however, to make a second planting of some warm-season crops that have faded away. If zucchini and other summer squashes aren’t doing well, try planting again. If you planted bush beans for an early summer harvest, there’s time to replant them for late summer.

Green beans — also called snap and string beans — are a prime candidate for home growing since they’re one of the crops regularly cited as exposed to heavy pesticides when grown commercially, though organically grown crops are considered safer. At home they can be pesticide-free.

Many gardeners prefer planting pole beans rather than low-growing bush varieties for several reasons. Although they require the effort of providing some type of support, the vining types take up less space in the garden.

Pole beans’ habit is similar to indeterminate tomatoes in that they continue to elongate throughout the warm season. This vertical growth promotes higher yields than those from bushes, as it takes advantage of increased exposure to sunlight.

Pole beans take a little longer to flower and form beans, but they continue producing until cold weather sets in. Planted now, their season would be fairly brief, but you may want to consider pole beans instead of bush varieties for next year’s summer garden.

Because several crops climb quite easily on structures — pole beans, indeterminate tomatoes, many squashes, gourds, cucumbers, peas — a smart gardening technique relies on permanent supports and annual crop rotation.

Permanent supports make garden planning easy when you know there’s a place to plant tomatoes or beans after taking out peas, then planting cucumbers or squashes there the following year.

Such crop rotation can prevent the buildup of some soil-borne pests and diseases, especially those that affect tomatoes.

Rough poles with twine, trellises, tripods and plastic or wire fencing are commonly used and, when sturdy enough, will last for years. They can be set in a long row or scattered in different beds around a garden.

Traditionally, gardeners have pruned fruit trees during winter dormancy, removing branchlets that grew the previous year in order to stimulate vigorous growth. This is especially important in training newly planted fruit trees to develop structure and for mature trees where large crops are desired.

But for most home gardeners, controlling tree size is an even more important goal. The advantages are twofold: keeping a tree low and fruit only an arm’s length away for easy harvest, and limiting the number of fruit to a practical amount.

Pruning in summer, while fruit trees are in full leaf, limits rather than encourages excessive growth. Removing the total amount of leafy area in the canopy interrupts the rate of photosynthesis, signals the tree to economize its resources and reduces growth.

Summer pruning can be done several times throughout the growing season to cut out unwanted twiggy branches and head back those that are extra long.

Once you’ve pruned enough to reach a desired tree size and shape, watch for new leafy shoots throughout summer and remove them before they grow beyond 6 inches in length.

Our drought conditions prompt us to ask whether or not we should prioritize certain plants as deserving of extra irrigation and marginalize others. Surprisingly, many will do quite well with less water than we might imagine.

All irrigation is best done early in the day, whether by drip irrigation or a hand-held hose with a shut-off nozzle. And where mulch is wearing thin, add more depth on top of drip tubing.

If you haven’t added a recent dose of fertilizer to vegetable beds and container plants yet this summer, now is a good time. If you rely on a granular, slow-release product, check the label for its effective length. Some last throughout the season.

It isn’t easy for many of us, but watching our lawns go brown and dormant doesn’t mean that we’re letting them die. A good soaking from the El Niño weather conditions likely coming our way in a few months will green them up again.

Yet the brown lawn can also be an impetus for converting a previously thirsty landscape to a far more drought-tolerant one.

Rosemary McCreary, a Sonoma County gardener, gardening teacher and author of Tabletop Gardens, writes the monthly Homegrown column for The Press Democrat. Contact her at or write to her at 427 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa 95401.