The singular term "planting season" is a bit of a misnomer. Based on where you are, there may be several planting seasons rather than merely springtime. In mild climates where it freezes rarely or not at all, you can plant year-round. Northern gardeners may feel a little planting envy reading this, but gardeners around the country in all plant hardiness zones can learn something from these rhythms of planting.
Here are seven tips for second-season crop planting to help you increase your yields and extend your growing season.
1. Plant for Succession
The idea behind this technique is to use every square foot of your growing space. You do this by replacing plants as soon as they lose productive capacity. Certain crops such as cucumbers, lettuce, peas, and spinach go gangbusters for a couple of months and then peter out. The minute greens show signs of bolting or vines start yellowing, pull them out and toss them in the compost. Toss a little compost on top of the now-bare spot, mix it in to aerate the soil, and press some new seeds or seedlings in their place.
2. Seed at Double Depth
When planting seeds in the summer, always plant at twice the depth you would in spring, to help them germinate. The soil needs to be moist. In the summer the surface tends to dry out much faster than in spring.
3. Know the Limits
Cool-weather crops will refuse to germinate if soil temperatures are higher than 80 degrees. So don't bother planting kale or kohlrabi in July unless you are happy to waste seeds. But you can get amazing second crops of peas and beans in warmer months, so don't be afraid to experiment.
4. Baby your Babies
Planting in summer requires a more tender touch than spring planting. The sun is stronger, so it dries out the soil faster. Plants started indoors are going to need a little hardening off time to adjust to the heat and sun. Give them a couple of days under a tree in dappled sun before moving them into the bed. Plant as early as possible in the morning and water deeply.
5. Throw Some Shade
If you're transplanting into a bed where mature plants are casting shade, the seedlings will enjoy the cool under-canopy space until you remove the old plants. Once the seedling mature, you can let the new guys receive full light. But if you're planting seeds or seedlings in the peak heat of summer, you need to provide some shading with a shade cloth until the new crops are established. They can usually take the full force of the heat once they're more than 6 inches tall and have a few sets of leaves.
6. Choose Varieties Wisely
Choose early-maturing vegetables to ensure a successful harvest. If you're planting a late-season crop of beans, go for a bush variety instead of a climber — they mature more quickly. If you plant tomatoes in the spring, you'll know when they're done producing. It's then time to pull them up without a second thought, making room for the second season plantings.
7. Don't Wait
Crops planted in summer tend to need more time to mature than spring-planted crops. Add 14 days to the estimated days to maturity and factor in your first frost date to ensure that your second season crops stand a chance.
Midsummer is a perfect time to plant herbs such as basil, chives, dill, fennel, marjoram, and oregano. As summer wanes, you can begin to sow carrots, beets, Swiss chard, Asian greens, peas, and more. If you start seeds indoors, you can plant broccoli, spinach, and cauliflower in the latter end of summer as well.
If you've never tried second-season cropping, now is a great time to start. Good luck and may your garden grow far beyond the limits of what you once thought possible.
Raymond Poole is an organic cooking and gardening fanatic. He spends his free time trialing and testing different growing techniques to make his beloved fruit and vegetable garden to flourish to full flavor.