Moving On: Fall Gardening

Sep 4, 2017

Summer’s heat has returned with a vengeance, with 100+ temperatures forecast for the entire week. It got to 103℉ yesterday, and this morning started even warmer than yesterday.

Be sure to water your garden deeply so its root systems have their liquid to help them survive!

Even before this onslaught, the garden has definitely been telling me to move on. I picked the last cucumbers, beans, squash and ate the last tomato that I’d salvaged from the last Celebrity before replanting 4 new ones during that mild spell a couple of weeks ago.

I’m now going to sow my cool-season varieties.


Top-heavy tomatoes have a couple of blossoms that set fruit before this onslaught of heat, and they should set new blossoms again about two weeks after air temperatures return to lower than 85 degrees.


Tomatoes Into Cool Weather?
The remaining tomato plants, though top-heavy with green foliage hanging over their double-story cage tops, were displaying new blossoms before this latest heat hit a couple of days ago. We’ll see whether we get any fruit set from them, or if this severe heat will cancel out the process for another two weeks after temperatures resume to below 85.

With the new Celebrities, another new Sungold, new Better Boy and new Super Sweet, and a double handful of Dr. Earth fertilizer to each plant followed by deep watering, I’m committed to nurturing these tomatoes into at least a fall crop of fruits.

Depending on how they do and how chilly it gets by then, I’ll determine then whether to overwinter them or remove the plants in favor of cool-season lovers.

Years ago, when I first began to garden, I’d trimmed back the tomato plants down to their new shoots at the bottom of the plant in the hopes of revitalized plants and many new fruits. However, the resulting fruits came so late in January that they didn’t taste any better than the storebought ones, so I decided not to bother with that process again.

Which is why, this time around, I’m not trimming the plants back but instead depending on the literally over-the-top foliage for any fruits, since the plants won’t have to spend any time and energy regrowing enough foliage to put out blossoms and set fruit that’ll ripen so late into the cold weather.

We’ll see what happens.

That’s one of the fun things about gardening—you get to try something new and see whether the magic works or what other variations to play with the next time around. My “next time” has been on a 60-year run, and I’m still finding new things to try—or try again!


New Sungold plants – all three of them were growing together in the 4″ container – planted during mild weather 2 weeks ago. I’ve left the blossoms on and planted all three plants together, disturbing the root ball as little as possible, in the hopes of whatever new fruits I can encourage during Fall. This is something I’d never do in early Spring when I want to foster strong deep root growth for spring-and-summer-long production. Now, I’m just hoping for as-soon-as-possible good-tasting fruits before Winter’s chill sets in and flavor can’t develop well.


Cucumbers and Squash and Beans
The cucumber and squash vines were too exhausted to try to keep them going, so I pulled them.

The bean vines were still healthy, also up and over their double-high trellises, but I’d really rather shift that space to fall vegetable production rather than hoping for a few more beans.


Chard and Kales
The chard and kales that survived the heat earlier in the summer are putting up tender new leaves, so our salads and stir-fries and quiches will repopulate our menus. I’ll sow more seeds of them all as replacements or additional transplants.

Depending on how productive the old plants are by the time the weather is consistently cool around Thanksgiving, I’ll either replace them with the new plantlets or just plant the newbies elsewhere. If I do leave the old plants, it’ll be interesting to see just how far into the spring or summer they’ll produce and how their production compares with the new plants—or at what point they bolt and go to seed.


Chard putting up tender new growth after heat spell a month ago. I’ll also start seeds for new seedlings to plant in a month, and compare their production over the Winter and into next Spring and Summer.


Starting Seeds
Purchasing seed packs of different varieties is an adventure in taste, texture, and growing traits. The $2 or $3 you’ll spend for each package will give you so very many chances to sow the seeds several times throughout each season, instead of spending the same amount for one six-pack of transplants that may or may not adapt to your garden and produce well.

I do both at the beginning of the season to cover all my bases.

I transplant six-packs of lettuce, spinach, broccoli, baby bok choy and tatsoi as soon as I find them in local nurseries. This guarantees me the earliest harvests possible until my own seedlings are ready to transplant.

I start my seeds in both Speedling® trays and in my “nursery” raised bed in the garden. Both are located where I can check them frequently for watering and monitoring the development of the tiny plantlets.

I start the more fragile seedlings like lettuce and spinach and chard in the trays so they’ll develop their more tender fibrous root systems before transplanting.

I start the tougher plants like kales and broccoli in the bed so their few sturdy roots can grow deeper before transplanting since they’ll re-establish more easily than the more tender lettuce and spinach.


Starting seeds in my Speedling® tray (available at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, Drip trays also available. Mine have lasted for more than 30 years!


Starting seeds in my “nursery” raised bed enables deeper root systems for transplanting tougher seedlings.


Preparing Growing Beds
Here are my basic steps and amendments that I repeat between seasons:

1  Remove plant matter larger than an inch or two, and add to the compost pile unless diseased.

2  Water the bed so moisture reaches down to about 6-9 inches. This loosens the soil particles—especially in heavy clay soil—to make digging much easier.

3  Turn the soil to about that 6-9-inch depth. Using a spading fork instead of a shovel enables lifting soil, breaking clods and mixing in amendments more effectively with less labor.

4  Spread 2-inch layers each of manure and compost (and coffee grounds if available).

5  Turn amendments into soil also down to that 6-9-inch depth. Since you’ve already turned just the soil, this process of incorporating the amendments will be easier and more effective than if you try to do it all at once.

6  Water again so soil and amendment particles are moistened together.

7  Let the bed sit for about 2 weeks. The combination of moistened soil, amendments and late-summer warmth will invigorate the microorganisms to heat the mixture, and then cool it down. Once you can stick your hand into the mixture and feel only slightly warm, it’s ready for transplants and seeds.


Despite too much sun bleaching foliage yellow, hoya puts up double flowers.


Lush bronzy-green foliage of begonia from cuttings last Spring.


Blooms on begonia cuttings rooted earlier this Spring.


Zephranthes – Rain Lily – send up daily delicate pink blossoms.


For more advice and insight from Yvonne Savio, please visit



Yvonne Savio grew up and still lives on a 3/4-acre hillside city lot in Pasadena, growing fruits, vegetables, and flowers year-round in manure- and compost-amended gardens. From years of gardening, she knows what “harvested at the perfect moment of ripeness” means and is passionate about enabling others to enjoy the benefits of “growing your own.”

Yvonne earned degrees in journalism, English literature, art and photography from California State University at Los Angeles and Sacramento; her horticulture degree is from American River College, Sacramento. For 15 years, she worked in the Botany and Vegetable Crops Cooperative Extension Departments at the University of California, Davis, where she conferred with Statewide Vegetable Specialists regarding cultural and postharvest handling techniques. In the early 1980s she helped initiate and develop the Master Gardener Program in Yolo County. From 1994-2015, she managed the Los Angeles County Master Gardener Program, teaching 1,183 volunteers who then helped 1.3 million residents to garden more sustainably.

Yvonne maintains demonstration and trial gardens in Southern and Northern California, specializing in drought-tolerant techniques for growing vegetables, fruits, perennials, roses, and succulents. She documents the creative fun stuff of repurposed tools and garden art. She loves chatting with gardening groups; for more of her presentation topics. see

More Yvonne Savio posts:
Coffee Grounds as Nutrient-Rich Mulch
Beyond Artichokes, Onto Yummy Boysenberries!
Spring Eats & Perfect Transplanting Weather
Yvonne Talks Tomatoes & Tomatomania
Planting Tomatoes
Yvonne’s Basic Pruning Overview
Nipped by Frost?






Photo, pink zephranthes lily by Cephas 405 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons.






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