Did you let May and June slip by without planting any vegetables in your garden? It’s not too late to enjoy a backyard bounty of veggies and herbs which, if planted in July or August, can be enjoyed well into autumn.
You can’t plant just anything in the middle of summer; the only plants that will survive are those that can definitely handle not only the potentially scorching heat of July and August, but also the often cool evenings of September and the early frosts that sometimes show up in October.
Another word to the late-summer planting wise: the vegetables you put in the ground mid-summer may not mature as quickly as those planted in spring, because, after the summer solstice, the days start to get shorter. That means seeds are a no-go. Instead, opt for plant starts, which are seedlings already well-established and available at most garden centres and nurseries all summer. Don’t worry: there’s no shame in not starting from seed. In fact, more reluctant green thumbs may never go back to seed-sowing after working with pre-started plants.
Late Start All-Stars
There are many vegetables and herbs that can be planted mid to late summer. Depending on where you live, some can even be harvested well into the fall, and some might actually hunker down through the cold weather and start producing right away in the spring.
These vegetables and herbs are known for their ability to tough it out, even when the nights start to cool down:
Garlic bulbs need a little cold to sprout, so try putting cloves in the fridge for a few days, then planting them when they’ve started to sprout little green shoots.
Buy young leek plants from a garden centre, plant them in any type of soil — leeks are rarely fussy — and harvest them early for a tender, spring onion type taste, or wait until September for a heartier flavour. (Depending on variety, plan to harvest them as far into the fall as you can.)
Butternut and acorn squash
Panting well-established squash plants later in the summer may help you avoid squash bugs and other problems. You’ll enjoy a shorter harvest, but that’s the only drawback of a late squash start.
Beets grow quickly in most types of soil. Plant them late, in July or early August, and, especially if the weather stays warm and you water well, you’ll have a healthy harvest in early fall. (For a gardener’s treat, sauté the early beet greens in butter and serve as a side dish.)
Parsnips and Carrots
These are another vegetable type that may benefit from late planting, since you’ll avoid the carrot rust fly life cycle (these destructive dark green bugs die off by July). Start with well-established plants and put them in the ground two to four inches (five to ten cm) apart. If you want a steady supply of carrots in the fall, sow at ten-day intervals through July and August.
This superstar leafy green — it’s packed with nutrients and antioxidants — can be sown all the way until mid-August, or even end of August if you cover it with a tarp or gardener’s fleece at nightfall. The first leaves can be picked around three or four weeks post planting. Don’t leave them too long or they’ll get spotty and tough.
Plant this delectable herb in July or August and start harvesting the small leaves six weeks later, or let it go to seed for next spring and you’ll skip the sowing step, as long as you choose a perennial variety.
You’ll think it’s still spring if you sow peas in July or August, and harvest them while they’re still young, tender and sweet. (Chef’s tip: use your sweet young peas to make chilled pea purees and soups, perfect for enjoying on a hot day or adding panache to meals and plates.
Look for winter radishes, such as China Rose or Black Spanish, and cover them to keep them going well into the fall.
Seasoned vegetable gardeners start their spinach in the spring and keep sowing it all summer. It doesn’t take much to catch up — you can even start spinach by seed in July, but if it’s already August, look for established plants, and harvest and re-sow as desired through September.
Unlike almost all other vegetables, frost actually improves broccoli’s flavour, so it’s best planted towards the end of the growing season. To get more for bang for your late summer buck, plant broccoli seedlings closer together than recommended – about eight inches (20 cm) apart — and you’ll have smaller, more flavourful heads, which are more appropriate for a home harvest. Plus, you’ll be able to yield twice as much.
Basil doesn’t like the cold, especially when it’s young, so it’s often best to start it later in the season, anyway, when there’s no risk of frost whatsoever. Plant it in a large pot, and harvest the leaves about six weeks later, to use it pasta sauces, salads, and stir-fries. Bring it inside in September to enjoy as a window herb all winter.