Ask the gardening expert



I hear that I should be thinking of a fall vegetables. Could you please tell me what vegetables I can grow in the fall? I only have grown summer vegetable gardens in the past. I’m not sure what vegetables to grow or exactly the how to take care of them since it will be cooler.

As long as the weather remains above freezing, you can grow a variety of leafy and/or root crops in your garden. Most fall-gardens are seeded in late summer, (end of August or early September in this area) but you’ll still have good results if you plant seeds of radish, lettuce, carrots and cabbage. Most cole crops (in the cabbage family) will take some frost without problems. Tender-leafed plants such as lettuce and spinach will be damaged by cold weather. Plant them first so they’ll have an opportunity to mature. They should be ready to harvest in six weeks. There are several advantages to fall gardening — natural rainfall usually provides enough moisture for your plants (but supplement water if rainfall is low), and weeds don’t grow as vigorously in the fall and winter as they do in the spring and summer. Local nurseries sell transplants of fall veggies. Pick up a few and get your garden started! Plant a row for the local food bank.

I noticed that in previous years the second half of the summer planting of all types of vegetables has been unproductive for me. I could use a hint here.

Tomato pollen isn’t viable much at greater than 90 degrees, so fruits and vegetables aren’t able to set. What were the temperatures during that period? Another possibility is that the flowers are not being pollinated at all. There have been fewer bees and other pollinators around to do the work even when the temps are favorable. If temperatures are less than 90, try gently tapping and shaking your tomato plants, above each set of blossoms. (I tap with a pencil or tiny bamboo stake) which helps with pollination. For vining crops, such as squash and cukes, it’s a little different. I use a tiny makeup brush to hand pollinate each blossom (I’ve read you can use a Q-tip) to see if you can get some fruit to set by rubbing the pollen from the male (the one without a small fruit behind the flower) into the female (with a small fruit behind the flower).

I like the look of decorative red cedar chips as groundcover in a garden bed with mature ornamental shrubs and flowers. My friend read that there can be problems using them. What’s your take on the use?

Generally speaking, a few inches of organic mulch such as cedar chips is a good idea as it helps suppress weeds, moderates the soil temperature and helps retain moisture. Mulch will also help the soil as it decomposes. There are several things to think of as you apply a mulch toany garden bed. You need to be careful that the chips do not touch the plants as this can invite rot. Also be aware that if the cedar mulch mixes into the top soil it can “tie up” some of the nitrogen in the soil as it decomposes. In that event, you may need to apply some additional nitrogen fertilizer to compensate during the growing season. Generally speaking mulching garden beds is such a good idea as we come into the hot part of the year.

Who wouldn’t want less weeds, and smaller water bill, plus happier plants?

Celeste Lindsay is a WSU-certified master gardener. Send questions to