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Clean and prune to extend crop yield

By Bob Westerfield
University of Georgia

As the summer comes to an end, most gardeners may be growing tired of tending and harvesting their vegetable garden. Before you pack up your hoe and rake, there are a few things you can do to extend your harvest and prepare for next year’s garden.

September in Georgia is a time of change and sometimes unpredictable weather. Some days feel like mid-July with temperatures in the 90’s and others feel like fall days in the low 70’s. These fluctuations in temperature drastically affect your summer garden.

If disease and insects have not carried your garden away, the shorter days and cooler temperatures will begin to signal your plants to terminate or go to seed.

You can extend your harvest up to the first frost if you pay a little more attention to the plants’ needs.

First, scout the garden carefully for any severely damaged or diseased plants. Cut loses and remove any poor-looking plants to give more room and energy to existing ones. Plants that have quit producing should be removed and sent to the compost pile.

This time of year weeds have often taken over. Carefully run a tiller between the rows to decrease the competition of weeds and help remaining vegetables. Carefully spray Round-up, or a similar product, between rows to help battle weeds. Be sure not to drift any on vegetable plants. I use a sprayer with a shield cone on the end. This does a good job of containing the herbicide.

Diseases and insects are usually at their peak this time of year. Continue to harvest early and don’t leave mature vegetables on the vine or they will attract problems. Use organic alternatives when available to combat disease and insects. Use chemical controls only when problems are severe.

Water is another key issue this time of year. The soil tends to be hot and dry in September, so more frequent irrigation may be needed to fill out vegetables. I prefer to use soaker hoses or irrigation tape for watering. It is very efficient and helps prevent diseases by keeping the foliage dry.

Pay particular attention to your tomato plants. You may need to pick or prune off up to half the plant to remove damaged or diseased branches. At this time of year it is also a good idea to harvest tomatoes while they are still green or close to turning red and allow them to fully ripen indoors. The quality of your harvest will be much better.

You should be able to continue to harvest most vegetables until the first frost, which usually occurs in late October. A late planting of squash in mid to late summer should have you pulling throughout the months of September and early October.

By paying a little more attention to your late summer garden it is possible to harvest until Thanksgiving.

(Bob Westerfield is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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