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Fall Gardens Can Be Prolific, Despite Drought

Don't let the drought put a damper on your plans for a fall garden. With a little forethought, you can still have a plentiful fall harvest despite the water bans.

"When it comes to gardening, you can do a lot of things even during a water ban," said Wayne McLaurin, an Extension Service horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Collect Water from Inside Your Home

Water bans across the state may limit the amount of water you can use outdoors, but you can still use water from indoors.

"If you'll collect the water you use to wash your hands and wash vegetables and the water you waste waiting for the hot water to arrive," McLaurin said, "you'll have a tremendous amount to use in your garden."

You can also reduce the amount of water your fall garden needs by putting some extra thought into where you plant your vegetables.

Carefully Select Your Garden Site

"Nonfruiting fall vegetables like lettuce, collards, turnips and mustard greens can be grown in a shaded area where they will need much less water to grow," McLaurin said. "Pick a spot where they will get four to five hours of sun instead of the traditional eight hours."

McLaurin said beets and carrots can also be grown in shaded areas, although they perform better in full sun.

"For these crops, select a spot that gets morning sun and not afternoon sun," he said. "They need the shade in the afternoon when the September sun is so hot."

Plant the Right Crops

Another way to reduce your fall garden's water need is to select the right crops.

"Collards, kale, cabbage and broccoli all have protective coatings that hold moisture in," McLaurin said. "That's why they look waxy. They don't lose water and wilt easily like mustard and turnips do."

If your water supply is limited this fall, avoid planting squash, snap beans, tomatoes and peppers. "These fruiting plants need more water to produce," he said.

"The rule of thumb with fall favorites like lettuce, tomatoes and Irish potatoes is: If you don't have water, don't plant it," McLaurin said.

Lettuce is more than 98 percent water. Tomatoes are better than 90 percent water. Even though Irish potatoes are firm, they're about 75 percent water.

"The larger the plant, the greater the water consumption," McLaurin added.

"Tomatoes take a lot more water to produce than do collards," he said. "If it fruits and has leaves, it takes more water than if it just has leaves (such as greens). Green beans and collards are about the same size plant, but beans need more water."

Don't Forget to Mulch

The most important water conservation tool you can use in your garden is mulch, McLaurin said.

"You need to add a good three inches around your plants to keep the ground moist," he said. "First, take a sprinkler can and moisten the plant and then put your mulch around the plant being sure to keep it at least three inches away from the base. The plant needs this area to get air to the root system."

McLaurin said there's no secret to which mulch is the best. "All mulches work, and the best one to use is the one that costs you the least," he said. "Leaves people are throwing away make great, free mulch. Just chip them up and apply them to your plants."

Many municipalities provide mulching material free. Check with your local roadside department.

"If you're a true gardener, the drought won't keep you from planting a garden this fall," McLaurin said. "Gardeners are ingenious. They know how to work around obstacles like droughts."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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