Second Chances – Sowing After the Solstice

Posted on: June 29th, 2012 by Judy 47 Comments

Many people celebrate the summer solstice for it’s astrological significance. As a gardener, I use it as a measure for the success of my efforts so far in the season. This season has some successes and some…other stories (if you know what I mean). Our temperatures have been consistent, consistently high, that is.  This has led to some disappointments and failed experiments in the form of premature bolting of a number of things.

‘Bolting’ is when plants go to seed early. This time of year it is due to temperature stress and photoperiod (that’s a fancy way of saying the changing length of days). When plants bolt they tend to stop producing the parts we eat and turn all their efforts towards making flowers and seeds. Flavors and textures often change as a result of this and render the product disappointing.

We could look at this flowering as the loss of a crop, or we could see it as the lesson it is. Admittedly, it took me a long time to see the potential of this lesson. I grew up in a place, western New York, where things rarely bolted. I now live in a place, Colorado, where careful timing is necessary to get the most out of my garden.

The lesson is this: Some things are just better when planted after the longest day of the year. Why? First, many plants respond to increasing day length leading up to the solstice (there’s that photoperiod idea again) by growing for a short bit then flowering before we’re ready. After the longest day of the year, many plants respond by growing storage structures (the parts we eat) in preparation for surviving winter and flowering next year. Second, temperatures begin to cool as the days get shorter. The days are still long enough to grow nice plants. The soil is warm and promotes quick germination and quick growth, and the temperatures moderate enough to reduce heat stress.

So what does this all mean? It means a second chance to grow “cool season” crops, often with better success than the first time. “Cool season” really means the season in which a given plant ripens its produce. Imagine a broccoli plant. Plant it in the spring and hope that it forms its head before the heat of summer comes along. If you live in a hot place, summer heat usually comes too soon. Imagine the same broccoli planted after the summer solstice. It germinates and grows quickly in the warm soil. When the time comes for the head to form, the temperatures have cooled quite a bit and a large, tight head is allowed to ripen without the heat stress of summer. With a little frost, it becomes sweeter, tastier, and the broccoli we all want to have in our garden.

This same scenario works on a whole host of plants. Planting after the summer solstice allows us a second chance at success with a number of plants.

Head Formers: Lettuce, cabbage, radicchio, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, endive, escarole, and bulb fennel.

Bolting Brassicas: Cauliflower, broccoli, rapini/broccoli raab, rutabagas, turnips, romanesco.

Don’t forget about those things that may not bolt, but definitely perform better when it’s cool.

Cool Customers: Carrots, snow peas, beets, spinach, mustard, kale, kohlrabi, green onions, winter radish, Daikon.

What’s great about most of the items above is that they tolerate some frost. This extends your growing season without any extra effort like frost protection. Although, if you did use frost protection, you could grow even longer. Take a second look at some of your spring choices and give them a second chance this time of year. You may be surprised when your second garden turns out better than the first.

47 Responses

  1. Mac says:

    Great (and encouraging) article for a neophyte 70+ year old gardener!

  2. It’s also not too late to sow cosmos, zinnia and sunflowers and still get blooms (at least here in southeastern Michigan). I got started really late one year and now it’s kind of a ritual for me to plant these on July 4. :)

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Monica,
      It’s funny you mention this. I have a ritual of filling all the empty spots in my garden with zinnias this time of year. I get a great late batch of cut flowers and food for the butterflies that come later in the season.

  3. Jeff says:

    That’s reassuring. I have some broccoli seeding in a bed of vermiculite now and I’ll transplant it in time for cooler temps like you said. I’m happy to hear from a Colorado gardener. I think it’s really hard to grow here (I’m in Denver)

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Jeff,
      You’re right, it can be challenging to grow in Colorado. But, there are also some distinct advantages, too. I moved here from western New York. I had to completely re-learn how to garden. Once you overcome soil and water challenges, there are some amazing things you can do with Colorado sun. Keep trying!

  4. Charlotte Walker says:

    Hi, Ryan– I wonder if you have an archived entry about snails? Ever since one very wet summer about 4 summers ago, we have had a devastating infestation of snails and snail eggs in our garden soil in upstate New York. I have read countless descriptions of how to fight snails (the beer works for slugs but not for snails, the diatomaceous earth scared us and worried us but didn’t stop the snails, picking them off by hand was an overwhelming no-win job, etc., etc. I am wondering if you have any thoughts on how to deal with snails? This summer we planted grass seed in our garden and made a small lawn, scattered with very large pots that hold green and yellow summer squash, 2 pots for broccoli and 1 of brussels sprouts, as well as four big bins with tomato plants in them. But we tried planting our pole beans in the ground– they have always survived once they grow above the snails, but this time they haven’t had a chance. That was due to a mistaken strategy on our part, which was really foolish and I won’t bore you with it. But the plants in bins are doing fine and the snails seem to find it hard to get up the steep plastic sides of the pots. Trouble is this makes for a very small yield and no chance for some of our favorite vegetables. But we are hoping that having a few things that get by the snails will be an encouragement to our gardening next season. I’d be grateful to hear your thoughts about snail infestations and anything new for fighting back against them. We have never used herbicides, but are almost ready to resort to that if we could find something environmentally okay. Thanks for any advice!
    Charlotte P.S. We have only a very few slugs, the real problem is with snails, and we find that slug solutions don’t seem to work for snails.

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Charlotte,
      I’m an Upstate NY native myself and I know the frustration of dealing with snails and slugs. Most remedies wash off in the frequent rain and are useless. Years ago I found a product called SLUGGO. It works well for slugs and snails and is approved for organic gardening. It does break down over time but lasts the longest of the products I’ve tried. I have also had some luck with coarsely ground egg shells because the snails don’t like top crawl over the surface. I used this stuff in NY and I use it here in Colorado, too. I hope this helps.

  5. Julianne Fuchs-Musgrave says:

    Thanks! This explains quite a bit, and gives me hope for my “second season.”

  6. Linda Butler says:

    what about peppers and tomatoes, if I am willing to grow them in pots to put in a hoop house would they still grow albeit slowly?

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Linda,
      You can certainly grow peppers and tomatoes in pots in a greenhouse. I use to run a greenhouse and we would grow veggies in containers in the winter just for fun. What you need to remember is pollination. Tomatoes are usually wind pollinated, so giving them a vigorous shake every morning usually does the job. Peppers may need the assistance of a paintbrush for good fruit set.

  7. Linda Butler says:

    can you start peppers and tomatoes after the solstice if they can be brought into a hoophouse when the weather gets too cool?

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Linda,
      You can certainly grow peppers and tomatoes in containers after the solstice. As long as the temperatures are high enough to encourage growth, they will be fine. It is important to remember that they will need to be pollinated while inside the hoophouse if you want fruit. This can be done by simply shaking the tomato branches or exposing them to a stiff breeze from a fan.

  8. I live in Dallas, Tx where the temperature now (although after the summer solstice) is still in the 100′s during most of July and August. Can the same vegetables that you listed as second season crops be started now? If not now, when?

  9. Sharon C says:

    Well, this was a very nice read, as I live in central Oregon and the weather has been very unpredictable with cool nights. My bok choy bolted 2 wks ago, so they were pulled, but good. My turnip leaves are gorgeous, but the bulbs are still small, so they are left in ground. My beets are not ready, nor is my broccoli, and the snow peas are slow, as is the bunch onions. So, I am leaving them alone. Mind you, my raised garden is only 4 x 8, and I have two of them, along with containers of tomatoes. So, come August I will be planting cold weather seeds once more. Thank you for this article.

  10. Brenda says:

    Hello! I have tried and tried for a winter garden and never seem to get it right. Your article is wonderful and gives me new hope! :-) I do have a question though. I’m guessing that HOW long after the longest day of the year I plant my winter depends on my zone – am I wrong? I’m right on the border of zones 7 and 8 (North GA) and never seem to get the timing right. Can you tell me when I should try to plant these this year? Thank you so much!

  11. James says:

    Does this palnting schedule apply to Florida as well? I’m having a time figuring out the planting schedule here in south Florida(West Palm Beach). Any suggestions?

  12. Sunshine Dva says:

    This is great information. Thanks!

  13. Linda Henson says:

    Since we had unseasonably hot weather in June (2weeks of 90-100 degrees)it is reassuring that I can re-plant my garden for maybe a better crop. Thanks for the heads up.

  14. Cecilia says:

    This was a very useful article. I am going to look at your back issues. I have had a lot of vole damage this year in raised beds which were also lined with 1/4 inch hardware cloth and many of them need to be relined and also barriered underneath with gravel. So since many of my favorite crops are more the cool season crops, now I feel I can actually start earlier and all is not lost. Thanks for a great article.

  15. I sure would appreciate guidance on which red/green leaved veggies will survive in Arizona’s intense heat. In spite of the fact my “raised” vegetable garden is partially shaded from the intense noon sun by a tree’s branches, my swiss chard, kale, red beets, red turnips are suffering…my dill all but died! I have bountiful rich soil beds, extra composting, sufficient water, but …. Is the Arizona heat just too intense to grow these sensitive veggies? They all started to sprout beautifully in March-May, but now everything is just barely surviving. Help … or, am I a hopeless garden moron? This is my first garden.

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Barbara,
      I doubt you are a moron even though you may be a new gardener. You are right that the intensity of Arizona’s climate may stifle the progress of many garden plants. The demand placed on a plants roots by intense heat can be too much. That is to say, they can only supply so much water…and it may not be enough during the hottest times of the year. There are some planting/sowing schedules developed for gardeners in your area that help deal with the heat, or at least avoiding it. Try looking at this one from your state extension surface. http://tinyurl.com/7a9r2be
      Let me know if I can help with anything else.

  16. Christa says:

    Great article! It gives me such hope.

    I live on a cliff at 7300′. Gardening is a daily challenge with high winds, and daring furry faces dropping in to visit. That being Peter and friends and Bambi’s entire family. What are your thoughts for those of us living in Castle Rock, area with all this summers high heat? This has really been a summer of so many extremes from 12″ of hail to 100+ temps. and then smoke, smoke, smoke. Perhaps the the greatest harvest I will have this year is of gratitude. We still have a garden and a house.

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Christa,
      I would use the tricks in this article to give your garden another shot. The temperatures tend to moderate a bit from July on. I am counting on this to grow what I need and all we Coloradans can do is hope for more moderate temperatures and less extreme weather events. Keep trying and let me know if I can help with anything else.

  17. Susan Galyon says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful observations. Some of us gardeners are really scientists with green thumbs and I always love hearing the wisdom of experience. I have used the period sensitivity of plants many times with flowers but had never really thought about it with my vegetables. We are market gardeners in NW GA, where the heat this year is a bummer. Our customers want spinach and carrots and we are fighting temps near 110. Please continue to let us know the heat tolerance of different varieties. Your seed packets are an education!
    Love your blog. Thank you.

  18. Myra Jennings says:

    Great article! I garden in the armpit of W. OK and it is a challenge to grow food. I am learning that my best crops are in the winter and early spring. I cover my raised beds with plastic and Christmas lights strung in the beds to take the edge off the winter temps so that I can harvest spinach, lettuce, mustard, arugula, radishes, beets and carrots though late winter and early spring. I will try squash in late summer, shading the seedlings until established, to try and tick the squash bugs that devour the plants in early early summer right when they begin producing. I use shade cloth to keep salad greens producing through part of the hot season, which is from May through Sep.

  19. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the encouragement! I like in Kansas, and it’s really hot. It seems like our growing seasons keeps getting longer every year.

    How are you guys handling the fires? Are they getting close to you? I hope Botanical Interest, Inc isn’t damaged!

  20. Joey says:

    I know that everyone fears bolting, but I’m interested in saving seeds for future crops. Is there a way to selectively allow bolting? Or do you have any suggestions about how to gather seeds to get a good percentage to continue for future crops while still allowing for harvesting of this year’s bounty?

    Thanks for this article though, its a good reminder to reevaluate the gardens for the rest of the season.

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Joey,
      The one thing that I would offer about saving seed from bolted plants is to avoid the seeds of the plants that are first to bolt. If you collect these seeds, you are selecting for the trait of early bolting. While you may get seeds, you probably don’t want plants that bolt early. Wait as long as you can collect seeds so that you don’t perpetuate quick-to-bolt plants.

  21. Charlotte N says:

    My cabbages did not bolt but they are riddled with pest damage. Are there worse pest problems this year due to the heat and dryness or should I look for other answers? I did have some soil delivered and I have suspected that it doesn’t have “enough life” yet to battle some pests. Is there any truth in this and when do I pull damaged cabbages and start over?

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Charlotte,
      One truth about plants and people alike is that weakened individuals succumb to illness more easily. Insects can sense weak plants and tend to prey on them first. Couple that with the fact that insect development is directly mediated by heat created the perfect storm. Insects reach adulthood quickly and find lots of weakened and stressed plants to feed on. The best advice to try your best to keep plants healthy and free from as much stress as possible.

  22. Tiffany Kramer says:

    Wow! I love your newsletter! I too am a Colorado gardener and this year with our heat all of my cool weather salads have bolted. When should I replant? Also wondering when to plant a round of beets? Is it too late to plant string beans? Thank you Tiffany

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Tiffany,
      I have started my fall crops already. Beets are nice because they can take some frost. You can safely wait until the beginning of August to sow them and still expect results, barring some freak weather that Colorado is known for. If you want to plant string beans, do it soon. Pick a bush variety with a short harvest date. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how quickly the develop produce.

  23. Tricia Sacheli says:

    We’ve just had 3 consecutive days of 104′…& today was right around 100′, here in Charlotte,NC…any suggestions for planting would be apppreciated…Thanks!

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Tricia,
      You can wait for the heat to subside a bit, or you can sow into containers and move them into cooler places after getting morning sun. Just remember, water is a plant’s protection against adversity. Make sure your plants are hydrated, not soggy, while they’re exposed to the sun and they’ll fare far better than if they are water stressed.

  24. KathyG says:

    Well said and a good nudge for me to get out there and plant for late summer/fall. I too am in central Oregon (hi to Sharon C — where are you? I am in Bend) and although this spring has been warmer and less rainy than the previous 2 years, I missed a big chunk of the early planting window due to absence from home and then intense work catch-up in place of being in the garden. Some things never got planted at all, and I am happy to be reminded that lots of good things would love to be planted now.

    Years ago when I was just starting to garden I read a great book that talked about the kinds of things you mention here (photoperiod, temperature, etc) which affect plant growth. I see it is still in print, or at least available used from Amazon — it’s called ‘The Book of Garden Secrets — A guide to understanding how your garden grows and how you can help it grow even better’ by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and Diane E. Bilderback. I learned something new and/or interesting about every single vegetable.

    Most of these things are barely touched on in most guides to growing vegetables, at best. The notion that some things LIKE cooling soil or decreasing daylength is still new to a lot of gardeners, both new and old.

    Our biggest challenge in this area is our short growing season (90-100 days in theory, but we can have a frost any day of the year), combined with intense sunlight (elevation), sandy soil and generally cool nights. Probably a lot like Denver, though I think not quite as hot.

    As for Arizona, I have always heard that gardeners there need to think in reverse seasons, like those in the SouthEast: greens, cool weather crops go in in fall and harvest before summer heat.

  25. Merrilee Bliss says:

    Wonderful and encouraging to see this article.
    I, too, live in Colorado, but in the high country of the Western slope, 7800ft. I instinctively planted or I should say, replanted several things about 10 days ago. It’s been the craziest weather year I’ve seen in my 40+ years here. Mild winter, low snow pack, drought, early spring, late May deep freeze…you name it, we got it.
    My first plantings of spinach and swiss chard never grew at all but the newly planted ones are looking quite happy. The bok choy bolted without ever getting more the 2″ high. Now after reading your article, maybe I should give it a go again. Beans and snow peas had a second planting because of our spring freeze and critters (chipmunks) but I didn’t realize they like it cooler. My turnip and beets have wonderful leaves but small bulbs also so I guess I’ll hope the shorter days help with that.
    I have two questions…1) any good trick getting rid of chipmunks or at least keeping them out. I’ve tried almost everything and have now declared war with traps and a zapper! 2) For the first time I have little black, hardshell bugs on some plants. They mostly stay on the bok choy but some are on the turnips. Do you know what they might be and maybe I should just pull up that bolting bok choy anyway since you advised not to keep the seeds of early bolters.
    Love your advise and Botanical Interests where I get my seeds.
    ps when should I plant garlic at this altitude?

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Merrilee,
      The trick I know best for getting rid of varmints is dried blood. It smells like something they don’t want any part of. However, you may attract things in the mountains that that like the smell of blood. Also, Castor beans, both the seeds and the plants, are purported to be effective against rodents, but I don’t have practical experience with chipmunks. I’m not sure what the little black bug are, but flea beetles are common in Colorado and do like brassicas. It is hard to know without a picture, but you may want to bring some to your local extension agent. I hope this helps. Let me know if I can help with anything else.

  26. Tinabeaver says:

    I live in Redding, CA and the heat is on here and then cold. I can never tell what is next. I went to raised beds this year to save my back and give my soil a rest. I did better with several plants, but my tomatoes and cucumbers turned yellow and are sick looking. I don’t see any bugs or spots. It started at the bottom and just kept going up??
    I was encouraged by your article and want to start my first winter garden. I am a salad junkie and want to try this year. It is still 105 days here. Should I really start a salad garden now?

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Tina,
      You should be reliably frost free through most of November, so you shouldn’t have to rush to sow a salad garden. The general rule of thumb is that you want winter plants germinated in your garden beds by Sept 10th so they have long enough to grow before the days get too short to support development. You can certainly wait until it gets cooler to start your new plants.

  27. Brenda says:

    The tomatoes and corn might have an iron deficiency since the yellowing started at the bottom.

  28. Lisa says:

    Just came across your site
    Living in southeastern Michigan, I was wondering, would this work with brussel sprouts too? And if it would, when do I plant the seeds?

    • The Garden Coach says:

      Lisa,
      No matter what, Brussels sprouts make their ‘sprouts’ in fall. They require about 90 days before that to grow the plant that will produce them. If your first frost is around October 1st, then you’ll start your seeds in the garden around May 15- June 1. If your first frost is later, you can push the start time back, but I don’t think you’ll gain anything from doing so.

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