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It’s time to plant for a second season

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Friday, July 29, 2011
— There’s nothing like that first crop of spring lettuce.

Sweet, crisp and refreshing, it looks and tastes sensational.

Any garden lettuce remaining at the end of July has an entirely different character. At best, it’s lost some of that spring innocence; at its worst, it’s bitter.

Gardeners take heart: Happy lettuce days are here again.

We asked the experts at UW-Madison’s West Madison Research Center and the Rock County Extension for advice on how to grow lettuce and other second-season crops.

Q: What are second-season crops?
A: They’re vegetables planted twice a year—once in spring and again in midsummer.

The best second-season crops include beets, lettuce, spinach, carrots, Swiss chard and certain varieties of Chinese cabbage, said Mary Kay Thompson, Rock Prairie Master Gardener Volunteer and UW Extension plant advisor.

If you still have sets—small plants—of broccoli, cauliflower and collards, those can be planted now, too, Thompson said.

Pea varieties with shorter vines also do well in the fall, said Judith Reith-Rozelle, assistant superintendent of the West Madison Research Station.

Q: Why doesn’t a second-season planting work for all vegetables?
A: Because success depends on two factors: temperature tolerance and days to harvest.

Sugar Ann, a snap pea variety with shorter vines, is ready to harvest in 52 days. The Allstar Gourmet lettuce mix from Johnny’ Select Seeds is ready to harvest in 28 days, and most head lettuce varieties are ready in 45 days or less. These plants can tolerate cooler nights and even a light frost.

In southern Wisconsin, the first frost is around Sept. 15.

Other vegetables, such as beans and cucumbers, also mature in 55 days or less. Unfortunately they don’t do well in the fall.

“Bean flowers drop when you get a lot of different temperatures,” Reith-Rozelle said.

As for cucumbers, they “only really like warm temperatures,” she said.

Other crops aren’t bothered by temperature fluctuations.

“The Asian greens do really well in the fall,” Reith-Rozelle said. “We had menuza with snow on it.”

Menuza is a nutritious green that goes nicely in salads or stir-fries.

Q: When should second-season crops be planted?
A: From now until the middle of August. Lettuce can be planted well into September.
Q: Where can you buy seeds?
A: Many stores, especially independent garden centers, still have their seed packages on display—although those displays might have been moved to a secondary location.

Online catalogs also sell seeds year-round.

Q: How do you get started?
A: Some seeds have trouble germinating when it’s hot—lettuce and carrots are the most difficult.

Options include:

-- Growing lettuce in a pot and moving it in and out of the shade until it’s established.

-- Starting lettuce in a cooler spot and then transplanting the “plugs.”

-- Providing filtered shade for germinating seeds with an old window screen held up with dowels. You also can create you own by stapling a piece of screen to a used picture frame. Lightweight row cover works well, too.

In her July garden almanac, Milwaukee Extension Agent Sharon Morrissey offered this innovative advice: “For summer planting, make the furrows and moisten before sowing the seeds. Cover with pre-moistened potting soil mix which will not be so likely to crust and crack.”


If you go

What: Urban Horticulture Day

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20.

Where: West Madison Agricultural Research Center, 8502 Mineral Point Road, about a mile west of the Beltline in Verona.

Cost: Admission and parking are free.

What to see: On Wednesday, staff at UW-Madison’s West Madison Research Center planted second-season vegetable crops. During the Urban Horticulture Field Day in August, visitors can see those crops, get new ideas, answers to their home gardening questions, sample fresh produce and tour an extensive collection of flower and vegetable varieties including some that haven’t yet appeared in seed catalogs.

For more information: Visit or call (608) 262-2257.

For Master Gardener volunteers: The West Madison Agricultural Research Station is located at 8502 Mineral Point Road, about a mile west of the Beltline. Admission and parking are free.

Last updated: 5:47 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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