So you’re thinking about extending your growing season, and you want to plan a fall garden. Believe it or not, fall gardening might be a touch easier than what you’re used to with summer gardening. Pest and disease pressure is greatly reduced, moisture levels are higher, and mosquitoes don’t try to carry you away. Plus, we have everything you need to know to plan your transition from summer crops to fall gardens with our recommendations for the best fall vegetables for your garden plots and beds.
In this article, we want to take you through the steps of finding the best fall vegetables for your region and climate and give you the best tips and tricks to help you choose the best cool weather crops, and season-extending methods to help pull in that extra harvest this year.
How to Select the Right Plants For Fall Gardens
When planning your fall vegetable garden, selecting the right plants is crucial for a successful harvest. Here are some key factors to consider:
Pick Cool-season Crops Suitable for Fall Planting:
Fall gardens thrive on cool-season crops that withstand lower temperatures and an occasional light frost. These crops are adapted to cooler weather and will continue growing even as temperatures drop. Some popular cool-season crops for fall planting include:
- Leafy Greens: Lettuce, spinach, and kale are excellent choices for fall gardens. They are hardy and can tolerate colder temperatures.
- Root Vegetables: Carrots, radishes, and beets are root vegetables that do well in the fall. They develop better flavor and texture when grown in cooler weather.
- Cruciferous Vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are part of the cruciferous family and thrive in cooler temperatures.
Related: Many of these crops can also flourish in a winter garden! Check out our guide to winter gardening to learn more.
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When Should You Plant Your Fall Garden
Your fall garden should be transitioned from summer to fall crops as crop space becomes available. As a summer crop finishes, the plot should be harvested, cleaned, and replanted for fall.
Understanding your local climate and frost dates is crucial for a successful fall garden. Frost dates are when the first frost typically happens in your area. This information is critical to deciding when to plant and what crops suit your fall garden.
For example, if you harvest your carrot bed in early August, and your last frost date is October 31st, you have time to do a succession planting of broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbage (etc.).
You must keep on top of when crops finish and plan your seedlings starts accordingly. If you know your carrots will finish early in August and want to plant broccoli in that bed for fall, plan to start your broccoli seedlings indoors in early July. They will be ready to plant when the carrots are harvested in early August, with a harvest ready before the first frost date at the end of October.
Related: Fall is a great time to grow hardy vegetables, but most of your garden needs to be cleaned up and put away for winter. Check out our guide to winterizing your garden for more information and tips.
But I have a VERY Early Frost Date.
If you are in a zone with a very short growing season and your frost date is the end of your summer garden, you can still plant and plan for a smaller fall garden. You may need to use a greenhouse or cold frames to extend the season long enough to get your crops to harvest, but it can be done.
You will want to start your seedlings indoors 4-6 weeks before planting out so the plants have a good head start on the fall growing season.
Choose Varieties With Shorter Growing Seasons
In fall gardening, time is of the essence. Selecting crop varieties with shorter maturity periods ensures they have enough time to grow and mature before the colder temperatures of winter set in.
You will want to look for “early” or “fast-maturing” varieties to maximize your chances of a bountiful harvest.
Preparing the Garden For Fall Planting
Proper preparation of the fall vegetable garden is essential to ensure a healthy and productive fall garden. Here are some critical steps to take:
Clear out summer crops:
Before starting your fall garden, clearing out any remnants of your early summer and crops is essential. Remove any spent plants, weeds, and debris from the garden beds. Properly dispose of diseased or pest-infested plant material to prevent the spreading diseases or pests to your fall crops.
Soil preparation and amendment:
Fall is an excellent time to improve the quality of your soil. Begin by testing the soil pH and nutrient levels. Testing will help you determine if any amendments are needed.
If necessary, amend the soil with organic matter such as compost, well-rotted manure, or leaf mulch. These additions will enhance soil structure, drainage, and fertility. Work the amendments into the top few inches of soil using a garden fork or tiller.
Mulching and Weed Control:
Applying a layer of mulch to your fall garden offers numerous benefits. Mulch helps to retain soil moisture, regulate soil temperature, suppress weed growth, and protect plant roots from temperature fluctuations. Organic mulches like straw, shredded leaves, or wood chips are ideal for fall gardens.
Before mulching, remove any existing weeds or grass from the garden beds. Pull them out by the roots or use a hoe to cut them at ground level. Applying a layer of mulch around your fall crops will help prevent weed growth and make it easier to maintain a weed-free vegetable garden.
Recommended Fall Crops
Although not a complete list, the recommended fall crops mentioned earlier are an excellent starting point for those who want to try fall gardening. Growing these various vegetables can help you establish a strong foundation for a plentiful fall harvest to provide your family with nutritious and diverse food options.
Fall is ideal for growing leafy greens due to the cooler temperatures. These crops thrive in the milder weather than mid-summer and often develop a sweeter flavor. Here are three popular leafy greens to consider for your fall garden:
- Lettuce: Lettuce varieties such as Romaine, Butterhead, and Leaf are well-suited for fall planting. They mature relatively quickly, allowing for multiple harvests throughout the season. Lettuce prefers cooler temperatures and can tolerate light frosts.
- Spinach: Spinach is a nutrient-rich green that flourishes in the fall. It enjoys the cooler weather and can withstand light frosts. Spinach is a fast-growing crop, providing an abundant harvest of tender leaves perfect for salads or cooking.
- Kale: Kale is known for its cold tolerance and ability to thrive in fall gardens. Kale’s flavor intensifies as temperatures drop, making it even more delicious. It is a hardy plant that can withstand frost and continues to produce leaves well into winter.
Root vegetables are excellent for fall gardens as they prefer cooler soil temperatures. In addition, these crops store well and offer a variety of flavors and textures. Here are three popular root vegetables to grow in the following fall season:
- Carrots: Fall-grown carrots often have a sweeter taste due to the conversion of starches into sugars during cool weather. They require well-drained soil and can be sown directly into the garden. Harvest them for a crunchy and flavorful addition to your meals when they reach the desired size.
- Radishes: Radishes are quick-growing and can be harvested in as little as 25 days, making them an ideal choice for fall gardening.
- Beets: thrive in cool weather and are known for their earthy and sweet flavor. They can be sown directly into the garden, requiring consistent moisture to develop correctly. Both the root and the greens of beets are edible, providing a versatile harvest. Check out our articles on growing beets in the garden or in containers.
Cruciferous vegetables are part of the Brassica family and are well-suited for fall gardens. They are cold-hardy and often improve in taste after exposure to cool temperatures. Here are three popular cruciferous vegetables to consider:
- Broccoli: Broccoli is a cool-season vegetable that produces large heads filled with tender florets. Fall planting allows broccoli to mature during cooler weather, resulting in better flavor and texture. Regular harvests of side shoots can extend your broccoli harvest period. And did you know you can grow broccoli in pots and containers? You can! So even if you are low on space, you can grow a few broccoli on a patio and harvest those heads and shoots for a long while!
- Cauliflower: Cauliflower prefers cool temperatures and benefits from fall planting. It forms a compact head surrounded by protective leaves. For white heads, consider blanching them by tying the outer leaves together to shield them from sunlight.
- Cabbage: Cabbage is a versatile and hardy vegetable that can thrive in fall gardens. It produces dense heads with crisp leaves. Fall-grown cabbage has a sweeter and milder flavor, making it perfect for coleslaws, stir-fries, or sauerkraut. Check out our guide to companion plants for cabbage.
Alliums, which include onions and garlic, are excellent additions to fall gardens. They have a long growing season and benefit from fall and winter’s cool temperatures and light frost. Here are two popular alliums to plant in the fall:
- Onions: Depending on the variety, onions can be grown as sets or transplants in the fall. They require well-drained soil and consistent moisture. Fall planting allows onions to establish roots before going dormant in winter, resulting in early spring growth. Onions are also a vegetable you can grow in containers, making them an ideal crop for those without a backyard space to grow a traditional garden.
- Garlic: Garlic cloves are typically planted in the fall for harvest the following year. Fall and winter cool temperatures allow garlic to develop robust root systems. It requires well-drained soil and full sun. Plant individual cloves with the pointed end up, and ensure they are adequately spaced. Garlic will grow throughout the winter and be ready for harvest the following summer. Check out our guide to when to plant garlic for more info.
Other Fall Crops:
In addition to the many vegetables to plant now, several other crops thrive in fall gardens. Here are three notable options:
- Peas: Peas are cool-season legumes that can be sown directly into the ground. They prefer cooler temperatures and can tolerate light frosts. Fall planting allows peas to mature before the arrival of harsh winter conditions. Harvest them when the pods are plump and sweet.
- Swiss Chard: Swiss chard is a leafy green well-suited for fall gardens. It has colorful stems and large, tender leaves. Chard is relatively cold-hardy and can withstand light frosts, making it an excellent choice for extended fall harvesting.
- Brussels Sprouts: Brussels sprouts are a slow-growing crop that benefits from fall planting. They produce small cabbage-like heads along the stem. The flavor of Brussels sprouts improves after exposure to cooler temperatures. Harvest the sprouts when they reach a desirable size and are firm to the touch.
Planting and Maintenance Tips
Timing of planting:
The timing of planting is crucial for fall gardening success. It’s essential to consider each crop’s specific requirements and growing durations. Start by identifying your area’s average first frost date and count backward to determine the optimal planting time per fall crop. Different crops have different maturity periods, so adjust your planting schedule accordingly.
Proper spacing and depth for each crop:
Proper spacing allows plants adequate sunlight, air circulation, and nutrient access. Refer to seed packets or plant labels for specific spacing recommendations. Planting too closely can lead to resource competition and increased susceptibility to diseases. Additionally, be mindful of the recommended planting depth for each crop, as it can influence germination and growth.
Consistent watering is essential for the establishment and growth of fall crops. While the watering frequency may vary depending on your climate and rainfall patterns, generally it’s necessary to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Monitor the moisture levels regularly and adjust the watering accordingly. Avoid overhead watering whenever possible to minimize the risk of foliar diseases.
Providing adequate nutrients to your fall crops ensures healthy growth and maximum productivity fall planted crops. Before planting, enrich the soil with well-decomposed compost or organic matter. Additionally, consider conducting a soil test to assess the nutrient levels and make any necessary amendments based on the specific needs of your crops. Finally, follow the recommended fertilization schedule and use balanced, slow-release fertilizers to promote steady growth.
Pest and disease management: Fall gardens are not immune to pests and diseases, so it’s essential to implement proper pest and disease management practices in early fall. Here are some tips:
- Monitor your plants regularly for signs of pests or diseases, such as chewed leaves, discoloration, or wilting. Early detection is vital to addressing issues promptly.
- Practice crop rotation to reduce the risk of pests and diseases building up in the soil.
- Use physical barriers like row covers or netting to protect your plants from pests like insects or birds.
- Employ organic pest control methods, such as handpicking, introducing beneficial insects, or using organic insecticidal soaps or neem oil.
- Keep the garden clean by removing fallen leaves or debris, which can harbor pests and diseases.
- Maintain good garden hygiene and sanitation, including proper disposal of diseased plants and regular weed control.
Extending the Growing Season
Extending the growing season is essential to maximize your fall garden’s productivity as the temperatures drop. Here are some techniques to help you prolong the harvest of fall lettuce:
Using row covers and cold frames:
Row covers and cold frames are excellent tools for extending the growing season by providing protection and creating a microclimate for your plants. Row covers are lightweight fabric covers that allow sunlight, air, and water to penetrate while offering insulation and protection against pests. Cold frames are mini-greenhouses that capture and retain heat, creating a warmer plant environment. Both options help shield plants from frost, wind, and temperature fluctuations, allowing you to grow crops for an extended period.
Providing adequate protection from frost:
Frost can damage or even kill your fall crops, so it’s crucial to protect them when frost is anticipated. Here are some methods to safeguard your plants from cold weather:
- Monitor weather forecasts: Stay informed about the expected frost dates and monitor weather predictions to anticipate frost events. You can also try a weather app, like Darksky, to create a custom weather alert for frost.
- Frost Covers: When the frost is forecasted, cover your plants with blankets, old sheets, or commercial frost protection fabric. Covers also provide a layer of insulation, preventing direct contact between the plants and frosty air.
- Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of your plants. Mulch acts as insulation, protecting the soil and plant roots from extreme temperature fluctuations.
- Watering: Wet soil retains more heat than dry soil. Water the garden thoroughly before frosty nights to protect the plants.
Fall Vegetables for Garden Planting – Securing Food Independence
Are you tired of feeling disheartened in the produce aisle during winter, holding a single head of lettuce with a staggering price tag of $10.00 CDN? (That was the price for a head of organic lettuce in Nova Scotia, Canada, in February 2021, the highest we ever saw.) I don’t know about you, but I noped out of that early on by growing lettuce indoors, but lettuce isn’t the only problem.
Every winter, food prices increase, grocery stores profit more, and we’re left with less in our carts. Growing more food at home for longer stretches means more money in our pockets and healthier choices on our dinner tables.
Looking For More Gardening Ideas?
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- Companion Planting for Higher Yields and Healthier Gardens