By Matt Gibson
Summer might be the best time of year for vegetable gardening, but autumn’s mildly chilly yet sunny environment can reap some great rewards as well. With the help of some expert tips and a bit of extra care and preparation, you can get a ton of great salad crops and keep your root crops and brassicas growing several weeks after the first frost.
What Grows Well In The Fall?
There are plenty of options for gardening in the fall. Here are a few of our favorites. You might also check out our article about vegetables you can grow in fall and winter.
Lettuce and other Salad Greens – Lettuce and other salad greens can thrive during fall conditions. Since most greens need a very minimal time to mature, you can plant them in August and continue well into September to get the most greens out of your fall garden.
Parsnips – Harvest parsnips after the first frost after the flavor has a chance to mature. Direct sow parsnip seeds in the late summer to allow plenty of time for maturation in the fall.
Kohlrabi – A fast grower for the cold season, kohlrabi only takes six weeks to mature.
Carrots – If your garden has drip irrigation, sow your carrot seeds along the drip lines. Since carrot seeds are very small and hard to sow, drop about five to eight seeds for every inch to increase your chances. Direct sow carrots into the ground in rows spaced about six to eight inches apart.
Beets – You can plant beet seeds around eight to ten weeks before the first expected frost and still have plenty of time to harvest them before the holidays. Beets harvested during the fall will have stronger colors than those harvested in the spring. Plant beet seeds one inch deep into the ground and about three to four inches apart from each other and apart from any other neighboring plant to give them plenty of space to grow.
Broccoli – Spacing plants out about 12 to 18 inches apart, transplant broccoli into the garden. Since broccoli loves extra nitrogen in the soil, extra applications of a nitrogen source like blood meal or alfalfa will help insure your broccoli is doing its best in the fall.
Onions – Plant onion sets two to four weeks before the average last frost date in your area. Plant in a shallow furlow, spaced four to six inches apart. Cover with only enough soil to keep their shallow tips at the soil’s surface.
Cauliflower – A cold tolerant cousin to cabbage, plant cauliflower late in the summer to use in soups and salads when you harvest them in the fall.
Peas – Peas are perfect for cool weather gardening. Select short season varieties for autumn harvests.
Pumpkins – There is no way to even think of fall gardening without mentioning a pumpkin patch. Sow seeds in mid summer for fall harvests.
Radishes – The quickest vegetable that develops from seed to harvest, radishes only take four weeks before they are ready to be added to fresh salads and wraps, or your favorite fall soups and stews.
Beans – Green beans are incredibly fast producers, but you don’t have to limit yourself to green beans alone. Choose any bean you like, just allow enough time to harvest before the first frost date in your area.
Brussel Sprouts – Though brussel sprouts are sometimes frowned upon by youngsters at the dinner table, as taste buds mature, they often become a favorite later in life. Brussel sprouts do wonderfully in a fall garden and hold up well to the first frost.
Turnips – Easy to grow and perfect for a wide variety of recipes, turnips are frost hardy, and great fits for any fall garden.
Collards – These huge green-leafed beauties are packed full of nutrients and are perfect for stir frying. Collards are super hardy, and tend to taste the best if harvested just after the first frost exposure.
Celeriac – Celeriac is not the prettiest vegetable that you can grow in your fall garden, but they are quite tasty when cooked. Celeriac does need some extra time to mature, however, so get a head start on your fall garden by planting them late in the summer.
Green Onions/Scallions – Green onions can be direct sown in the summertime and will survive the winter even if they are not harvested. Sow four seeds per inch in rows spaced six to eight inches apart. Their tiny bulbs come in white and deep purple and just like purple onions, they will not lose their color when cooked.
When Should I Start My Fall Garden?
The secret to fall vegetable gardening success is planning your harvests backwards. Start with the first frost date for the fall in your area. Then find out the number of days that you will need before you can harvest your fall vegetables. You can usually find that number on the back of the seed packet or the catalog description.
Alternatively, you can look it up on the internet, just make sure that you are using a trusted website as a source. Use the number of days needed before your vegetable is ready for harvest and count backwards to the first frost date, adding two weeks as many fall vegetables grow slower as the days begin to shorten in the fall.
For example, if you want to grow a vegetable that takes about 25 days to mature and become ready for harvest, and your first frost date in your area is October 31st, then you will want to plant those particular vegetables on September 22nd.
How do I prepare my garden for fall?
Don’t waste any time getting out into the garden to harvest your early season crops. This will help you in making room for the fall vegetables that you are about to begin planting. Crops that should be finishing up include garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. The sooner you harvest your early season crops, the sooner you can get started preparing your fall beds for the next round of planting.
Prepare your garden for the fall by making room for all the new plants that you are about to harvest. Start by ripping out all of the plants that you have already harvested (such as potatoes, onions, and sweet corn), as well as plants that are no longer performing well (like tomatoes that have succumbed to disease or peas that have been burned out by the sun). At this time, you will also want to pull up any weeds from the beds so that they don’t try to steal nutrients and moisture from your fall vegetables.
If you have a high amount of clay soil in your garden beds, it’s a great idea to work in a lot of organic matter or compost into the soil while preparing your beds. This will help you get your fall veggie garden off to a great start.
Want to learn more about fall gardening?
The Old Farmer’s Almanac covers Planting Dates for Fall Crops
Better Homes & Gardens covers Fall Vegetables
Good Housekeeping covers How to Plant Fall Garden
HGTV covers Vegetables for a Fall Harvest