The days are getting shorter and fall is on the way. Are you planning to continue the harvest with a fall planting? There are so many interesting vegetables that thrive when the weather cools!
Albert Camus said that autumn is a second spring because every leaf is a flower. True, since the foliage is starting to turn, but for me fall in the garden is a second spring because we are harvesting spring veggies again.
After pulling our garlic this year we had seedlings of lettuce, bok choy, chinese cabbage, and kale ready and waiting to plug into the empty beds.
I also started some new spinach and swiss chard from seed hoping it will last into cold weather. Ever the optimist, I planted more bush beans, summer squash, and cukes, knowing that I will have to cover them when cold weather threatens.
New baby summer squash will replace the tired plants that have been producing since June.
Best Vegetables for Fall
- Vegetables that can survive light frosts (in the 30 to 32˚F range) include beets, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, celery, collards, green onions, potatoes, Bibb and leaf lettuce, mustard, parsnips, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard. The flavor of some of these, such as collards and parsnips, is, in fact, much improved by exposure to a spell of below-freezing temperature.
- Even hardier vegetables that can survive temperatures as low as 20˚F include cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, kale, leeks, rutabagas and turnips. Upon thawing out, these hardy vegetables will continue to grow between freezes!
When to Plant What
It is important to choose vegetables that are frost-tolerant for YOUR location.
- See your local frost date calculator. Or, check the Almanac Gardening calendar—with planting date ranges customized for your zip code.
- Then take the days to maturity for the crop you plan to grow (usually listed on the seed packets) and count back this number of days from the frost date. (If the days to maturity listed is from transplant, not seeding, add another 4 weeks to this figure.)
- Because plants grow more slowly in the shorter, cooler days of fall, add a ″fall factor″ of another week or two to the maturity time.
- Then add in the length of the expected harvest period and you’ve arrived at your planting date.
Generally speaking, here’s the rule of thumb:
10-12 weeks before first frost:
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, celery.
8-10 weeks before first frost:
Arugula, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chart, turnips
6-8 weeks before first frost:
If you plan to offer your plants protection (such as cold frames or row covers), you can plant 2 to 3 weeks later and still expect to get a good harvest! Learn more about season extenders.
Fall Gardening Tips
- Mulch your beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips before the ground freezes hard. Even if the vegetable tops wilt, the roots will survive with mulching and you can often harvest through the winter!
- With fast-maturing crops such as lettuce and hardy greens, stagger small plantings every few weeks to keep the harvest spread out or you’ll get all your lettuce at once time.
- Of course, you’ll need to follow gardening principles you’d use in the summer. Provide good soil (with organic matter), fertilize with plant food if you wish, and water consistently.
Why Plant a Fall Garden
Every August I try to convince my farmers’ market customers that they should be planting their fall gardens but I don’t have many takers. Most give me the fish eye like I am trying to put something over on them. These are the folks that do a marathon planting session on Memorial Day weekend and then scratch “planting the garden” off their to do list—done for the year! They don’t realize that many crops can be put in the ground before that traditional planting day and others need to be planted later when they can mature in colder weather. A large part of our market day is spent educating people about the possibilities.
- Planting fall crops lets you continue growing fresh, healthy food at home—plus, there is nothing like home-grown crisp, leafy lettuce.
- The plants produce better and the work is spread out over several weeks.
- Cooler temperatures means less watering and less sweating for you!
A Note on Bugs
Of course it isn’t all as rosy as some of the gardening books would like you to think. You still need to keep an eye out for slugs, cutworms, and cabbage worms which like tender sprouts and leafy greens.
A new crop of tiny baby slugs has been dining on my tender greens.
An unseen cabbage moth laid her eggs on my new kale plants in hit-and-run fashion. (I thought it was too late in the season for that but wrong again!)
Cutworms are still active, too, so be sure to protect your new seedlings.
Be sure to spread eggshells or Diatomaceous Earth around your seedlings. Or make little plant collars. Or just pick them off and drop in soapy water (check the undersides of leaves). See our advice on slugs, cabbage worms, and cutworms.
That said, there are definitely less pests in the cool fall than in the summer so that’s another advantage!
Garden Planning Tool
Need more help planning a fall garden? Try the Almanac’s online garden planner which lets you draw out beds right on your computer and select the right vegetables with the right spacing.
Also, the Garden Planner offers a 7-day trial (ample time to plan you first garden).