Extending Your Growing Season: Using Row Covers, Cold Frames, and More Techniques to Protect Crops from Cold Weather | The Old Farmer's Almanac

10 Ways to Extend Your Growing Season


How to Keep Your Vegetables Growing

The Editors

Here are ideas to extend your vegetable garden season. If you enjoy fresh veggies, why wouldn’t you keep them growing? Here are 10 tips and tricks to keep that harvest coming. 

Also, here six ways to encourage productive staples such as green beans and tomatoes to carry on cropping for longer.

1. Keep on Picking to Keep Plants Producing

The first rule with any fruit or pod-producing vegetable is to keep up with the picking. Leave those zucchinis to swell into marrows and you’ll inadvertently slow the initiation of new flowers and fruits. Beans will also stop producing more pods if the existing ones are left to ripen to biological maturity – by forming seeds, the plants will have completed their lifecycle, and will have no reason to continue flowering.

Check plants every couple of days and remove fruits and pods before they get too large or overripe. And if you’re heading away from home for more than a week, encourage your neighbors to harvest them – they’ll get free food and you’ll come home to continued pickings!

2. Keep Watering for Best Fruit Quality

All vegetables need water, but fruit and pod-producing vegetables are particularly thirsty. Water-stressed plants quickly slow down. Aim to water regularly for consistent soil moisture, which will translate into plenty of well-formed fruits and pods, free of problems such as blossom end rot or cracking. It will also avoid the annoyance of fruits splitting, which happens when they have dried out too much then receive a sudden deluge of water.

3. Continue Feeding Plants

Leaves turning yellow? Your plants need to continue being fed! Don’t scrimp on feeding your crops. Continue watering a suitable organic liquid fertilizer on to hungry fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Feeding plants costs money but does mean more fruits of better quality, so the investment is well worth it. Or why not make your own liquid feed from fast-growing, nutrient-rich plants such as comfrey?

4. Top Up Mulches for A Nutrient Boost

Mulches of organic material applied earlier in the season may now be looking a little scant. Top up mulches with new material. Straw that’s free of seeds is a great mulch for many fruit-bearing crops, including, of course strawberries. It’s naturally full of potassium, which fruit and pod-bearing plants love. Grass clippings are a ready-to-hand source of instant mulch too, and will help to keep plant roots cool and moist in hot, dry weather.

5. Prune to Let the Sunshine In

Strong growth over the summer months can mean that taller plants cast shade where they didn’t before, compromising crops that need plenty of direct sunlight. Consider cutting back overhanging foliage and act promptly to remove spent crops so that those remaining enjoy plenty of sunshine and good air circulation.

In cooler climates, now may be the time to wash off or remove any greenhouse shading, to trap more of the late summer sunshine.

6. Keep Plants Warm With Row Covers

Later on in the season stragglers can be encouraged to keep producing for a week or two longer by adding the thermal comfort of a floating row cover. Remove covers during the day to enable pollination, then replace it in the evening to provide a little warmth and protection against lower temperatures.

Building a cold frame is another idea. A cold frame is simply a hallow rectangular box filled with garden loom. There’s no bottom but the frame has a cover of glass, plastic, or fiberglass. Some folks just use an old window or door. Next spring, use your cold frame to get a jump on the planting season.

7. Keep Planting!

If you plant a different crop after another crop is harvested, this will not only give you more to harvest but it will cut back on pests and weeds wich can’t get a foot hold. 

Of course, successive planting is the best way to stretch the harvest over a period of time. For example, sow radishes once a week, not all at once. Sow salad greens every two weeks.

Sow early, mid, and late varieties of the same plant or seed different varieties of the same plant and they’ll mature at different times. 

Repace summer crops with fall crops. See our Fall Planting Calendar for your zip code.

Plant fast-growing veggies among slow growers. By the time the slow growers need more room, the fast growers are done and gone. This is a great way to grow cool-season veggies into the warmer months. Shade created corn and vertical crops (such as climbing beans) allows you to grow radishes and lettuce in warmer wather.

8. Clean Up All Season!

It goes without saying that you should not leave debris, diseased plant material, nor rotting leaves in the vegetable bed. This encourages more pests and stress on the plant—which will slow or stall its growth.  Do your housekeeping and take care of your garden by keeping it clear of both weeds and dead plant material. You’ll have a better harvest.

9. Start Seeds Indoors

Get a two- to three-month jump on next year’s planting season by starting seeds indoors. Seeds that you start yourself grow much faster in the soil versus store-bought transplants. It’s important to use grow lights as winter window-sill light isn’t enough. A whitelight fluorescent tube will cost you much less than a nursery grow-light if you can’t afford grow lights.

10. Plan Ahead and Save Seeds

Grow non-hybrid plant varieties and save their seeds. Why? Not only does this save money, but also lants successfully grown in your garden from year to year will become acclimated to your particular area, and will therefore do better than seeds originating elsewhere. Store seeds properly in a cool, dry place out of sunlight.

None of these techniques are exactly rocket science, but by applying each you’ll almost certainly be able to eke out more from your fruiting and pod-producing vegetables – and others for that matter. How do you keep your pickings coming? You can let us know by dropping us a comment below.

Did you this advice helpful? Discover the online Almanac Garden Planner for more expert tips on garden planning and growing!


Geri Reski (not verified)

1 year 8 months ago

In Arizona, 5600’ elevation, zone 7. About first to mid August planted from seed cukes, green beans, green onions, bell peppers. Little monsoon season but they are growing nicely. This is slug season for us and lost 1 green bean plant and 2 bell pepper plants to them but the other green bean plant and cukes are thriving! My yellow squash are still producing and so is my kale! Just planted romaine lettuce seeds in the cold frame, so that is going to do well, and cilantro planted first of September hopefully not to bolt too soon! Strawberries are now hit and miss with the changing season...but they were producing 3-4” berries a month ago...nice!

Pam (not verified)

2 years 4 months ago

I live in Colorado at approximately 9,000. Summers and warm (85 degrees) to rather cool (70 degrees). I am wanting to container garden and wonder if the hoop tunnel would be the best to use. I have a good south facing space to grow them in. I have tried growing tomatoes, but it's too cool for them to grow and produce. Most days, we get wind from the west. Due to income constraints, I can't afford a greenhouse. What are your suggestions? Thank you.

We're not clear about your questions. Watermelons love the heat and they already have a very long growing season so they do well in the warm southern climates. They can take up to 85 days to mature. In the northern climates, you can start the growing season earlier by mulching with black plastic to warm the soil up and also used raised beds. Floating row covers can also help protect the young plants from any unseasonable frosts or cold spells. You can also start seeds indoors a few weeks before planting if you can provide warm germination. Finally, if you are concerned about the long growing season, there are early varieties that take 70 to 75 days to mature.

Roy Hughes (not verified)

8 years 3 months ago

I grow giant watermelons for a festival and need to extend the growing season in the hottest months…Any suggestions?