Planting a Fall Vegetable Garden: We Dig It!

Pac Choi
Photo Credit
Robin Sweetser

Fall Vegetable Gardening Guide

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We love fall gardening! The heat is waning, but the soil is still warm. There are just three steps to consider in planting a fall garden: when to plant, what to plant, and where to plant. Let’s get started!

Why Plant a Fall Garden

Fall gardening is much less stressful for many crops, shrubs, trees, and perennials. There are fewer weeds and pests, and it’s often rainier, so there is less need to water as often. 

  • In temperate parts of the country (USDA zones 4 to 8), planting can continue into November and December, especially for crops like spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, and kale!
  • In colder climates, some of these same vegetables are frost-tolerant. Many crops taste better after a frost or two.

As soon as your spring and summer crops stop producing, pull them and make room for all those delicious fall crops! There are just three steps to consider.

3 Steps to Fall Gardening Success

1. When to Plant a Fall Garden

Timing is everything. To plan what to plant in your fall garden, See our Fall Planting Dates Calendar. We’ve calculated your frost dates, backed out vegetable maturity dates (found on your seed packet), sometime for harvesting, and other fall factors. 

Or, you can consult the Frost Dates Calculator to find the first fall frost date for your area. Where I live, it is around September 20, but often, it is another month before we get a killing frost. There is a lot of glorious gardening weather between now and then.

Even though the days are beginning to shorten, the soil is warmer than it was in May, so seeds that are sown now will germinate much faster.

lettuce seedlings

2. Which Vegetables to Grow

Here’s a list of good vegetables to plant in late summer to keep the garden going through autumn! Pay attention to which veggies are frost-tolerant and which are tender. 

  1. As the weather cools, plant crops that are cold-tolerant and mature quickly. Salad greens are fast and hardy; leaf lettuces are ready to cut in 45 to 50 days. Looseleaf and butterhead leaves can be harvested at any time in their development. Sometimes, lettuce seeds have difficulty germinating in hot soil, so I start my new baby lettuces in flats that I can keep well-watered and shaded until the plants are large enough to transplant into the garden. Some lettuce varieties such as ‘Winter Marvel’ and ‘New Red Fire’ are more cold-tolerant than others. 
  2. A quick crop of radishes will be ready for the salad bowl in 25 days.
  3. Other root crops, like carrots and beets, will take longer but are worth the wait since they seem to get sweeter as the days get cooler.
  4. Fall-planted spinach does much better than spinach planted in the spring since it matures during the cool weather it loves instead of struggling in the summer heat.
  5. Swiss chard is another hardy green that reaches an edible size in 25 to 30 days. Given some extra protection when frost threatens, spinach and chard can last well into fall. If well-mulched, spinach will winter over in many parts of the country and give you an extra-early spring crop of the best spinach you’ve ever tasted!
  6. Broccoli and kohlrabi mature well in cool weather and will not be bothered by the cabbage moth larvae as much as spring-planted cold crops.
  7. Kale is a winter staple. Try blue-green ‘Winterbor’ or pretty purple ‘Redbor.’ They can be harvested long after other greens have been killed by cold weather.
  8. Bush beans take about 6 to 8 weeks to reach a harvestible size. The only problem with these crops is that they will be killed by frost unless you plan to protect them. If you live in an area with a long growing season, this will not be a problem.
  9. Snap peas and snow peas start to produce in 60 days, and peas that mature in cold weather seem especially sweet and crisp. Pea vines can survive temperatures down to 25 degrees.
  10. The real stars of the fall garden are the Asian greens. Quick-maturing varieties can be harvested in 45 days. Tatsoi, pac choi, mizuna, and napa are all part of the brassica family. If given some protection, they can weather a frost and will last through a hard freeze.

Some Asian greens like hon tsai tai and mibuna are more closely related to mustard (also in brassica family), which gives them tangy leaves that add a pleasant bite to an autumn salad or stir-fry. Other greens such as arugula, mache, minutina, and claytonia can withstand cold temperatures, providing you with lots of interesting salads and cooked greens well into late fall.

Also, consider mixing up edibles with flowering annuals to bring autumnal interest to the garden! For example, combine ornamental cabbages and kales with flowering pansies and different salvias.

3. Where to Plant Fall Crops

Of course, you have to decide on where to put your crops. This is when you’ll be clearing out the summer crops that have died back or that you’re simply not using.  

You may have harvested your onions and garlic, so you have an open bed. Or, perhaps you’ve pulled diseased tomatoes, or the squash bugs have now taken over the squash bed. Clean up the beds and add compost and kelp to feed the soil before planting the next crop. 

Caring for Fall Crops

Watering is probably your most important task for a fall garden. The air and ground temperature is already warm (unlike spring plantings).

  • It will be important to keep your seeds consistently watered. 
  • Adding mulch also helps water conservation.
  • If the heat and Sun in your area are too intense, consider a lightweight row cover. Learn more about using row covers.

Fall can be a second spring! Freshen up the empty beds with some compost and get ready to plant your second garden.

Have you ever planted a fall garden? Do you have any tips or tricks? Share them in the comments below!

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

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