Preview: Many gardeners don’t realize the benefits of planting a fall garden. This post shares the vegetables you can grow in the fall and how to get them started.
During the dog days of July, you probably are wishing you could escape to somewhere cooler. From the sweltering heat to the bugs, bugs, bugs, you are ready for a break from gardening. But have you thought about planting a fall garden? There are so many benefits to growing a few fall vegetables.
It can be hard to think about planting fall vegetables when you’ve got tomatoes and peppers rolling in faster than you can preserve them. But you can’t wait until fall to actually plant a fall garden. Early to mid-July is the time to start preparing.
Many fall vegetables will need to be started indoors where temperatures are cooler to allow them to germinate properly. And depending on your zone, you may need to act fast to get those seeds started in time to harvest a fall crop.
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Benefits to Planting a Fall Garden
There are lots of benefits to gardening in the fall. The weather is cooler, so you aren’t working in the heat of the summer. Pests tend to be less active in the fall than in spring and summer.
The cooler weather is a benefit to many crops as it makes some vegetables sweeter. Kale and brussels sprouts in particular tend to be sweeter after a frost.
Vegetables tend to “hold” better in the garden than they do in the summer. When the weather is hot, I have tomatoes and peppers ripening every day. Green beans and okra have to be checked at least every other day and picked and preserved.
In the fall, plants grow slower. If you don’t make it out to the garden for a day or two, your fall vegetables will usually be just fine. The broccoli isn’t likely to start flowering overnight nor is your lettuce likely to turn bitter if you skip a day in the garden.
And if you wanted to grow a garden but didn’t get it started in the spring, it’s not too late to grow some of your own vegetables.
Fall Gardening Problems
One of the difficulties of a fall garden is that you can’t plant warm-weather crops. Tomatoes and peppers will not do well as both vegetables like hot weather and will not tolerate any amount of frost. However, there are many vegetables that actually do better in cooler weather.
Another problem with growing a fall garden (and the most common one) is that many people wait until too late to actually start their vegetables. Most vegetables need to be started in July or August for a fall harvest. (Keep reading for how to know when to start your fall vegetable garden.)
Vegetables to Plant in a Fall Garden
Any type of cole crop will usually do well in a fall garden. This includes most cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. Greens, such as spinach, chard, turnip greens, and collards typically do very well. Even lettuce can handle a light frost.
While this list is not all-inclusive, it should give you an idea that fall gardening is not limited to one or two crops.
Crops to Plant for a Fall Harvest
- brussels sprouts
- greens such as mustard and collard
At one time or another, I have planted almost all of these crops in my garden and most have done extremely well in the fall.
When to Start Your Fall Garden
To determine when to start your fall garden, you first must decide whether you are going to start plants from seed or buy transplants from the store. Starting plants from seed is more time-consuming, but it’s cheaper and you have much more variety to choose from.
You will also need to figure your first frost date. This chart can give you an idea of when your first frost occurs.
If starting from seed, look at your seed packet and determine how many days until harvest. Count backward from your first frost date that number of days plus an additional 2 weeks. This allows time for slower growth due to cooler weather and gives you time to harvest before a hard freeze sets in.
For instance, my first frost date in my Zone 7 garden according to the chart is October 16-31. So if my seed packet (in this case, Prizehead lettuce) says I need to allow 48 days to maturity, I need to count backward from October 16.
Forty-eight days before October 16 is August 29. I also need to allow an additional 2 more weeks for slower growth so I am now back to August 15. This is when I need to start planting my seeds so I can get a decent harvest in before frost.
If you are buying transplants from the store, you don’t need to start quite as early. Most plant tags will tell you when to plant the vegetables to optimize your harvest. If not, this article will help you figure out the best time to plant your chosen vegetable.
How to Make Space for Your Fall Vegetables
If your summer garden is already full, it may be difficult to think about finding space for fall vegetables. You have several options.
If you want to grow a fall garden in the same space as your summer garden, one of the easiest ways to gain some space is to pull plants that are finished producing or any under-performing plants. You can replace these with fall vegetables.
Another option is to grow fall vegetables in containers. With so many inexpensive container options, you can easily grow some lettuce or a few carrots in several containers on your deck or patio.
A third option is to add some vegetables to your landscape. Bright Lights Swiss chard is beautiful in the flower garden with its brightly colored stems.
Gardening in the Fall
Gardening in the fall is usually much more pleasurable than gardening during the hot summer months. Cooler weather and a hint of a fall breeze always makes me want to get outside and enjoy the day.
Fall is also a great time to plant blueberry bushes and other fruit trees. The cooler weather means the trees and shrubs can get acclimated to their new home without as much transplant shock. You generally don’t have to water as often either.
By planting a fall garden you can also enjoy fresh food a bit longer. So, grab a glass of lemonade, take it out to the porch one hot July day, and start planning what vegetables to grow in your fall garden.
Do you plant a fall garden? If so, what do you plant? If not, let this be the year you try gardening in the fall.