Inside: Many gardeners don’t realize the benefits of planting a fall garden. This post shares the vegetables you can grow in the fall and when to plant fall vegetables.
During the dog days of July, you are probably 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 summer (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 gardening 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.
The cooler weather is a benefit to many crops as it makes some vegetables sweeter. Kale and brussels sprouts in particular tend to have the best flavor when grown in the fall. They are usually a bit 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. And growing a fall garden is a great way to extend the gardening season.
Pests also tend to be less active in the fall than in spring and summer. Many of the bugs have packed up and left the area by the time your fall vegetables are ready to harvest.
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.
Other heat-loving veggies like squash, zucchini, and cucumbers can’t handle frost either. However, there are many cool-season 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 early 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
When planting a fall garden, most vegetables that do well in the spring garden will also do well in the fall. Cool-season crops tend to have fewer insect pests as well.
Most brassicas will usually do well in the fall garden. This includes most cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
Leafy greens, such as spinach, chard, turnip greens, and collards typically do very well. Even lettuce can handle a light frost. In my North Carolina garden, I’ve had lettuce survive all winter!
And many root vegetables such as carrots and turnips will provide you with fresh produce long after the summer crops of bush beans and zucchini have died back.
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
- bok choy and other Asian greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Swiss chard
- greens such as mustard and collard
At one time or another, I have planted almost all of these cool season vegetables 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 out your first frost date. You can look up your frost dates by zip code on the Almanac’s website.
If starting your vegetables from seed, look at your seed packets and determine how many days until harvest. Count backward from your first frost date that number of days plus an additional 10 days to 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 is October 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 31.
Forty-eight days before October 31 is September 14. I also need to allow an additional 10 days to 2 more weeks for slower growth so I am now back to September 4 (using 10 days). This is the last day I should start planting my seeds if I want to get a decent harvest in before frost.
You can sow seeds of most root crops directly in the ground. And most root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, parsnips, radishes, and beets don’t do well at all being started indoors and transplanted.
But other vegetables should be started indoors (or just buy transplants.) Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts do better if the seeds are started in a controlled environment.
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.
When planting individual plants, be sure to water them regularly to ensure they have a strong start. Young plants need consistent moisture to establish a good root system.
It is a good idea to check the soil moisture with your finger or a moisture meter to be sure the plants don’t dry out. In many areas, the fall season is the driest time of the year.
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 underperforming plants. You can replace these with fall crops.
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. Check out grow bags for a low-cost option for growing cool-weather vegetables.
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.
Extend Your Growing Season
You can also extend your growing season beyond early fall if you employ a few tricks. You can use row covers in late fall to keep lettuce and other greens growing a few more weeks after your first frost.
If you want to garden on into early winter, you can plant vegetables under a cold frame. Be sure to keep the cold frames open while it is hot.
As the temperatures cool off you can close the frames to keep your vegetables warmer. Many areas are able to get a winter harvest with a little help from these season extenders.
Gardening in the Fall
Gardening in the fall is usually much more pleasurable than gardening during the summer heat. 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.
Fall can also be a great time to start growing some perennial herb plants for the following year.
While fall can have lots of dry weather, you generally don’t have to water as often since plants aren’t losing as much water on cooler days.
By planting a fall garden you can also enjoy fresh food from your backyard 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 growing a successful fall garden.
- How to Clean up the Garden in the Fall
- Cool-Season vs. Warm Season Vegetables
- What to do if an unexpected frost threatens your garden
I’m a farm girl born and bred in North Carolina. I’ve been growing a vegetable garden for over 20 years (and helping my Mom grow hers even longer). I’ve been raising chickens in my bathtub and backyard for 12+ years. I believe that homegrown food can be made simple. Let’s get started.