How to Plant a Fall Vegetable Garden
By: Julie Day
Cabbage makes a great addition to a fall vegetable garden.
The summer gardening season might be coming to an end, but did you know that you can continue planting and growing yummy vegetables all the way through the fall? Many cool-season vegetables come into their heyday as the temperature drops, and some taste even better once they’re been nipped by a light frost.
Here’s what you need to know to plan, plant, and enjoy the harvest from a fall vegetable garden in your yard.
About Fall Vegetables
Vegetable plants don’t care what season it is, as long as their basic growing conditions are met. Gardeners in warmer climates may be able to grow “fall vegetables” all winter long. Colder areas, on the other hand, have a shortened growing season in late summer, before autumn snowfall begins.
Carrots need well-aerated soil that is free of stones.
Fall vegetables are considered cool-season vegetables, which means that they will thrive under these growing conditions:
- Daytime temperatures between 60° and 80° F (the cooler the better).
- Nighttime temperatures above 40° F (a light frost is usually okay).
- 6 hours of sunshine per day.
- Rich, well-draining soil.
- One inch or more of water per week.
Vegetables grown in the fall include:
Broccoli is a real fall treat.
When to Plant Fall Vegetables
In most areas, fall vegetables are planted in August or September, for harvest through October and November. However, unlike spring planting, the fall garden is a race against time, so you have to calculate carefully to be sure your plants won’t be killed by freezing weather before they produce.
You can start planting fall vegetables as soon as daytime temperatures average below 80º F, and you can continue planting as long as they will have time to mature before the first frost and freeze. If you live in a region that doesn’t freeze, you can grow cool-season vegetables until temperatures begin to rise above 80° F in the spring.
Salad greens can be grown in containers during the fall.
Know Your Frost Date
The first step to planning a fall vegetable garden is to learn your average dates of first frost and freeze. Frost dates for your area can be found on the Dave’s Garden and Farmers’ Almanac websites. In addition, your local agricultural extension service should have more detailed local information.
Once you’re armed with your local frost and freeze dates, planning your garden is as easy as counting backwards on the calendar. Your veggies should be planted so they will mature before the first frost, and provide most of their harvest before the first heavy freeze.
Most plant and seed labels include information on “average days to maturity,” so you can choose vegetables that will be ready in time. Some cool-season crops mature in as few as 30-40 days while others can take several months to produce.
Beets can be dug as needed until the ground freezes.
Fall Gardening Tips
Here are some tips to make your fall garden a success:
- Plants: The easiest way to start a fall garden is to buy transplants that are already growing. Choose fast-maturing varieties to get the most for your harvest.
- Seeds: If you’re planting seeds, they’ll need to be planted deeper – and watered more often – than seeds for warm-season crops, to help them germinate in the hot late-summer soil.
- Preparation: Remove and clean up all plants and debris from your summer garden, so your fall veggies will be free of disease.
- Fertilizer: Work in some fresh compost or soil conditioner. You can also mix in an organic slow-release fertilizer, although if you heavily fertilized your summer garden you probably have enough left in the soil.
- Drainage: Make sure your soil is light, well-aerated, and well-draining. Pay extra attention to drainage, since fall gardens are more likely to get soggy from rain.
- Mulch: Fall veggies need mulch to keep the soil cool and moist during the last days of summer. Mulch also helps keep low-growing leafy veggies clean.
- Cold Weather: As winter grows closer, you can extend your garden harvest by using floating row covers on frosty nights, or by planting in containers that can be brought indoors overnight.
- Warm Weather: You can also use row covers to cool down your veggies during surprise hot spells. Some fall veggies will “bolt” (bloom and set seed) in hotter temperatures, which can change their flavor and ruin your harvest.
Turnips grow great in the fall.
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