Just because summer is ending doesn’t mean that you can’t keep your garden going through the winter. If you are winding down your summer garden, consider planting fall vegetables. There are many vegetables that love growing in the cooler weather. Your table and your garden will thank you for planting fall vegetables!
This post contains affiliate links. To view my affiliate disclaimer, click here.
One of my favorite tasks on our farm is taking care of the garden. I don’t know about you, but there is something so relaxing about working in the soil and caring for the plants. So I’m always a little bummed when summer is winding down and my summer plants start to die out.
Just because your tomatoes and squash plants are slowing down doesn’t mean that your garden has to sit unused this winter. I’ve written down five things that you can think about when you are considering planting fall vegetables.
1. Planting Fall Vegetables Can Improve Your Soil
Yes, you read that right!
The crops that you planted during the summer use nutrients from the soil. However, not all of those nutrients get used up completely. One of the major nutrients that isn’t used up is nitrogen.
Nitrogen is a major nutrient used for plant growth and development.
It’s involved in almost every process in the plant. It’s basically gold in your garden soil. If it’s not used up by plants, it will leach down through the soil. This means that it travels down through the soil far enough that it’s no longer reachable to plants.
Many of the fall vegetables are leafy greens such as lettuces, spinach and greens. These plants are really good at finding and soaking up nitrogen that was left behind by summer vegetables. When these plants soak up the excess nitrogen, it prevents it from leaching in the soil.
Nitrogen and other nutrients are recycled by fall crops. These plants take in the nutrients while they are growing. Once they die, the left-behind root systems decompose and release the nutrients back into the soil for the next group of plants.
Leafy greens also provide a large shaded area which prevents weeds from growing in the garden. Another way to prevent weeds growing in your garden is by using plasticulture gardening.
2. Start Seeds if You Are Planting Fall Vegetables
Let’s face it. Most places that sell vegetable plants in the spring don’t sell plants in the fall. I guess they just don’t understand that planting fall vegetables is a thing. Maybe they don’t have room when they start stocking shelves in the fall with Christmas stuff.
Either way, the fact is that it’s much harder to find plants in the fall than in the spring. Starting your seeds indoors will allow you to choose the plants that you want for your fall garden. You’ll also be able to choose the best plants to put in your garden.
Ideally, you want to start your seeds 12-14 weeks before your first frost date. Obviously you don’t know when your first frost date is going to be, so use the average first fall frost date. The Farmer’s Almanac has a tool that will give you the average first fall frost date and average last spring frost date. You simply click on your state and a list of cities will come up.
When you are choosing seeds to plant, consider the harvest date. Some fall vegetables are ready to harvest in as little as 25 days! Some of these crops can be grown multiple times over the fall and winter for multiple harvests. Other crops will require 40 or more days to reach harvest.
Some plants that are suited to growing in the fall are
- Asian greens
- brussels sprouts
- collard greens
- green onions
- mustard greens
- Swiss chard
- turnip greens
If you’re late and don’t have time to start seeds indoors, don’t worry! You can direct seed many of the vegetables for your fall garden. Just plant them straight into the ground in time for them to catch the end of the summer warmth before it gets to cold.
3. Planting Fall Vegetables Allows You Time to Try New Crops
Everyone has had summer tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. Have you tried Bok choy? What about rutabagas or kohlrabi? Planting fall vegetables will give you more gardening time to try some different crops.
If you don’t want to grow a crop that you haven’t tried before, you could try a different variety of the crops you do like. You could grow purple or white carrots. Have you seen all of the varieties of lettuce that are available for growers?
Mix your garden up some this fall! Look for varieties of crops that are colorful and pretty. There are numerous cabbages, lettuce varieties and other fall vegetables that will add a pop of color to you otherwise dreary garden.
Some fall vegetables are planted as landscaping because they are so pretty!
Check out cabbage varieties such as Osaka Red or Tokyo White. If you are interested in planting fall vegetables for landscaping, check out the list of Top Ornamental Cabbage Varieties that The Spruce has put together.
Planting fall vegetables will not only add color to your garden or landscape, but they will also provide valuable nutrients to your plate. Honestly, many of us don’t think to eat lettuce and leafy greens during the winter. Those tend to be summer foods.
That’s a silly way to think when you consider that most leafy greens prefer to grow in the cooler months, not the hot months.
These vegetables are the most nutritious right out of your garden. When you buy lettuce from the store, it could have been harvested as much as a week before you bought it. During that period of time, it can lose some of its nutritional value. So add some color (and nutrients) to your plate this fall!
4. Planting Fall Vegetables = Water, Water, Water
If you are planting fall vegetables, you need to plan on watering extensively. More so that you probably watered your summer garden (especially if you used plasticulture in your summer garden).
The crops that grow in the cooler temperatures require a large amount of water. Fall crops are grown for their leaves, stalks and roots. This is different from most summer crops that are grown for their fruit.
The leaves, stalks and roots of fall vegetables love water.
In fact, most fall crops love to be sprayed and covered with water. Tomato plants, on the other hand, don’t like water to touch their leaves at all.
Fall vegetables need to be tricked into thinking that it is fall every single day. They enjoy steady, consistent watering. In fact, a good watering techniques for fall vegetables is to water them regularly, steady and every single day.
If you have a day that is unseasonably warm, water the garden from above. This is called overhead watering. Overheard watering not only waters the plant, but it cools the leaves and the soil temperatures down. Remember, we want to make the plants think that it’s still fall even if it gets warm.
If the plants don’t think it is fall or winter anymore, they may be tricked in to thinking that it is spring.
Warm temperatures cause many lettuces, cabbages, greens and other fall vegetables to ‘bolt’. When a plant bolts, it sends a shooter of flowering parts up. Once this process has begun, the edible parts of the plant lose nutritional value, flavor and texture.
A good way to prevent bolting from occurring due to a day or two of warm temperatures is to keep them well watered. Again, water them from overhead to cool the plant and the soil back down.
Grow It Organically has a good article that covers the differences between planting summer vegetables and planting fall vegetables. It goes in-depth into some of the differences between soil needs, water needs and more.
5. Mulch Your Garden When You’re Planting Fall Vegetables
There are many reasons that you want to mulch your fall garden. One major reason is that it prevents soil erosion. Soil erosion is a major issue not only in the U.S., but worldwide.
You work hard to get your garden soil as suitable for plants as possible. Think about how much you work the soil and any fertilizers that you’ve added to it. You don’t want all of that work to go to waste because your soil has eroded. Mulch will help keep it in place.
Mulching the fall garden will help prevent any weeds from growing in your garden.
Weeds compete with your fall crops for nutrients, sunlight and space. Keep weeds at bay by laying down a thick layer of mulch.
Fall and winter usually bring more drastic daily changes in temperature and air moisture content. A thick layer of mulch will make sure that the small environment around your plants remains constant. Mulch will help keep the moisture in the soil. It also helps to regulate the soil’s temperature.
There are many types of mulch that you can use. You can use pine needles, wood chips, dead leaves and even grass clippings to mulch your garden. All of these will break down over time and add nutrients to your soil.
If you have trees, pine needles and dead leaves are free mulch.
Grass clippings are also free. Don’t use grass clippings that you have sprayed herbicides on. Clippings with herbicides can kill tender fall plants quickly. If you choose to use grass clippings, make sure there aren’t seed heads in the grass. You don’t want to create a massive weed problem for yourself in the spring.
When you apply grass clippings, add them a little at a time. If you add grass clippings that are too thick, they will become sticky and slimy. The clippings need time to dry out before another layer is added.
If you are using some type of organic mulch, be aware that you may be creating an ideal habitat for slugs and snails. Slugs and snails will hide in the mulch during the day and come out at night to eat the leaves of your plants.
Don’t hesitate to start planting fall vegetables!
Planting fall vegetables can be very rewarding. You’ll be putting more fresh, nutritious food on your family’s table. You won’t have to buy frozen spinach and brussels sprouts if you plant them in your fall garden.
The soil in your garden will thank you for planting fall vegetables also. Many fall vegetables are leafy green plants. many leafy green plants are good at soaking up left behind nutrients, especially nitrogen. The plants prevent the nutrients from leaching out of the soil. This way, the nutrients can be reused for your spring and summer plants.
There will also be less weeds for you to deal with in the spring and summer. Planting fall vegetables will prevent weeds from taking over in your garden. Leafy green vegetables will create a larger area of shade which prevents weed growth.
Planting fall vegetables will require possibly some extra work from you. Mulching the crops is a good idea. You can use a free mulch that you have available such dead leaves or pine needles. These will decompose and add nutrients back into your soil.
The cool weather crops love water, so make sure that you water fall vegetables consistently. Plants that think it is spring due to warmer temperatures or lack of water (even for a day!) will bolt. Bolting plants don’t taste very good, so avoid the issue by making sure your plants are well-watered.