Planting a fall vegetable garden is a great way to keep your garden going longer.
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!
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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.
Why you need to plant a fall vegetable garden
Planting a fall garden can help to improve your soil.
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 cool weather 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.
You can try out cool new crop varieties
Everyone has had summer tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.
But 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!
Choosing the best time to plant fall vegetables
Knowing when to plant fall vegetables is the tricky part about fall gardening. I’ve put together a chart to help you see when you should have your cool weather crops in the ground.
Look up what your first average frost date is and use that as an estimate to get your fall crops into the ground.
Best fall vegetables to plant
When you plant a fall garden, you’re planting cool weather crops. There are many crops out there that do well and even thrive in colder temperatures.
Many root vegetables and leafy greens are well-suited for growing in the fall and into the winter.
List of fall crops (cool weather crops) to plant:
Arugula is a leafy green that doesn’t like to grow in warm temperatures. The warm temperatures make it quickly bolt, so it’s best grown in the fall after hot temperatures are long gone.
It doesn’t like to get a hard frost or snow on it. You can help protect it though with a row cover and thick mulch.
Extend your arugula harvest by picking some of the leaves at it grows, similar to how you would harvest an herb.
Beets are pretty hardy and can handle a frost or snow. You can also eat the greens from the beets.
Pull some of the greens off when they are about 4 inches. Don’t pull too many off at a time so that the plant can continue to grow.
Broccoli does best when it’s started from seed indoors. When the baby broccoli plants are about 3 weeks old, move them into the garden.
Broccoli is really hardy and can handle hard frosts and snows. In fact, it can’t grow well in temperatures above 70 degrees and only does well in colder conditions.
Brussels sprouts are some of the most hardy winter crops out there. Start them about 100 days before the first frost date.
You can harvest Brussels sprouts after hard frosts and even out of the snow.
Frost improves the flavor of Brussels sprouts, so don’t harvest them until you’ve had a frost or two.
Onions can be planted in the fall and are really cold hardy. In fact, they can be harvested well after hard frosts and out of snow.
Bush beans can be planted for winter harvests. Many winter varieties will put off one round of beans, so plant a crop each week to ensure a continual harvest in the fall.
Bush beans won’t grow well after a frost, so plan on having them finished before your first frost hits.
Bush beans grown in the fall have a better, sweeter, flavor than those grown in the summer.
Cabbage is really hardy and can withstand hard frosts and cold temperatures.
The flavor of cabbage improves with frosts so let it get a good frost on it a time or two before you harvest it.
If you notice cracked heads or stunted growth, this could be a sign of uneven watering.
Cauliflower can be a tricky fall vegetable to grow. They are sensitive to cold and heat.
Plant them too early and the warm temperatures and they will die. Plant them too late and the frost will kill them.
Cauliflower is only cold hardy once the heads are mature. Many gardeners recommend harvesting them after a hard freeze as a precaution.
They also need consistent watering. Too much or too little watering can kill it.
Collard greens can be grown all winter long. They are super hardy and the flavor only improves with frosts and snow.
Collard greens make a ton of nutrient-dense leaves. All of this nutrition has to come from somewhere, so plan on fertilizing your collards heavily as they grow.
Starting them out with a really rich soil will help.
Don’t plant garlic bulbs in the spring, plant them in the fall. When the soil temperature is about 50 degrees, plant the bulbs.
Garlic is really hardy, but there are two varieties- softneck and hardneck. Softneck garlic is best suited for zones 5-9 and hardneck varieties are best suited for zones 3-6.
Garlic takes about a year to grow, but once you plant it, it doesn’t require much from you. Put the bulbs into the ground and let them grow. The following year, it can be harvested 2-3 weeks after the leaves turn brown.
Kale is hardy and is one of the vegetables that gets better with colder temperatures. The leaves become sweeter after a frost or two hits it.
Some gardeners say that it tastes the best when you have to dig it out of the snow to harvest it.
Kale that gets hit with warm temperatures will droop and look like it’s going to die. If cool weather comes back, the kale will perk back up.
Kohlrabi is pretty hardy, but is more hardy to the warmer temperatures than other crops on this list. You can plant kohlrabi sooner than some of the crops that are more sensitive to warm temperatures.
It can stand a light frost, but not a hard frost.
They can be harvested quickly, some cultivars in as little as 65 days!
There are many cultivars of leeks, some of them are cold hardy and some aren’t. Make sure that you get a cold-hardy leek.
Leeks can be very cold hardy and can withstand hard frosts. Mulch around the plants if you live in an extremely cold climate, just to prevent the leeks from freezing to the ground around them.
There are so many lettuce cultivars available that it really makes lettuce growing fun. Lettuce isn’t super hardy like some of the others on this list, but they grow fast in cool temperatures.
You can get a continuous lettuce harvest by planting a new crop each week.
Hot weather makes lettuce bolt quickly but hard frosts will kill it also. You can protect it from hard frosts with row covers and mulch.
Mustard greens are pretty hardy, but they won’t stand up to you harvesting them out of the snow like kale or collard greens.
A light frost will make the leaves sweeter but a hard frost can kill them.
Mustard greens grow really fast and produce a bunch of nutrient dense leaves, so they will need heavy fertilizing and rich soil to provide them with nutrients.
Parsley is hardy and you can harvest it year round. The first year the plant produces flavorful, nutritious leaves.
The second year, the plant will flower and the leaves become bitter. Try saving seeds from the flower head and starting a new batch of parsley when this happens.
Peas can be tricky to plant in the fall. An early hard frost or a few days of warmer temperatures can kill them.
Ideally, you want the first flowers to appear before the first frost, so check the number of days it takes for them to flower and try to pick cultivars that will bloom before your first frost date.
This root vegetable is cold hardy and can withstand frosts.
Radishes grow fast, so check them often to avoid leaving them in the ground too long.
Spinach is a hardy cold weather vegetable if you plan it properly.
Spinach can handle hard frosts and snow, but only if they have reached mature size beforehand. If your spinach is mature before freezing temperatures hit, you can harvest spinach all winter long.
Remove the outer leaves from the plant to get a continuous harvest.
If your spinach plants aren’t at mature size before temperatures drop below freezing, a row cover and mulch can help.
Start Swiss chard indoors and then put them into the garden when they are about 4 weeks old.
Chard is hardy, but it can’t handle extreme frosts like kale or some of the other crops on this list. Light frosts can improve the flavor, but hard frosts will kill it.
Turnips are a great fall vegetable to plant since you can eat both the root (turnip) and the leaves.
Turnips can’t handle the ground being frozen, so you’ll want to harvest them before the ground freezes. A thick layer of mulch can slow this down though.
Vegetables to plant in fall for a spring harvest
You can use a method of gardening called pre-seeding to get your garden ready for spring.
To pre-seed your garden, clean out all of the old plants and debris from the summer garden. Work compost into the soil.
Put the seeds into the ground and cover with a heavy mulch to help protect the seeds.
Pre-seeding works best when the garden stays consistently cold and dry. Temperatures that freeze, thaw and refreeze seeds can kill the seeds before they ever have a chance to germinate. Wet, swampy gardens can also kill the seeds.
Almost all cold-hardy vegetables can be pre-seeded. The seeds will start to sprout when it’s still cool and you’ll be able to harvest them before planting your summer vegetables.
I would try pre-seeding with these crops:
- brussels sprouts
- mustard greens
- winter squash
Some people have had success with pre-seeding summer crops also. Most of these are plants that will produce volunteer plants and can ‘pre-seed’ naturally.
These may not have as much success as the cold-hardy crops but it’s worth a try:
Heirloom varieties may have better luck pre-seeding than commercial cultivars.
Some plants are planted in the fall and harvested in the spring.
If you’re a fan of garlic, then try planting your garlic bulbs in the early fall.
You’ll notice some shoots that come up in the fall, but for a really good harvest, wait to dig the bulbs up in the spring.
Tips for a successful fall garden
Plan on starting seeds
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.
Whatever the reason, 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.
Choose the city closest to you and use this as an estimate for your first frost date.
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.
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.
Cool weather crops need lots of 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.
Mulch your fall garden
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 and keep it consistent.
There are many types of mulch that you can use:
If you have trees, pine needles and dead leaves are free mulch.
All of these will break down over time and add nutrients to your soil.
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.
Tips for using grass clippings as mulch
1. Don’t use grass clippings that you have sprayed herbicides on.
Clippings with herbicides can kill tender fall plants quickly.
2. 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.
3. 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.
For more information about watering and handling your fall garden, check out A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening from Best Reviews List.
Final thoughts about fall gardening
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.
Mulch your garden.
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.
Water the crops frequently.
Cool weather crops love water. The roots, stems and leaves need consistent watering to thrive.
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.