Growing a fall garden might seem intimidating. It was for me — so much so that I didn’t even try my first few years!
But little by little I began trying different crops. Some did great and others served as learning experiences.
In the midst of learning, though I realized one big thing: fall gardening is too rewarding not to try!
In this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast and in the blog post below, I’ll share why to grow a fall garden, how to grow the three different types of fall garden crops, and when to plant.
Click below to listen to read on for the full post:
Why Plant a Fall Garden?
Although you do have to start planning your fall garden when you’re still busy with the summer one, in the long-run, a fall garden requires less time and effort. For me, it’s a much smaller endeavor. I focus on key crops like lettuce, carrots, and spinach. Those vegetables take up less space than a wildly prolific zucchini plant or a large patch of black-eyed peas.
As the season begins to wind down and the daylight decreases, weeds slow their growth as well. This makes the most hated chore of them all more manageable, and toward the end of fall, don’t be surprised if you don’t have to weed at all.
With a few exceptions, most troublesome pests complete their life cycle by late summer and have returned to the soil to overwinter. For example, I have my best squash harvests in the fall with almost no pest pressure from the squash bug and squash vine borer, and pests like the tomato hornworm has never been a problem either.
Many cool-weather loving crops offer a sweeter flavor after a light frost. Carrots, for example, taste the best when harvested after a freeze.
Jump-start the Spring Garden
Spinach thrives in cool weather, and in most seasons it will even survive the winter in my zone 7b garden. When timed right, not only will you reap a fall harvest but if you leave it in the ground, you’ll notice it growing again in late winter for a harvest extending until spring. Also, you can plant garlic after your first fall frost for a summer harvest of homegrown garlic.
Enjoy Autumn at Its Best
Although we all love spring, there’s something special about snipping lettuce to go with an October cookout or planting garlic on a crisp November day. Planting a fall garden enables you to enjoy your garden at one of the most beautiful times of year.
Three Types of Fall Garden Crops
If you live in area where you get frosts and freezes, you can divide the crops in your fall garden into three categories.
Frost-Tender Late Summer Crops
In the late summer, many of us have time to plant quick-growing summer crops like squash, zucchini, cucumbers, or bush beans.
Depending on the length of your growing season, you might have a chance to fit in some of these quick-growing summer crops.
Keep reading to see if you have time to get some of these crops in and how to time your planting. This does depend on when your average first frost is. Click here to calculate it.
Frost-Tolerant Fall Crops
Frost-tolerant crops do not like hot weather, and they can tolerate a frost. These mature plants will also, in my experience, withstand freezes as long as the freezes are not sustained.
It is these crops that will likely make up the bulk of your fall garden: lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, beets, kale, swiss chard, and more.
These need to be planted after the summer heat has passed (temperatures in the 80s or below).
Lettuce, beets, kale, and swiss chard can be planted as transplants or as seeds directly in the garden. If planted from seed, just be sure and keep them watered well to aid germination and early growth in the hotter part of their growing time.
Broccoli and cabbage take longer to grow in the fall. I don’t recommend directly seeding them in the garden. Either start them from seed indoors three months before your average first frost, or buy transplants from the garden center, aiming to get them in the ground two months before your average first frost.
Freeze-Tolerant Fall Crops
In my Zone 7b climate, where temperatures don’t get below zero, there are some crops that will last all winter to some degree.
Carrots are planted directly in the garden a couple of months up to a month before the first frost. Like other directly seeding crops, carrots need consistent moisture. Many years your fall rains will take care of this. In my area, I can harvest from November through the winter, depending on the season.
Spinach can be directly seeded in the garden, but my best crops come when I start them indoors about six to eight weeks before my first fall frost and then transplant them outdoors about a month before my first fall frost.
In my area, I get a fall harvest until mid-December. Then they stop growing for about a month and resume again in late January. From there, I can keep picking until the spring heat sets in.
Garlic, although not harvested in the fall, needs to be planted in the fall. I usually wait until the first fall frost and then plant them.
How to Plant and Grow a Fall Garden
Clear Out Space
The first step to planting your fall garden is to make room for it. For most people that will mean taking out spent annual crops that aren’t producing anymore or ones that have been heavily pest-infested.
This may include your spring and summer squash, corn, bush beans, and determinate tomatoes.
Prepare the Soil
If you’ve been growing in your garden all season, those previous crops have been taking up nutrients for months. Therefore, you need to replenish those soil nutrients. Add compost and/or organic fertilizer to help boost the fall garden crops. This is a great time to think about crop rotation and how that affects soil fertility.
For crops that won’t survive frosts or sustained freezes, you’re in a race against time, and when a soil is nutrient-deficient, those crops will struggle to grow to maturity before a killing frost or killing freeze.
Plant at the Proper Time
Your planting dates will be different in the fall garden compared to the spring garden. The declining daylight hours will slow the growth of your plants, so you’ll need to plan for extra time from planting to harvest.
First, you need to find your average first frost date.
Second, look at the seed packet of the crop you’re planting and find the “days to maturity.” Then, add 15 days to that date to account for the declining daylight. Then count backward from your average first frost date to find when you should plant your seeds.
If you are planting the frost-tender late summer crops, add another week at least to give you enough time to harvest before your first frost.
Though most people think of gardening as an activity for the height of summer, it’s easy to miss the rewarding experience and productive harvest a fall garden can provide. You might even try growing food indoors to extend your season even longer! If you try it, you may just find that a fall garden is your favorite one.
Have more questions about fall gardening in your area? Join the free Beginner’s Garden Shortcut Facebook Group and connect with others who are growing in a similar climate as you!
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