Fall is a busy time for gardeners. There’s harvesting, clean up, and prep for next year, but what about planting a fall garden? It may seem daunting, and with winter fast approaching, you may be wondering if you even have time.
You may be ready to pack away the trowels, but fall gardening can be easy, and it’s an excellent way to extend your growing season. If you’ve always wanted to try planting a fall vegetable garden but have never gotten around to it, this is your year.
Here are seven tips for planting a fall vegetable garden to ensure a successful harvest.
1. Carefully Select Your Plants
When selecting seeds or plants, be sure to choose the variety carefully. Vegetables from the Brassicaceae family, such as cabbage and kale, are popular cool-season crops. However, each of these vegetables has many varieties, some of which are more winter-hardy than others. Winterbor kale, for example, is a particularly frost-hardy variety that will survive in temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Another key factor to consider when picking plants is how long they take to grow to maturity. For your fall garden, choose fast-growing varieties to ensure the plants establish before the temperatures drop and the days shorten. Some plants will continue to grow in cold weather, but their growth will slow considerably.
2. Plan Ahead
When planning your fall garden, it’s a good idea to base your planting dates on your first expected frost date. This allows you to determine how long you have to grow certain crops and when their expected harvest dates are.
When growing from seed, start vegetables with more extended growing periods, such as Brussels sprouts, about four months before the first expected frost for a fall harvest. Plant vegetables with shorter growing periods, such as kale, about three months prior to the first frost.
If you’ve left it to the last minute, there’s no need to give up on your fall gardening dreams. There are often many discounted plants at garden centers this time of year. Plus, purchasing already established plants versus growing them from seed will give you a head start.
Fall is also the perfect time to plant garlic, bulbs, and perennial herbs and shrubs to enjoy the following year. Plant them approximately six to eight weeks before your first predicted frost date.
3. Keep it Cool
Cool-season crops require a lower temperature to germinate and grow. It may be too hot if you’re starting your seeds or plants in late summer. One option for germinating seeds is to start them indoors. Once they sprout, move them outdoors, and use shade cloths if needed.
If you need to start your seeds outdoors, use shade cloths to reduce the sun’s harsh rays while still allowing enough light through. Cloth coverings can also assist with deterring pests.
On the flip side, if it’s already cooling down in your region, you may be able to direct sow or use the greenhouse without worrying about using shade cloths.
4. Carefully Select the Site
When selecting a site for your fall garden, consider using raised beds. The soil aboveground will stay warmer, allowing you to extend your growing season. Find a location with ample sunlight and protection from harsh fall winds and rain. Gardens alongside structures that protect from the cold, wind, and rain are ideal.
If you don’t have raised beds, you can also use containers. One benefit to using containers is that you can move them around as needed, giving you the flexibility to bring them indoors for the winter.
5. Prepare the Garden Site
Before you start planting, be sure to clean up your garden site. Harvest your summer crops and remove any remaining plants and weeds. Mix compost and topsoil into the garden depending on your soil composition and what you’re planting.
If there are any diseased plants, be sure to properly dispose of them and allow a few weeks before planting anything in that bed. Tomatoes and cucumbers are popular crops that are susceptible to a host of diseases and pests.
6. Rotate Crops
When planting your fall crops, be sure to rotate the crops from the summer, which means not growing the same vegetable or vegetable family in that location. This will help to improve the soil quality as plants have different nutritional needs.
Rotating your crops can also reduce the chance of pests. The best practice is to alternate between root vegetables and leaf crops. If you previously had carrots, beets, and radishes, switch it up with kale, spinach, and Brussels sprouts.
Garlic and onion bulbs planted for a spring harvest should similarly rotate from the previous year’s bed.
7. Prolong Your Growing Season
Once your plants are in the ground, the biggest obstacle is time. You want to prolong your fall growing season as long as you can to ensure a successful harvest. Be sure to keep an eye on the forecast and have a plan in place before temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. With a little bit of preparation, you can grow many of these cool-weather crops over winter.
There are several easy solutions for keeping your plants warm such as hoop houses, cold frames, cloches, mulching, and blankets. Hoop houses are easy to construct overtop of already established gardens to extend their season. Cold frames are more permanent structures that are good locations for fall and winter gardens. Cloches sound super fancy but can be as simple as placing a plastic container over a plant for protection.
Be sure to give plants a heavy layer of mulch or straw for insulation. On extra cold nights, you can also throw blankets over top of plants or hoop houses to help retain the heat.
Gardening in the Fall
Fall is the perfect time to garden. It’s finally cooler, which means it’s time for cool-season crops to thrive. If you pick the right variety and plan ahead, you can set yourself up for a fantastic fall vegetable garden and a hardy winter harvest.
Are you planting a fall vegetable garden? Share your experience in the comments!