Autumn is approaching, but you don’t have to retire your trowel or hang up your harvest basket. Start planting vegetables now and you’ll be savoring the flavor of homegrown produce into fall and winter.
Planting for fall and winter harvest makes good use of garden soil and shaves dollars off your grocery budget. Fall and winter are great times of year for cool-season crops to mature. Shorter days don’t trigger flowering, and pests are fewer. With many crops, cool temperatures actually enrich flavors.
Here are a few principles of growing fall vegetables that will help you learn which crops work best.
Get the garden ready
Clean up the area where you’ll be planting. Remove spent summer crops and any weeds that might be present. Compost disease-free plants; bag for disposal if not. Spread a few inches of fresh compost and work it into the top layer of soil.
Time it right
Sow seeds or tuck transplants into the ground so that plants will have time to mature before frost strikes your region. To determine planting date, follow these steps:
- Check with your local extension office to learn proper fall planting dates. Visit the Cooperative Extension website to find links to your local extension website, where you’ll find easy-to-download planting calendars.
- Research your crops to learn their cold limits. Some withstand light frosts, such as lettuce, beets, carrots, Swiss chard, bok choy and cauliflower. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, kale, onions, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips can take several hard frosts. Learn more about frost and protecting plants.
Which crops to grow
Plant a mix of early-, mid- and late-maturing crops to enjoy a long harvest season. In mild winter regions, include warm-season crops, like tomatoes, peppers or squash in your planting scheme to savor a late-autumn harvest.
Early-maturing crops (mature in approximately 30 days)
Root crops: Bunching or green onions, radishes
Leaf crops: Arugula, broccoli, leaf lettuce, mustard, spinach
Mid-maturing crops (mature in approximately 60 days)
Root crops: Early carrots, turnips
Leaf crops: Bok choy, early cabbage, collards, kohlrabi, leeks, mustard greens, Swiss chard
Late-maturing crops (mature in approximately 90 days)
Root crops: Beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, globe onion
Leaf crops: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, peas
Sowing and growing tips
- Ensure a continuous supply of early-maturing crops by sowing seeds every two weeks.
- Lettuce seeds go dormant when temperatures hit 80˚F. Break heat-induced dormancy by placing seeds on a moist paper towel in a plastic bag in an air-conditioned room for two to three days. Many gardeners also sow lettuce in shady spots during summer.
- Keep seedlings and transplants moist through summer heat. Cover soil with a layer of mulch to reduce water loss. Consider shading plants with makeshift shade structures, like shingles or dried sabal palmetto leaves stuck into soil. In warmest zones, some gardeners build miniature shade houses by attaching shade cloth to simple wooden frames or hoops.
- Heavy frosts sweeten carrots, parsnips and Brussels sprouts. Leave some plants unharvested until frost arrives.
- In cold regions, mulch root crops with a thick straw layer (6 inches or more) to continue harvesting until the ground freezes.
- In regions that bring frost, invest in frost blankets to cover plants and extend the growing season.
- Record dates of what you sowed when and how it fared to help you plan next year’s plantings.
- Risk sowing a few plants later than recommended. If frost is late, you’ll enjoy the reward of additional garden-fresh fare.