How to Grow Vegetables in the Fall
Vegetable Gardening in the Fall
Most people think of vegetable gardening as a spring and summer activity, but with some smart planning, you can easily extend the harvest season well into the fall in most gardening zones and grow great vegetables in the fall. Several techniques come in handy to grow vegetables in the fall in the majority of gardening zones:
- Choosing vegetables that thrive in the cool weather
- Starting some seeds indoors and others directly in the garden
- Using season extenders such as row covers, cold frames and similar devices to keep plants warm during sudden frosts
You can grow vegetables in the fall in gardening zones 5-8. Depending on your zone, you'll need to start seeds and transplant seedlings at different times. The gardening zone for your area is determined by the first frost date in the fall and the so-called 'frost free' date in the spring, or the dates of the average first and last frosts. Note that these are the averages for your area; some years the dates may be earlier or later. Plan for the average. To find out the average, contact your local county Cooperative Extension website to find out your gardening zone. Your Cooperative Extension office may also have a chart online or available in print of the dates of planting for common vegetables. This is a very helpful guide for your local gardening area.
Cool Weather Vegetables
The trick to growing great vegetables in the fall is to choose those that thrive in cool weather. The following list represents many vegetables that grow in the fall.
- Swiss Chard
- Greens of all sorts - mustard greens, collard greens
- Broccoli rabe
- Brussels sprouts
Plan your fall vegetable garden by looking at the back of the seed packages or looking in a good gardening book for the approximate number of days to harvest. Some vegetables can take cold snaps such as lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets and turnips. Look for the days to harvest and count backwards from your frost free date. That will give you the approximate planting date. For example, if November 1 is your frost free date and the seed package says 45 days to harvest, counting backwards that means you have to plant the seeds no later than mid September to give the vegetables enough time to reach maturity before the cold snap harms them.
Some vegetables actually get sweeter after a frost or two. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, beets and carrots are vegetables that are planted in late summer and taste better if they survive at least one or more frosts. Parsnips are like this too but you must plant them in the spring as they require many weeks to mature.
Extending the Growing Season in the Vegetable Garden
There are various ways to create warm micro climates in the fall vegetable garden and to protect seedlings and plants in the event of an unexpected frost. If you use raised bed gardens, you can create a cold frame by slipping panes of clear acrylic plastic over the top or using old storm windows and doors to cover the plant. This keeps the frost from settling on the plants. Place the sheets of glass or plastic over the raised bed in the evening while it is still light outside to trap some heat underneath. Then cover the raised bed, leaving enough room so you aren't squashing the vegetable plants. It is a good idea to use a brick or a large rock to weight down the cold frame cover, especially if you use clear acrylic plastic sheets as these are lightweight and can blow away easily. Remove the covers in the morning to allow good air circulation over the plants.
You can also use season extenders such as hoops placed over the garden bed, with a clear sheet of plastic pulled over the hoops and anchored to the ground. This creates a mini greenhouse. I have also made cloches or plant covers to protect tender herbs and extend the season. To make a cloche, use a plastic soda pop bottle or a plastic milk container. Clean it thoroughly with soap and water and cut off the spout or pouring end, leaving as much of the container as you can. You can slip this over a tender herb such as rosemary or basil as a mini greenhouse overnight to protect it against a frost. Just remember to remove the cover the following morning.
Fall Vegetable Gardening Resources
- Find Your Gardening Zone - National Gardening Association
Information and inspiration on gardening with answers to questions about lawns, landscapes, trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vegetables, herbs and flowers, organic gardens, compost, urban, soil, design, roses, tomato, how to grow in containers.
- Fall Vegetable Gardening - Home - Virginia Cooperative Extension
- Purdue Cooperative Extension Fall Vegetable Gardening Sheet
- Growing a Fall Vegetable Garden