3 Keys to Planting a Fall Vegetable Garden

Even in autumn you can plant, grow, and enjoy fresh vegetables, so long as you know which varieties to put in the ground, and when.

By Jennifer Noonan | Updated Oct 3, 2013 11:38 AM

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Fall Vegetable Garden

Photo: motherearthnews.com

As summer wanes, gardeners turn their attention to such “cleanup” activities as removing failed plantings. But while cooler weather may be on the horizon, the months of August and September are perfect for planting a host of edible crops. Extend your vegetable growing into autumn, and with a little diligence, you can reasonably expect to harvest fresh produce for your family’s Thanksgiving dinner!

Pick the Right Crops
Many greens thrive during this time of year. Take spinach and lettuce, for example: They do as well or even better in the cooler, shorter days of fall than they do in the spring. In addition, broccoli, kale, swiss chard, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, beets and radishes all perform dependably and productively late in the season. Choose a few of your favorite varieties, planting them according to the directions listed on their packaging—just as you would do in March or April.

Related: On the Edge: 11 Garden Borders You Can Make

Get the Timing Right
The key to planning a successful autumn vegetable garden is figuring out when to get your seeds in the ground. Start by determining the average first frost date in your area. Circle that date in your calendar, then count back the number of days it will take your selected vegetable varieties to reach maturity. Whichever date you land on is the date by which you should expect to have finished your planting.

Fall Vegetable Garden - Digging

Photo: gardenguides.com

Let’s say that your local average first frost date is November 15. Let’s also say that you are planting spinach. Since spinach matures in 45 days, you’d want to you have it in the ground no later than October 1.

Hedge against an early frost by planting a week or two earlier than is strictly necessary. If there are no surprises and the frost comes as expected, you’ll simply have extra time to harvest.

Prepare the Ground
Pull up the summer plants no longer producing fruit, and repeat the soil readying process you went through in spring: Add fresh compost, and till and loosen toil. Do a soil test, and make amendments if necessary. Rake the planting area to create a smooth surface and finally, you’re ready to plant.

By mid-summer, most garden supply stores will have made way for winter season products. If you have trouble finding seed packets for cool-weather vegetables at this time, make a note of it. Next year, when you’re buying seeds for the spring, remember to get enough for your fall garden, too. In the meantime, you should have no trouble ordering seeds you want either online or through a catalog.