Planning the Fall Garden
Most people tend to think of fall as the end of the gardening season. It’s when you pull all the spent crops, clean up debris, and get ready to put plants to bed for the winter. But there’s also an opportunity to harvest some edibles late in the season. Some pros even plan carefully enough to be able to harvest all winter long.
The key to planning a fall harvest is to get everything in the ground early enough. In most areas, that means planting in late July or early August. That gives plants enough time to grow before the days become too short. Make sure you know your average first frost date, so you seed or transplant far enough in advance to see plants mature. Planting schedules will vary depending on a person’s USDA hardiness zone.
Here’s what you can still plant now:
Carrots are an excellent choice for the fall garden because they’re easy to grow and can withstand frosty temperatures. Leave them in the ground when there’s a freeze, and their flesh will taste even sweeter. Most varieties mature in about 70 to 90 days. However, if you’re cutting it close with your planting dates, opt for a dwarf carrot variety like Paris Market.
Related: 3 Keys to Planting a Fall Vegetable Garden
These pungent veggies are one of the fastest-growing edibles in the vegetable garden. Most varieties take less than a month to mature. If the timing is right, you might even get to harvest them twice. A hardy variety that responds well to changing weather is Plum Purple. Pink Lady Slipper radishes are another great choice for the fall garden because they stay fresh for weeks in storage.
Swiss chard isn’t as hardy as kale, but it’s still a solid pick for late summer planting because it can tolerate light frost. Most varieties require 50 to 60 days to mature. And even if you don’t plant early enough, you’ll just end up harvesting slightly smaller leaves at the end of the season. Plant Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard for a colorful fall display in the garden.
Beans are tender crops, but they grow and produce quickly. That means there’s usually enough time to plant a second batch of these nitrogen-fixing plants. Stick with bush beans since they’re hardier than pole and runner beans and usually mature quicker. A fast-growing bush bean variety is Bountiful, which matures in 45 to 50 days.
These nutritious leafy veggies are hardy and easy to grow. Some varieties have been bred specifically to withstand freezing temperatures, allowing gardeners to continue harvesting during the winter. Many types mature within 60 days, but you can also harvest leaves in their baby form. Cold-hardy kales include Siberian, Westlander, and White Russian. Like carrots, kale also gets sweeter after a freeze.
As a cool-season vegetable, broccoli grows best at the tail end of the season. Most people have trouble growing broccoli because they plant it at the wrong time. Heads that mature in cooler weather are tastier and better in quality than those picked during the hot summer months. Broccoli tends to mature within about 90 days, give or take, so it might be too late to plant if you’re in a northern zone. Otherwise, consider varieties like Broccoli Raab, Santee Purple Sprouting Broccoli, or De Cicco for your fall garden.
Bok Choy and Other Asian Greens
Many gardeners struggle to grow heat-sensitive plants during the summer because plants send up flower stalks and become bitter as soon as it gets too hot. When it’s ultra-hot, some plants—like bok choy and many Asian greens—will bolt as soon as they sprout from the ground. These quick-growing greens are better suited to cool-season growing and don’t take long to mature. Varieties perfect for fall harvesting include Chijimisai (55 days), Yod Fah Chinese Broccoli (55 days), and Prize Choy (50 days).
Related: The Best Plant Food for Indoor and Outdoor Gardens
Another vegetable that isn’t a fan of the heat is lettuce. Seeds and plants tend to do better in cool conditions. By picking the right varieties, you might even be able to enjoy lettuce far past the end of fall—with the help of some protection like row covers or cold frames. Cold-hardy lettuce varieties include Rouge D’hiver (60 days), Winter Density (55 days), and Merveille Des Quatre Saisons (48 days).
Because onions are sensitive to changes in daylight hours, it’s not possible to plant them at the end of the season and harvest their bulbs in the fall. Most onions need a long growing season. But, you can still plant green or bunching onions because they don’t usually take much more than 60 days to mature. Varieties suited for late-season planting include Ishikura Onion (40 to 50 days) and Parade (60 days)
Fall squash is what people usually harvest when the leaves are changing colors. But it takes a long time to grow fall squashes like butternut or acorn squash. Summer squash, on the other hand, matures impressively fast. If you plant now, you can surely enjoy another harvest in time for fall. Squash doesn’t like frost, so plant ASAP to ensure fruits can form and mature before the first frost date.
Related: How To: Get Rid of Squash Bugs
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