How And When To Plant A Fall Garden. Why You Need One.

A fall garden is a great way to grow more food and extend your vegetable harvest. It’s also a great time to get a few more of those cool season vegetables for your family’s table.

My fall vegetable garden is my favorite garden of the year. The air is cooling off making gardening much more enjoyable and it’s the best time to grow many of my favorite vegetables.

But to get a great crop to harvest in the fall, you need to plan ahead, most of the fall vegetable crops have to be planted in the heat of the summer.

pumpkin from a fall garden
Photo Credit: DepositPhoto ID# 223103280 @ 5PH

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What Is A Fall Garden?

As odd as this sounds, a fall vegetable garden is not a garden that is planted in the fall. In fact, most of the plants will be planted while it is still pretty hot outside, but they will be harvested after the days have shortened and cooled off.

Some crops can even be improved by a kiss of frost. However, this is NOT the time for your heat-loving, hot weather vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and okra.

This is the time for cool weather crops to shine!

Related Reading: 22 Best Cool Season Vegetables To Grow In Your Garden.

Why Plant A Fall Garden?

Planting fall crops lets you continue the ‘garden to table’ meals for much longer and allows you to grow vegetables that just won’t grow in the heat of summer.

It extends your growing season letting you grow nutritious food for a longer period of time. There are some real perks to growing a fall garden too.

Fewer Bugs

In the fall of the year, the bugs are starting to subside. The tomato hornworm is finished and the aphids have flown away. I have found that I have a LOT less pest pressure in the autumn of the year than I do in the spring.

Related Reading: Control Bugs In Your Garden, Naturally.

Fewer Diseases and Fungus

In some places the humidity drops in the fall, so do many diseases and fungi. Bonus!

But if you have a wet autumn it may benefit you to grow in raised beds so they will drain better.

Fewer Weeds

As the sunlight gets shorter, plants grow more slowly. That includes weeds, making it much easier to keep up with them. Fewer weeds mean more time for the fun stuff.

Less Water

With cooler temperatures, you will not have to use as much water or water as often. Add a little mulch to conserve the water that is there and you will reduce your watering even further.

carrots from a fall garden
DepositPhoto ID# 120453144
@ ch_ch

Cool Season Crops

Some crops grow better in the fall than in the spring. Others even benefit from a touch of frost to send the sugars up to the leaves which sweetens their flavor. Cool season vegetables benefit from the cooler temperatures and can take the shorter daylight hours.

Related Reading: 8 Easy Ways To Preserve Your Harvest.

Cooler Temperatures

For most people, autumn is a much more enjoyable time of year to work out in your garden. Gone is the blazing sun and the sweat dripping in your eyes. You can actually sit out in your garden with a cup of coffee and enjoy it for a change.

Related Reading: How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch

How To Plant A Fall Vegetable Garden.

You can plant your late-season garden almost anywhere.

You can use pots or containers to grow many fall vegetables.

If you are in need of more growing room, grow bags are a way to add more garden space easily and store from year to year in a very small space.

Even elevated beds right on your back deck are a great alternative. That’s a perfect place to have a salad garden.

You can also grow in raised beds or in rows in the ground.

Anywhere you can grow a summer garden, can also be the place for your fall vegetable garden. The most important thing to consider is timing.

Related Reading: How To Start Container Gardening Like A Pro

Peas from a fall garden
DepositPhoto ID# 281528214 @ Padabed

Plan Ahead For Fall Crops

Timing is everything.

It’s a mistake to wait until cool weather sets in to start your seeds for your fall garden.

There are a few things that will help you figure out your timing.

  1. Your first frost date (remember this is the average frost date, not the exact frost date)
  2. The number of days to maturity needed for your chosen crop to grow.
  3. A garden journal (garden planning printables) to record your information.

Finding Your First Frost Date

To find the average frost dates for your region, you can check it here on the farmers’ almanac site, or you can check with your local county extension office. If you are outside of the US, try checking with a local University or local nursery.

Once you have this information, you can calculate when to plant.

For example, the Detroit Golden Beet takes approximately 60 days from seed to harvest (Find days to maturity listed in the seed catalog, on the back of a seed packet or on the seed company website).

But, with the shortening light of fall, you may want to add about a week or so to the growing period to make up for the shorter days. That means, I can expect my beets to take approximately 67 days from seed to harvest.

I just count backward 67 days from my first expected frost date to determine my last planting date to ensure a fall harvest.

I can plant earlier or even succession plant (plant some every week or two) to spread out the harvest, but the last planting should be about 67 days before my first frost date.

But remember, each crop needs a different amount of time to grow. That’s where the garden journal comes in handy, so you have somewhere to write all those dates down. Do it once and you will have it for years to come.

And with a plant like golden beets, it is a great idea to plant extra, because you can get double the yield by eating up to 1/3 of the greens (leaves) and still get the root to eat.

When Should You Plant A Fall Garden

Planning your fall vegetable garden can take a bit of research the first time, but once you have your garden journal set up it will be a  breeze.

The dates on each variety of vegetable will be a little different too. For instance, lettuce can take as little as 30 days or as long as 60 days to maturity, depending on the variety.

Here are a few general time frames for growing most common fall crops. You can grow them sooner, in most cases, but this is generally the latest you can plant them unless you plan on using season extenders such as row covers or a greenhouse.

  • 16+ weeks before the first frost date, sow these crops:  Brussels Sprouts, Leeks, Parsnips, and Winter Cabbages
  • 12 weeks before the first frost date sow these crops: Beets, Carrots, Chinese Cabbage, Collard, Diakon Radish, Green Onion, Peas, Rutabaga and Turnips
  • 9 weeks before the first frost date sow these crops: Beets, (Swiss) Chard, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Mustard Greens, and Pak Choy.
  • 6 weeks before the first frost date sow these crops: Arugula, Mustard Greens, Radish, and Spinach.

Some crops like parsnips, carrots, and kale will become even sweeter with a mild frost. The challenge is to know how much cold is too much and to protect your crops accordingly. Before harsh weather starts, you can cover many root vegetables with a thick layer of organic straw mulch, and extend your season by a month or more.

You can also cover kale, chard, and spinach under floating row covers and/or plastic. Even if it snows, you can still have fresh greens to uncover and eat well into winter.  Here is a great post on how to make your own low tunnels.

Scarecrow in a fall garden
DepositPhoto ID# 46828611 @ Gorilla

Related Reading: Start Seedlings Inside Like A Pro

Should You Use Seeds or Plants In Your Fall Garden?

You can use plants from the local nursery, start your own plants inside under grow lights or direct seed.

Some fall crops do well when direct sown (beets, carrots, turnips), while others do better when started inside and transplanted out (cabbage, broccoli) because it gives them a head start in a cooler environment. Don’t forget, it’s very important to harden your seedlings off.

Just a note for those (like me) who live in a hot area, You need to wait until your temperatures drop below 90°F before planting cool weather vegetables in the ground.

Many cool season seeds, such as lettuce have difficulty germinating in hot soil, so starting them inside where you can keep them well-watered and shaded until the days are cooler could be a big help.

Starting with seeds is the same in the fall as in spring: Use a high-quality seed-starting mix for best results. If you reuse the containers you used for starting your seeds in spring, be sure to wash them in a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water to kill any disease organisms that might be lurking about. That will help keep your seedlings from getting fungal diseases like damping off.

Soil Prep

Clean out all the summer garden plants that you have already harvested or are showing signs of dying off. Remove all the weeds and assess what space you have to grow your cool season plants.

Your plants have been sucking down all the wonderful nutrients you put in your garden in the spring so don’t forget to add more before you plant your next crop.

Compost feeds your soil, not just the plants. Worm castings are a powerhouse to get your plants going, and if you are growing root vegetables don’t forget to add a good phosphorous source like bone meal or a nitrogen source such as blood meal or fish emulsion for your greens.

Succession Planting

You can clean everything out of a bed that you grew your summer garden in or try succession planting. As soon as the summer hot weather crops stop producing, pull out individual plants and pop cool season vegetables in their place.

cabbage in a fall garden
DepositPhoto ID# 189715400 @ lzf


When you first start your fall garden at the end of summer, it may be too hot for your little plants. It may help to provide a little shade for part of the day. You can easily set up some shade cloth that will give your seedling a respite from too much sun.

On the other side of the spectrum, make sure it still gets enough sunlight later in the year. The amount of light in the fall is diminished already, and as the shadows lengthen, you don’t want your garden to be shaded by a house, barn, or tree too.

Size Matters

Don’t forget about the final size of your plant. You can start a small plant between your summer crops, but make sure when it is full size there will be space enough for it to grow.

Plant Care

Just because gardening is easier in the fall, doesn’t mean you can plant and forget. You still need to make sure your plants are getting the nutrition and water that they need. Yes, they may need less water in the cooler days, but that doesn’t mean no water, and they still need to be fed and taken care of.

Related Reading: How To Prepare Awesome Soil For Your Vegetable Garden

What To Plant In A Fall Vegetable Garden.

There are many cool season vegetables that grow well in a fall garden. Here is a list of a few to try.

  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard (Swiss Chard)
  • Chinese Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard Greens
  • Peas
  • Radish
  • Rutabagas
  • Spinach
  • Turnip

There are some herbs that would love to grow in the fall too.

  • Cilantro
  • Chives
  • Garlic Chives
  • Fennel
  • Nasturtium (wonderful in salads, edible flowers too.)
  • Parsley
  • Thyme (this is a favorite of mine, both for culinary and for medicinal purposes)
vegetables from a fall garden
DepositPhoto ID# 5458633 @ .shock

Fall Perennial Vegetables and Fruit

Fall is also a perfect time for many gardeners to plant perennial vegetables, herbs, and fruit. After the heat of summer is over, but before you get too close to frost. Plants such as asparagus and strawberries, and don’t forget peaches, grapes, and blueberries.

Planting as the weather begins to cool will give the root systems time to get established before winter, without the harshness of the summer heat. Just make sure the plant that you choose is right for your planting zone.

Plants like onions and garlic do well planted in the fall so they can get a head start on the spring growing season. Make sure you properly prepare the soil so it is ready to go come spring with no disturbance and don’t forget to mark where you planted them.

Resource; Seed Companies

There are many great places to get your seeds. All home garden seed sellers that I know of have a NON – GMO policy, so that is not a worry. (you can check the website or catalog. It will be predominately displayed)

Both Hybrid varieties and Heirloom/Open Pollinated are great choices for a fall garden.

Here are a few of my favorite seed companies to get you started.

SeedsNow (They have sample packs for the small home gardener or someone who just wants to try out a new variety. Lot’s of other choices and gardening supplies too.)

True Leaf Market (This is my go-to for microgreen seeds and seed starting supplies. Many garden seeds as well.)

Seeds For Generations (A true, small, family-owned company)

Bakers Creek (They have an awesome catalog with many unique varieties for the adventurous)

Gardeners: Now It’s Time To Start Your Fall Vegetable Garden!

I hope this gives you the information to know that you can grow your own food this year. Putting food on your families table that you grew yourself….well, there is nothing quite like it.

Do you need to have more information about starting a vegetable garden? Check out my beginning vegetable gardening course and you will soon be growing like a pro.

How To Start A Vegetable Garden For Beginners – Course

22 Best Cool Season Vegetables To Grow In Your Garden.

Microgreens – How To Grow Them – The Beginners Guide.

How To Prepare Your Garden For Spring Planting.

Keep Bugs Out Of Your Garden – Naturally!

A Beginners Guide To Herb Gardening.

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Happy Gardening!

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I believe everyone can grow at least part of their own food! Let me show you how.

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