With a little bit of information, the desire, and enough confidence, the fall growing season can be as successful as the spring. A fall vegetable garden grows some of our favorite crops: leafy greens, root veggies, fresh herbs, and more. Plus, your fall gardens will give you a continual harvest of fresh flavors. The best part? Now is the time to start.
From where, to when, to how, this fall vegetable garden guide contains everything you need to know to grow. We cover location, soil prep, caring for your plants, and harvesting how-tos.
The first step is to make a fall garden plan. Discover what you can plant now by your zip code. Take into account both your growing desires and your climate.
Create a list of what you would like to grow in the fall and think about the average first frost date of your season. If the days to maturity of your plant is less than the days to your average first frost date, you’re good to grow. You just want to be finished growing before the ground freezes!
GARDEN HACK: When you grow in containers, exact timing is less of a concern since you can move them in if an early frost hits!
Lots of veggie options are frost tolerant and
Fall herbs are also a great option for autumn growing and, if cared for properly, can add flavor to your table throughout the winter season.
If you had a spring garden, wherever you planted should work well for your fall vegetable garden. If not, choose a spot where your plants will receive at least 8 hours of direct sunlight. In the summer, we worry about having shade — this is not as much of a consideration in the fall. Instead, think ahead to when the days get shorter. Will your garden still receive enough sunlight?
Additionally, try and find a protected area where inclement weather or wind won’t negatively affect your plants. If you’re not able to find a place with built-in protection, you can create protection with a tarp, garden fabric, or a trellis.
You may also want to consider how pests interact with your location. If you have a garden on the ground, be sure to fence it in with chicken wire. Avoid planting next to other plants with diseases or that attract pests. Veggies are tempting enough for pests as it is!
Containers are our favorite location for growing. It creates simplicity and ease for you and your plant. If your container is mobile, you can wheel it in and out of weather, protecting it from storms and particularly chilly nights. Containers are also raised which keep your garden out of reach from large pests.
Fall container gardens offer a lot of flexibility and convenience — whether you are gardening on a porch, hi-rise balcony or backyard. Easy to maintain and friendly to urbanites and suburbanites alike, container gardens are a great first fall
Good soil is the true key to growing success. Your soil is the home for your plants, as well as the way they access all nutritional needs.
If you’re planting in a place that had a preexisting garden, be sure to pull out any leftover crops and weeds. Then, add amendments to your soil to create a more perfect home.
For container gardens, make sure to refresh your soil for your new crop. Select soil that is customized for what you are growing and where you are growing. Remember, you want to create the perfect home for your plants to thrive.
Compost improves soil and plants by returning organic matter to the soil in a usable form. It will improve your plant’s growth and (believe it or not) make your veggies taste better.
The first choice to make while you’re planting is whether you want to direct sow seeds or plant seedlings (transplants).
In the fall, you might be planting leftover seeds from the spring or growing an entirely new crop. Depending on the crop, you’ll want to plant about 12 – 14 weeks out from the first frost date. You can direct sow these seeds into your garden plot or you can start them indoor.
If planting directly outdoors, keep your seeds quite moist until they have germinated. We recommend watering daily — but be sure to check the soil moisture with your thumb. You don’t want to overwater.
Beginning your seeds indoor makes the delicate germination process as little less delicate. Plant in a small pot or even a citrus peel to begin. Once they’re about three weeks old, they’re ready to be moved outdoors.
Think of the replanting process as a minor trauma for your seed. Watch them carefully as they adapt to their new environment, being sure to water well and fertilize as needed.
Seedlings are a particularly good option for fall because of the unpredictable cooler weather. The soil still needs to be fairly warm to germinate, so it’s nice to buy transplants that have grown past the risky baby phase. After you plant your seedlings, soak the soil thoroughly.
It will take at least two weeks for the root systems to grow actively, so keep an eye on your garden. The larger your transplants, the better the results.
As a general rule, a fall vegetable garden does best with about an inch of water a week. Once your seeds or transplants are established, aim to water your garden deeply and thoroughly once a week rather than relying on several light waterings throughout the week. As your plant continues to grow, this will ensure a stable, healthy root system.
To see whether or not your fall vegetable garden needs to be watered, stick your thumb about an inch deep. If your soil is still moist, your garden can wait. If it’s dry, water immediately.
Overwatering can be especially problematic in the fall because of the lack of exposure to sun and heat. Look out for wilted leaves or yellowing foliage as signs of overwatering. If this has occurred, adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
The best advice for watering is to simply pay attention! Your plant will tell you what it needs by how it responds and the thumb test is foolproof.
There are substantially fewer pests and disease in the fall than in the spring, but it’s still wise to keep an eye out! Look for holes or spots on your leaves or generally unhealthy looking plants. If you see the signs, deal immediately with appropriate action.
As the days get colder, you’ll experience some frost. This doesn’t mean it’s over for your plant! Either take your container gardens indoors for nights (being careful of temperature shock!) or cover your plants. For small gardens, a cloche is a decorative cover option. You can also use old sheets, blankets, or a row cover.a
The first rule of harvesting in the fall is to know that your crops will be a little slower to mature than the spring. Differences in soil temperature and shorter days mean your fall crops will be ready to harvest about two weeks later than your spring ones of the same variety (on average).
Each vegetable has a different way to tell us that it is ready to harvest. Whatever crop you’ve planted, know those signs and watch out for them! Similarly, each crop likes a different way of being harvested.
One of the exciting things about harvesting in fall is that your gardens sort of turn into a mini-fridge if it gets late enough in the season. Cool-weather allows your crops to hold longer in the soil once they mature. If it’s cold enough, you can wait past maturation to harvest which means the food on your plate is the freshest around.
If you plant thoughtfully and in succession, you could have a consistent harvest throughout the cold season and into the early spring.