When to Plant a Fall Garden: How to Choose the Best Dates
INSIDE: Wondering when to plant a fall garden? Find out what vegetables are best to grow, and learn how to choose the right planting times based on your first frost.
Picture this: as the leaves change color this fall, a chilly breeze whispers through your garden, and you step outside, crunching through the leaves to pick fresh ingredients for tonight’s dinner…
Sound like a pipe dream? It’s not!
And it’s easier than you think.
But right now, you’re not sure where to start.
You may be wondering:
- What are the best crops and varieties to grow?
- As my summer garden continues to produce, how do I make room for fall veggies?
- When should I start my seeds?
- How do I deal with unpredictable fall weather?
Don’t worry—I’ve been there.
Planning a successful fall garden can feel overwhelming without the right guidance.
So, I created this guide to walk you through what to plant in the fall step-by-step.
With a bit of know-how inspiration and actionable tips, you can easily extend your gardening season into the fall. Let’s start by choosing the best vegetables for your garden.
What’s in this article:
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Knowing what vegetables you can plant in the fall is essential as you plan.
In this section, we’ll talk about the best fall crops and what vegetables to plant in the fall for a spring harvest.
If you’ve been wondering when to plant greens again, you’re in luck! They’re one of the best fall garden crops.
Spinach, kale, arugula, and lettuce all thrive in cool weather and tolerate light frosts.
Plant them in early fall for a continuous harvest until the first hard freeze.
- Spinach: Rich in iron and vitamins, spinach is a high-yielding crop that can withstand frost. Sow spinach in early fall for a harvest before winter sets in. Or, succession plant them in cold frames to keep harvesting into the winter.
- Kale: Kale is a cold-hardy plant, which means it can withstand the cool temperatures that come with fall and even improve in flavor after a frost. It’s also an incredibly versatile staple ingredient in countless healthy recipes.
- Arugula: This fast-growing green packs a peppery punch and is perfect for salads, sandwiches, and even pesto. And it can tolerate a light frost.
- Lettuce: With a variety of types to choose from, leaf, head, and romaine, lettuce is a staple for fall planting. Plant seedlings or direct sow in late summer or early fall for a steady supply of fresh greens.
Radishes, beets, carrots, and parsnips are awesome fall garden plants. Plant them now to allow them to develop their vibrant flavors before the first frost.
These cold-hardy crops can even be left in the ground, covered with a thick mulch, and harvested as needed throughout winter.
- Beets: With their earthy flavor and vibrant color, beets are a welcome addition to any garden. Sow beets in late summer or early fall for a flavorful harvest.
- Carrots: These versatile vegetables can be planted for a tasty harvest in the fall. Sow in late summer or early fall, and enjoy the sweet, crunchy roots throughout the season.
- Radishes: These small, cold hardy vegetables mature fast, so you can enjoy fresh radishes in just a few weeks. And they’re easy to plant and care for, making them a great choice for beginner gardeners.
- Parsnips: Their sweet and nutty flavor makes parsnips a delicious addition to your autumn meals. So why not give them a chance? You may discover a new favorite vegetable! They take about 3 months to mature, so they need to be planted earlier in the season.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower are tasty and nutritious cool-season vegetables.
- Broccoli: If you want to expand your garden, consider planting broccoli! Fall is the perfect time to grow this nutritious and versatile vegetable. Not only does broccoli thrive in cooler weather, but it also has a relatively short growing season, making it an ideal choice. Plant seedlings in late summer to early fall.
- Cauliflower: Cauliflower has a unique flavor that can be enjoyed in various dishes—from roasted as a side dish to mashed in place of potatoes. And the cooler fall temperature creates the ideal growing conditions for cauliflower, allowing it to mature and develop its signature white heads.
- Brussels sprouts: These hearty vegetables are perfect for cooler weather and can thrive in a variety of soil types. To ensure success, choose a sunny spot with well-draining soil. Brussels sprouts need about 90 days to mature, so plant them at least three months before your first frost.
- Cabbage: Not only is this veggie versatile (you can enjoy it raw, cooked, or fermented), but it’s also a cool-season crop that thrives in autumn weather. By planting cabbage now, you’ll have delicious and nutritious veggies to add to soups, stir-fries, and more during the cooler months ahead.
Watch as Next Level Gardening explains when to plant fall crops.
Vegetables to plant in fall for a spring harvest
Plant vegetables you want to harvest in the spring later in the season.
And keep in mind that germination and growth rates may vary depending on your area’s climate and gardening conditions.
We’ll cover how to calculate these dates in the next section.
- Garlic: Plant garlic in the fall; it’ll be ready to pick next summer. Garlic requires a period of cold weather for proper bulb formation.
- Onions: Sow onions in late summer or early fall to harvest tender green onions in early spring, or leave them in the ground longer for larger bulbs.
- Carrots: Carrots taste best when they’ve had time to mature in cool soil. So, overwintering them to harvest in the spring is an ideal way to have tasty carrots on hand in early spring.
- Greens: Kale, spinach, and hardy winter greens like claytonia, mache, and sorrel can be planted in the fall for a spring harvest. Make sure to select varieties that do well over the winter.
Can I plant some quick-growing warm-season vegetables?
You can plant some tender vegetables and herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, beans, squash, corn, and cucumbers from the end of July to early August to harvest before frost.
But you may have insect and disease problems when planting warm-season vegetables later in the season.
Insects and diseases are more abundant in the late summer and fall because their populations build up throughout the gardening season.
To combat these issues, you should regularly monitor for pests, maintain plant health to reduce susceptibility, and remove any non-producing plants from the garden to prevent pest infestation.
So, now that you have a list of vegetables you want to grow, let’s start planning your garden!
To guarantee a successful harvest, don’t wait until it’s too late. Most gardeners will need to begin planting in mid-summer, around late July to early August.
Why plant mid to late summer?
For most of us, it’s the sweet spot for planting a fall garden.
Your plants need enough time to mature before the first frost, but you don’t want to plant them so early that they suffer from the summer heat.
The exact dates to plant depend on your first frost and the days to maturity.
Days to maturity is the average time it takes from planting until vegetables are ready to be picked.
- If you plant seeds directly in the ground, it’s the time from seeding to maturity.
- If you start them indoors and then transplant them outside, it’s the time from transplanting.
Hardiness zones are useless for calculating planting dates.Cheryl from Simply Smart Gardening
Related post: Things to plant in August.
Many online sources tell you when to plant based on your USDA hardiness zone.
But that’s not the right way to do it.
Hardiness zones tell you the average lowest minimum temperature where you live. This can be helpful when selecting perennials but useless when calculating when to plant seeds in fall.
Here’s the right way to find your planting dates:
Work backward from your first frost date to nail the perfect timing.
How you calculate the date depends on whether you’ll be direct sowing or growing transplants.
Seeds to sow in fall – direct sowing seeds
To find the direct sowing dates, add the following together:
- The days to maturity.
- Fourteen days (to adjust for the shorter autumn days).
Take the days you just added together and count backward from your first frost to figure out when to direct sow your seeds.
To find the date to start your transplants, add the following together:
- The days to germination (you’ll find this on most seed packets).
- The number of days it’ll take for your seedlings to reach transplant size. A good rule of thumb is two weeks.
- The days to maturity.
- Fourteen days (to adjust for the shorter autumn days).
Take the days you just added together and count backward from your first frost to figure out when to start your seeds.
Here are some things to consider if your ideal planting dates coincide with hot summer weather.
- Mid-summer can be a challenging time to get some seeds to germinate. Lettuce and spinach won’t germinate if the soil temperature exceeds 85°F.
- So, before sowing seeds in your garden, check your soil temperature with a thermometer.
- You can use mulch to keep the soil cool and retain moisture to improve seed germination in warmer soil. Avoid large pieces of mulch that could damage new seedlings or prevent germination.
- Keep a close eye on your seedlings and move the mulch away from seedlings if it hinders their growth.
- Another option is to start seeds indoors and transplant them outside once they reach transplant size.
Can you harvest after the first frost?
Yes, you can harvest some vegetables after the first frost. While frost-tender plants won’t survive a frost, frost-tolerant plants can handle the colder temperatures and even benefit from them. Root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and radishes tend to become sweeter and more flavorful after being kissed by frost. Greens like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and collard greens also thrive in cool weather and withstand the first frost without losing their delicious taste. Just keep an eye on the weather forecast and pick any frost-sensitive crops beforehand.
Can tomatoes survive frost?
Tomatoes can’t survive frost without protection. When the temperature drops below 32°F (0°C), the water in frost-tender plant cells freeze and expand, causing the cell walls to burst, ultimately killing the plant. So, you’ll want to take precautions to protect your tomato plants. If the frost is mild and expected to be brief, you can try covering them with frost blankets or old bed sheets for temporary insulation. But for a hard freeze, it’s best to pick any remaining tomatoes, including the green ones, and bring them indoors to ripen.
What is the best material to cover plants from frost?
The best material to cover plants from frost is frost blankets. These are lightweight protection fabrics that shield plants while allowing air and light to pass through. Old bedsheets can also be used as a temporary solution. The key is to create a protective barrier that traps heat and prevents the freezing temperatures from reaching your plants. Avoid plastic coverings that can trap moisture and transmit the cold directly to plant leaves. Secure the material properly to prevent it from blowing away. Choose the material that suits your needs and budget, and give your plants the cozy cover they deserve when chilly nights arrive.
Are you planning a fall vegetable garden this year?
Now that you understand when to start fall crops, how to select the right vegetables, and how to implement effective planning strategies, you can extend your gardening season well into the fall!
Keep these tips in mind:
- The best fall vegetables to grow are cold-hardy vegetables such as root crops, leafy greens, and brassicas. These are your star performers, with the ability to withstand colder temperatures and produce a bountiful harvest.
- Timing is crucial. Find the best time to plant in the fall by counting backwards from the date of your first frost. This way, your plants have ample time to mature!
Get started on your fall garden today and experience the joy of harvesting fresh, delicious vegetables amongst the colorful backdrop of fall.