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Planning Your Fall Garden

You can have a successful second growing season this year by planning a fall garden now.

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck via Unsplash

You waited all winter to plant your spring garden and after that last frost (finally!) you were able to plant. You harvested all of your fruits and vegetables with pride and joy this summer. Don’t get comfortable yet though, there’s still time to plant more. Did you know you can plant a fall garden? There are so many veggies that love the cool weather. Here are 20 to consider adding to your fall garden (yes, there are that many!).

When to start a fall garden

There’s no time like the present! Start thinking about what you would like to plant in your fall garden. Consider when each summer plant will finish and space will open up to sow seeds or transplant ones started indoors. Go ahead and make a note of that. Then start looking for seeds. If you have seeds left over from spring planting, use those. You can price check in your local garden store with the prices online as well. Make sure if you’re ordering seeds though, that they are certified. Certified seeds are produced with specific requirements to maintain a varietie’s purity. On the back of the seed packet, you’ll notice it says the seeds within have met all of the standards.

Do you know what gardening hardiness zone you are in? It will make a difference in how long your fall growing season is. If not, here’s our guide on how to find seed starting dates for your location. Once you find it, look at when the first and last frosts are on average. Take the date of the first frost and count backwards 12-14 weeks. That’s when you want to start seeds indoors to transplant. Broccoli and kale are two good examples of plants to start indoors. Once your plants are about 3 weeks old, you can transfer them to your garden. At this time, you can also directly sow seeds into your garden, such as beans. There’s some wiggle room in planting time, but ideally you want to have everything planted 6-8 weeks before the first frost to give them time to get established.
How to Start Your Fall Garden

Once your spring and summer crops stop producing, go ahead pull them from the garden to make room for the next growing season. Make sure you get the entire plant, including the roots. Then turn the soil over with a spade to open it up and let oxygen reach down deeper. This is not a necessary step, however. Besides adding oxygen and loosening up the soil, you’ll also be able to see if any roots have been left behind though. If your garden is mostly made up of clay soil, you might consider adding organic material such as compost before planting your fall garden.
While the late summer temperatures can help seeds germinate faster, some will not germinate if it is too hot. You can cool off the soil before planting by making holes in the garden where you want to place seeds or transplant crops and then watering deeply before planting. This will also increase the moisture around the seed and speed up germination.

Greens and root vegetables do the best for fall plantings. Some crops are better directly planted in the garden or raised bed while those like broccoli perform better when started indoors in the cool air conditioned environment. You can also choose to plant in containers and then move them to the garden or raised bed once they mature. Growing fall vegetables is possible in containers as well. If you have a small space to work with, don’t worry thinking that a fall garden isn’t possible. It certainly is possible.
If you are reusing containers from a previous season, make sure to thoroughly clean them first. A mixture of one part bleach to 10 parts water will take care of any lingering organisms. Then use a seed starting mix, rather than potting soil to get your fall seeds going. Once they’re established with true leaves, they can be transplanted.
Some seeds will love the end of summer heat and others will not. Besides watering deeply, you can also use floating row covers to protect lettuce and other vegetables. Floating row covers are readily available for purchase online, but you can make your own as well.
Pest may be lingering in the garden from your summer crops, so make sure to monitor the new plants. Soon these pests will be gone for the season as well and fall gardening will be more enjoyable. That’s one of the perks of fall gardening. In the meantime, check on your crops daily. Once the temperatures start to drop, you can water less as well. During the summer, the heat and humidity dry up gardens and watering can be a part of your daily routine. Cool-weather crops require less water. A deep soak once a week may be all you need. Make sure the garden gets about an inch of water in a week however.

Using cover crops

If you won’t be planting all of your beds again, consider putting down fall cover crops. This will help protect your soil from erosion, reduce weeds and make spring planting easier. They will also improve your soil’s quality by adding nutrients into the soil and attracting beneficial insects.

Some great fall cover crops include
  • Buckwheat
  • Italian ryegrass
  • Forage rye
  • Oats
  • Red clover
  • Hairy vetch
  • Forage pea
  • Field beans

Some cover crops need to be planted early. Italian ryegrass needs to be planted by October for example while field beans and forage peas need to be planted by November. When spring arrives, you’ll be glad you used cover crops. You’ll see more earthworms and notice that your soil is less compacted. Of course, you also get the benefit of having a beautiful garden throughout the winter instead of seeing barren land.

Whether you choose to plant a fall garden or simply put down cover crops, make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to improve your soil for the spring planting. It can be hard to think about fall gardens and cover crops in the heat of the summer, but now is the time to plan. Consider what vegetables your family likes to eat throughout the fall and winter. If you’ve been wanting to try growing brassicas, now is a great time. You’ll have less problems with pests such as caterpillars and worms as the temperatures drop. Lettuce will also grow nicely in the fall. You’ll notice some root vegetables actually have more flavor grown in the fall then those grown in the spring and summer. Whatever you choose to do with your garden this fall, make sure it’s something you’ll be happy with. Try new vegetables, discover what cover crops look like and enjoy your fall. Gardening is a fun adventure and it doesn’t have to end with summer crops.

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