Growing a Fall Garden, by Hopkins County Master Gardener Brenda Payne

By Brenda Payne

Summer might be high season in the vegetable garden, when tomatoes, squash, and other warm-season plants are in overdrive, but autumn can be just as productive.

If you begin planning and planting in late summer, you can extend your harvest of garden-fresh produce well into fall and even winter by growing cool-season crops.

Many sweet root crops like beets and carrots as well as cabbage cousins like kale can continue growing for several weeks beyond the first frost.

These tips will help you fill your table with plenty of homegrown goodness long beyond the heat of summer.

You can start many autumn crops while the weather is still hot. That way, there’ll be enough time to harvest them before the snow flies.

It’s All About Timing

The secret to growing plentiful fall vegetables is timing. That means thinking a little differently because you have to plan backward. Start with your area’s average first fall frost date.

Then look at the number of days to harvest for the fall vegetable you want to grow. You’ll find that number on the seed packet or in the catalog description. Use the days to harvest number to count back from the first frost date.

Then add two weeks, because many fall vegetables grow more slowly as days shorten in fall.

Get the Garden Ready

Make room for your fresh crop of fall vegetables by removing garden crops that are no longer performing well or ones you’ve already harvested. Pull any weeds so they don’t steal moisture and nutrients from your new your new young plants.

Take advantage of the open planting bed to incorporate a 2- to 3-inch-layer of well-decomposed compost to get your fall crop off to a great start.

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Start From Seed

You’ll probably grow most vegetables for your fall garden from seed. Use the extra seeds you didn’t plant in the spring or purchase new ones.

If you start your seeds directly outdoors, plant them a little deeper than you would in spring; the soil is typically moister and cooler an extra inch or two down.

Watering vegetable garden

It’s especially important to keep your vegetable plants well-watered during the hot months of July, August, and September.

The general rule is that most fall garden vegetables do best with about an inch of water a week. Once your seedlings or transplants are established, aim to give them one deep watering a week rather than several lighter waterings.

mario villarino
Hopkins County Master Gardeners planting a tree in memory of Robert “Bob” Suson, February 2021.

There may already be pests and diseases in your garden, so keep an eye out for holes or spots on plant leaves. Deal with insects and diseases promptly to minimize the damage.

Crops for Speedy Harvest – Get a last blast from your veggie patch with quick crops that go from seed to table in 40 days or less. Sown in September, sprinters such as arugula, mustard, spinach, turnips, and crispy red radishes are ready to harvest in little more than a month.

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Also try pretty Asian greens, such as tatsoi or mizuna, which grow so fast that you will have baby plants to add to stir-fries and soups just three weeks after sowing.

  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage Carrots
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Cauliflower
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard
  • Radish
  • Swiss
  • Chard Turnips

The hardiest fall vegetables, spinach and kale, often grow well into early winter. Stop harvesting leaves when freezing weather arrives.

When protected by a blanket of snow or a plastic tunnel, spinach can survive winter and produce a flush of sweet leaves first thing in spring.

Best Fall Garden Vegetables – Plenty of fall garden vegetables thrive in cool temperatures. Count on them to survive light frost if given some protection. Remember, when shopping for seeds for fall, select varieties with the shortest seed-to-harvest time period.

Some suggestions are:

This may be a good year to try your hand at fall vegetables and enjoy a second harvest.

Joan Brennan, Hopkins County Master Gardener and current president, visited with Pip Bickford with Carriage House Minor in Sulphur Springs as they evaluate the impact of sustained cold weather earlier on the year in landscaped areas of the facility. New plant selections and landscape plans are on the way to re-establish a needed spot for residents.

Author: Ross LaBenske

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