As summer winds down, newer gardeners might expect their garden will soon wither away—but the change in season doesn’t necessarily mean your gardening is coming to an end for the year. There are seasonal vegetables and plants that can continue throughout the fall. Here’s how to plant a fall garden, along with the best time to get started.
When to start planting a fall garden
The benefits of cold-weather gardening outweighs the cons; as the temperature is lower, fewer pests, weeds, and diseases are around to bother your plants. Your start time depends on the hardiness zone you live in, the first frost in your area, and the “days to maturity of the particular seed variety you’re growing,” according to Grow Journey.
To figure out exactly when to start planting, you can do the math between your first frost date and the maturity rate on your seeds. Take the days to maturity and count backward from the frost date to find the proper seeding date.
Grow Journey gives this example:
Let’s say you have a broccoli variety that takes 100 days to mature, and your first frost date is November 15. That means you’ll need to start your broccoli seeds around mid-July.
If it’s too late for you, don’t worry—planting dates vary depending on the plant. Good Housekeeping explains how fast-growing fall vegetables like lettuce and cabbage can be planted in late September, but recommends planting the bulk of your fall gardening in the heat of August when growing conditions are still optimal.
How to choose the right plants for the fall
Picking the right plants will determine the success of your fall garden. For bushes and flowers, consider perennials, which last long and return year after year. A bush like a heuchera blooms beautiful flowers in the spring, and the leaves stick around throughout the fall, producing beautiful fall foliage for your garden.
Flowers like the Autumn crocus (unlike its spring cousin) are planted in late summer and bloom through the fall with beautiful purple petals. Another hardy flower is the marigold—these golden flowers will bloom in the spring through the summer and until the first frost. In addition, vegetables like cabbage, kale, spinach, radishes, and beets are all “cool season crops” that last all Autumn long.
How to get started planting your fall garden
First, you’ll want to harvest and remove any spring plants from your garden to prepare the soil for your new fall plants. As Seed Savers explains, “rotating crops will help avoid diseases particular to one plant type and balance nutrients in the soil.” Once your plants are on the way out, pluck them to replant for the new season.
Next, you’ll need to prep the soil to help your fall plants survive the end of the summer. Mix and till the soil with compost and organic fertilizer to feed the soil in between plantings and fortify the soil for new growth.
Once you’ve planted your new seeds, you want to provide ample shade for the seeds to beat the lingering summer heat. Seed Savers recommends using the shade from a trellis or other tall plant. At the same time, mulching and keeping the soil moist will maintain a cool temperature for your fall seeds to germinate.