You can be forgiven for thinking that the fall is a slow season in the vegetable garden. A time when your crops are coming to the end of their growing season and your garden transitions from the vibrancy of summer to the dormancy of winter. However, this need not be the case. There are plenty of great tasting fall crops that you can grow to extend your fresh fruit and veg supply well into winter.
Here are some of the best fall crops to grow in your garden this year.
As summer fades, the garden can start to look a little dull and bare. Planting fall crops is a great way to extend your growing season well into winter.
Arugula (Eruca vesicaria ssp. sativa) is known for its distinctive, spicy taste. Thriving in cool temperatures arugula, or rocket as it is also known, is an easy to grow salad green. As well as being pleasingly low maintenance, arugula also enjoys a quick growth habit. This makes it an ideal crop for late summer and early fall gardens.
For a continuous harvest, sow seeds from every few weeks from late summer onwards. You can continue harvesting arugula until the plants either flower or start to die back.
One of the iconic fall crops, beets (Beta vulgaris) are easily identifiable thanks to their round, purple-red appearance. Their juicy flavor adds both color and flavor to a meal. If you want something a little different, you can also find orange and white varieties. These seem more vibrant and sweeter in the fall than the spring. The foliage can also be cut and used from around 3 weeks after germination.
Sow seeds direct 8 to 10 weeks before your first predicted frost date. Many varieties are frost tolerant and some can even survive temperatures down into the mid 20 °F. If you’ve never grown beets before, this is a great guide.
Bok Choy or Pak Choi (Brassica rapa var. chinensis) is a flavor filled Chinese cabbage. It has a crisp tender texture and a distinctive peppery flavor. Bok choy is ideal for not only stir fries but also stews and soups. A biennial plant, it can survive winters in USDA Zones 8 and higher. However the plant will bolt, or set flower, when spring arrives.
Direct sow bok choy seeds in a full or partial sun position, in mid to late summer. Depending on your growing area, you can continue sowing seeds until 6 to 8 weeks before the first predicted frost.
Another of the favorite late season crops broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) thrives in cool weather and happily tolerates hard frosts. Away from the stress caused by the heat of summer and the threat of bolt, the plant is able to focus its energy on producing large, sweet and tender heads. A flavorsome plant, like many other fall crops, a few light frosts can help to further sweeten the flavor.
Sow your broccoli seeds undercover before transplanting about 10 weeks before the first predicted frost date. A floating row cover can be used to protect late seedlings from pests.
The florets of the broccoli plant make it one of the most distinctive plants on our list.
Another of the classic fall crops, Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea gemmifera) like cauliflower and broccoli have a reputation for being difficult to grow. However, with a little time and attention it is more than possible. This is a good, in depth guide to growing Brussels Sprouts.
Doing best when temperatures average 45 to 75 ℉ Brussels sprouts tolerate freezing conditions well. In fact, a good frost can even enhance their flavor. In northern areas try growing a standard variety which takes about 105 days to mature, sowing in mid or late June for a November crop. There are also quick growing varieties, which take around 85 days to mature, if you want an earlier crop. These are ideal for growers in southern states, who must wait until late August or early September, when temperatures have cooled sufficiently before they can start sowing Brussels sprouts seeds.
Bunching onions (Allium fistulosum) are one of the easiest, low maintenance fall crops. They also take up very little space. A perennial plant, if properly protected during the winter your bunching onions return year after year. They are also easily divided once established.
Direct sow the seeds 8 to 10 weeks before the predicted frost date. Once temperatures get too cold the plants will become dormant. The following spring, as temperatures warm, the plants return, forming attractive perennial evergreen clumps.
Another member of the brassica or cruciferous vegetable family, cabbages (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) are reliable, cold tolerant plants.Their distinctive, green leaves achieve their best flavor after a few light frosts.
Start your cabbage seeds undercover, 12 to 14 weeks before the predicted frost date. When the seeds are large enough to handle, about 6 weeks after germinating, they can be transplanted into a sunny position in the garden. Space the seedlings 12 to 18 inches apart. If the temperatures are still a little warm, use shade or row covers to keep the plants cool.
Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbages are reliable cool weather crops.
A popular late season vegetable, plant carrots (Daucus carota var. sativus) in late summer for a fall harvest. These are quick growing vegetables and with a little care reliably produce sweet, thick carrots until the heavier frosts hit.
Direct sow your seeds 8 to 12 weeks before the first expected frost. In warmer areas you can overwinter your carrots by covering them with a layer of mulch, about 8 inches thick. This enables you to harvest a regular supply of carrots throughout the winter and into the spring.
Despite having a reputation for being difficult, with the right care growing your own cauliflower is pleasingly simple. These reliable cole crops can be grown in USDA Zones 2 to 11. As well as the iconic white head varieties you can also find orange and purple cultivars. These are often richer in vitamins.
Different cauliflower varieties grow at different speeds, taking anything from 50 to 100 days to mature. Select a variety that suits your growing zone. The plants need prolonged exposure to cool temperatures to form a good sized head. In warmer areas start quick maturing varieties in pots, undercover and grow in temperatures around 70 ℉. In northern zones plant in late summer for a late season crop.
Closely related to kale, collard greens (Brassica oleracea var acephala) is a favorite in the southern states. However, they are also suitable for growing in most other areas of the US.
Like kale, collard greens are cold resistant and have a rich nutrient content. After a few frosts they also tend to become sweeter. This is because the cold weather turns the starch in the plants into sugar. Direct sown seeds in partial or full sun 6 to 8 weeks before the first predicted frost. The crops also overwinter in USDA Zones 6 and warmer.
Kale (Brassica oleracea) is another classic late season vegetable. Cold tolerant, kale keeps its dark green color long into the cold winter months. Full of nutrition, kale is cold hardy and with the right protection actually sweetens after surviving a few frosts.
Sow seeds in full or partial sun 6 to 8 weeks before your first predicted frosts for fall crops. You can also sow successionally during late summer for successive crops. One of the most popular varieties is the flavorsome Lacinato Kale.
Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes) is another of the distinctive fall crops. Closely related to the cabbage, this member of the brassica family is sweet, crisp and slightly tangy. The versatile bulbs can be used raw or cooked in a number of different ways. Pleasingly frost tolerant, like many fall crops they sweeten after surviving a few frosts. Direct sow 6 to 8 weeks before your first predicted frost.
One of the more unusual fall crops, mustard greens (Brassica juncea) are a great way to spice up your garden. Closely related to collard greens and kale, mustard greens are just as nutritious and also come with a spicy kick.
Direct sow the seeds in prepared soil in mid summer. When the seeds are large enough to handle, space them out roughly 3 inches apart. For a continuous supply sow a couple of seeds every few weeks until just before your first predicted frost date.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a hardy herb, surviving temperatures as low as 10 ℉. Parsey has a reputation for being difficult to germinate and slow to grow. However, growing your own parsley is possible with a little patience. Sow seeds at least 10 weeks before the first predicted frost and you will be harvesting fresh parsley continually throughout the fall. To make the most of your growing space, and ensure germination is successful, start your seeds indoors and transplant when a few true leaves have emerged.
While it is not the easiest herb to grow, parsley is pleasingly hardy.
Most often included in lists of summer crops, peas (Pisum sativum) happily grow and even thrive in cool fall temperatures. Late season peas also tend to be sweeter than those grown earlier in the year. If you are growing for a fall crop, select quick maturing varieties such as True Leaf Market. Pea plants won’t survive a hard frost.
Sow directly into the garden 10 to 12 weeks before your average predicted frost date. This means that gardeners in northerly climates have to plant their peas in midsummer. Because peas dislike the heat, keep your young plants cool by regularly watering and mulching the soil. If space is at a premium you can also grow peas in containers.
A staple of the vegetable garden, plant fast maturing varieties of seed potato (avoid planting store purchased spuds) in the summer for a fall harvest. If you do decide to grow potatoes, remember to employ a simple crop rotation system to ensure that you don’t plant in soil that has recently held other members of the nightshade family such as eggplants or tomatoes. You can also grow potatoes in containers or grow bags filled with fresh potting soil. Grow bags like the HYRIXDIRECT 10 Gallon Black Grow Bags give your crops plenty of room to grow and also make harvesting your spuds a simple task. Easy to grow, avoid planting your potatoes close to other fall crops such as pumpkins and squash.
Pumpkins and Winter Squash
Another iconic fall crop, pumpkins and squash come in a range of sizes and colors. Sow your seeds undercover in biodegradable or peat pots in early summer. This prevents the growing plants from taking up too much space. Training the vines to grow up trellising also helps to maximize your growing space.
Rutabaga (Brassica napobrassica) enjoys many of the same growing habits and preferences as its close relative the turnip. Also known as swedes, rutabagas have a sweeter flavor and a large root. When started from seed, rutabagas take about 90 days to mature. You can sow these versatile vegetables in time for a late fall or winter harvest in southern climates.
The roots tend to be sweeter if they are allowed to sit through a few, light frosts. As well as the root, the foliage can also be harvested. Cut the leaves just after the plant is established for use in salads or as a boiled vegetable.
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is one of the fastest growing fall crops. It reliably produces masses of edible, nutritious foliage in cool conditions. Surprisingly hardy, spinach can tolerate frosts and freezes.
Direct sow the seeds about 8 weeks before the first predicted frost date in a full sun position. You can begin harvesting the outer foliage as soon as the leaves are several inches long. Continue to harvest the foliage until the plant flowers or is killed by a hard frost.
One of the best cold weather vegetables turnips (Brassica rapa) are reliable root crops that are more often identified as winter vegetables. Like rutabaga and beets, turnips are grown for both their mustard like greens and large, edible bulbs.
Thriving in cool temperatures, ideally around 60 ℉, this quick growing crop can be ready for harvest within 60 days of sowing. Alternatively leave the plants in the ground and cover with a good layer of mulch. This protects them from winter temperatures until you are ready to harvest in late winter or early spring.
Turnips are a hardy, reliable root crop.
The radish is a reliable, quick growing plant. It is usually ready to harvest 4 to 6 weeks before the first frost. The winter radish (Raphanus sativus) is slower to grow, eventually reaching about several pounds in size. Plant in early or mid summer and your winter radishes grow as the weather cools. When the plants are young, regularly mulch the soil to keep them cool. Winter radishes tolerate the first, light frosts of the year but should be harvested before the deeper frosts arrive.
A particularly attractive cultivar is the Black Spanish Round which is large and spicy, it also stores well after maturing in the ground.
To make the most of your fall crops carefully plant and organize your planting. Start growing your fall crops as early as possible. Sow undercover or directly into the ground and raised beds from midsummer onwards.
Heat sensitive vegetables can be kept cool by mulching the soil. This gives your fall crops plenty of time to mature before the first frost. Lifting your summer vegetables promptly also helps to maximize your fall growing space.
While fast growing vegetables, such as radishes, can be planted late in the year, if you are at all unsure, plant early. This gives the plants lots of time to grow before frosts hit and light levels fall. Plant your quick maturing crops as thinly and shallowly as possible, preferably no more than a quarter to half an inch deep. You don’t need to plant deeper than this because the soil will still be warm from the summer. You can also use a horticultural blanket or fleece such as the Agribon Frost Blanket to keep the soil warm and protect your plants.
Crops last longer in the fall and winter. Many such as broccoli, cabbage and kale can last for months in the garden before maturing. Even quick growing crops like spinach can keep their quality for a lot longer during cooler temperatures. With a little planning you can make your fall crops last until spring.
Planting fall crops is an easy way to extend your growing season and harvest.
Fall need not be the end of your garden’s produce. All the fall crops highlighted here deliver color and interest to your garden as well as fresh, flavor filled vegetables to your plate. Enabling you to enjoy fresh produce all year round. With a little care and planning you can be growing fresh fall crops and fall flowers well into the depths of winter and beyond.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.