Things may quiet down in your flower garden during late summer, but it’s a great time of year if you’ve planted a vegetable garden. You might think that not much will happen during the hottest months of the year, but that’s not true at all.
For most gardeners, late summer is the space of time from the end of July on into August. If you can spare some time around vacations and other events, use this section of the season to prepare for a great fall garden.
This article will show you how with a list of the best late summer vegetables you can grow and tips for when and how to plant them.
Two Types of Late Summer Vegetables
In late summer, there are two main types of vegetables you can focus on: those ready to harvest and those ready to be planted.
A lot of heat-loving, main crop vegetables will be at their peak in July and August. Caring for them through the hot months and harvesting on time will get you the best yield, quality, and flavor.
On the flip side, cool weather vegetables can be started from seed at the end of summer to give you another harvest period in the fall. Fall-grown crops are often even better than spring grown ones because there are typically fewer pests around in late summer and fall.
Focusing on both of these types of vegetables will give you the best possible garden and increase its productivity.
Here are the best vegetables of each type you can plant this year.
Best Late Summer Vegetables to Harvest
Bell peppers can take a while to ripen, but they will finally be ready to harvest in late summer. Be sure to finish picking them before any type of cold weather comes through.
Colored bell peppers and hot peppers are both usually at their peak harvest stage in late summer. They love the heat of July and August and will be ready for picking once they reach their full color.
Harvest them as they ripen by cutting right where the pepper stem meets the main stem of the plant. The longer you leave hot peppers on the plant, the spicier they will become.
When to Plant: Plant peppers in late spring for a late summer harvest. Be sure to wait until all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed considerably.
Growing Tips: In colder climates, use black fabric or plastic to warm the soil before planting peppers. Or grow them in containers that will heat up quickly. Keep them well-watered during the hottest weather.
Tomatoes are a favorite vegetable of many gardeners. They go strong through the heat of summer and often reach peak production in the hottest months.
Most tomatoes will start ripening before peppers will. Early varieties are often ready to pick in midsummer and mid to late varieties in late summer. Because they like the heat, you can expect their production to ramp up in July, August, and even into September.
Harvest tomatoes when they have fully or almost fully colored. The fruits should still be firm and can be cut or snapped off at their natural breaking point an inch or two up the stem.
When to Plant: To harvest in late summer, plant tomatoes after the danger of frost has passed in the spring and the soil has warmed. They can go out about a week or two before peppers.
Growing Tips: Plant tomatoes deep, burying a few sets of leaves. This gives them a strong root system and will make your plants more productive. For an all summer long harvest, plant different types that mature at different times.
There are many varieties of eggplant besides the traditional dark purple one. Try a striped or white variety or a long, thin Asian eggplant for something different.
Eggplant is a relative of peppers and tomatoes, so it’s no surprise that this is another vegetable you can harvest in late summer. They tend to mature between tomatoes and peppers with the best harvest months being July, August, and September (for most regions).
Smaller eggplant is more tender than larger fruits and has the best flavor, so don’t wait too long to harvest. The skin should be glossy and resist puncture when you test it with a fingernail. Snip eggplants off the vine with a few inches of stem attached.
When to Plant: Eggplant can go in the garden after the danger of frost has passed in the spring. Start seeds early indoors or buy seedlings to make sure your plants mature in time.
Growing Tips: Practice crop rotation by not planting eggplant where tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes were the year before. They all belong to the nightshade family and attract the same pests.
Choose the best type of cucumber to plant based on what you want to use it for. Slicing varieties tend to be larger and have more water content. Pickling varieties are smaller and less watery.
Cucumbers are usually ready for harvest in midsummer but really hit their stride as July and August come around. Pick small to medium fruits to avoid the bitterness and seediness that comes when cucumbers get large.
The best way to harvest is to snip ripe fruits off the vine. Check your plants every few days once harvest season begins, since cucumbers will grow and ripen quickly.
When to Plant: Wait at least 2 weeks after your last frost date in spring to plant cucumbers. Make sure the soil has warmed and preferably reached about 70°F.
Growing Tips: If your soil has a lot of clay (which has poor drainage and warms slowly), plant cucumbers in raised beds or individual mounds. Provide a trellis for vines to grow up if you’re limited on space.
Watermelons take the longest to ripen but will grow the largest. Add in some cantaloupes, honey dew, or muskmelons for a slightly earlier harvest.
Melons need a long and warm growing season, which means they are typically ready to harvest in late summer. Once the fruit of one plant becomes ripe, the rest on the vine will usually be ready in a short period of 3-4 weeks.
Muskmelons and cantaloupe will easily slip off the stem when ripe. Watermelons typically need to be cut off the vine. They will sound hollow and have a yellow spot where they were resting on the ground when ready.
When to Plant: Plant after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed.
Growing Tips: Melons thrive in hot, dry, and sunny conditions but they do need adequate water during the first half of the season. Once they begin to ripen, minimize supplemental watering to intensify the flavor.
Most gardeners end up with a ton of zucchini all at once. To avoid this and extend your harvest season, plant just one or two seeds or seedlings every few weeks.
Zucchini is one of the quickest summer vegetables to ripen, so most gardeners associate it with an early to midsummer harvest. However, you can easily plant successions of zucchini to extend your harvest period into late summer. This applies to other summer squash as well.
Like many other vegetables, zucchini will be at its most tender when harvested small. Cut fruits off the vine with a sturdy pair of pruners when they are between 4-8 inches long.
When to Plant: Plant zucchini seeds every 2-3 weeks to ensure a continuous harvest through late summer and into fall. Start after the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed.
Growing Tips: If you’re short on space, there are a few varieties of zucchini that do well in containers. Otherwise, plant them in hills or mounds to help their roots warm up more quickly.
If you want to grow potatoes but aren’t committed to the work of growing them in the field, you can plant them in a large, deep container or burlap sack. To harvest, you simply tip the container out on a tarp and pick out the potatoes.
The potato harvest can start as early as midsummer, but maincrop potatoes definitely make the list of late summer vegetables. You can dig up potatoes as early as 2-3 weeks after they stop flowering, but the ones you want to store should be left in the ground until the foliage is brown.
Dig up your potatoes on a dry day and be careful not to puncture them. Eat small or damaged ones, and cure the others before putting them in storage. Throw out green potatoes.
When to Plant: Potatoes go in the ground early, usually as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Ideally, the soil temperature should be around 50°F and shouldn’t be overly wet.
Growing Tips: Potatoes are a crop of patience. Provide lots of nutrients and hill your potatoes a few times as they grow.
Onions are a great vegetable to put in your garden. You can start enjoying them in midsummer and harvest the bulk of your crop in late summer.
Onions are another vegetable that needs a long growing season, especially if you want to harvest them for storage. You can pull up smaller onions for fresh eating in midsummer and larger ones later in the summer.
You can tell onions are almost ready when the tops turn yellow and flop over. Dig up your crop in dry weather when the leaves have turned brown.
When to Plant: Spring planting of onions should happen as soon as the soil can be worked, usually March or April. Temperatures should stay above 28°F.
Growing Tips: For large bulbs, make sure your soil isn’t compacted, and amend clay soil with lots of organic matter before planting.
Leeks aren’t as commonly grown as onions, but they have an excellent flavor that adds a lot to soups and other dishes. Plan to harvest them in July or August after planting in the spring.
Leeks are close cousins of onions and have a similar growing habit. Some varieties can be harvested in midsummer but most won’t be ready until the late months of summer.
Leeks are grown for their stems, which have a sweeter and milder flavor than onions, so pull them from the ground before they start forming a bulb. Use a garden fork to loosen the soil before pulling the leeks out.
When to Plant: Plant early in spring and space them at least 6 inches apart.
Growing Tips: To keep the stems white, leeks need to be blanched. This means that you’ll need to mound soil up around their stems to keep the sun from getting to them. Use enough soil to reach the base of the first leaf.
Each garlic clove you plant will produce a whole new bulb by the following summer. After harvesting, save some of your best bulbs to plant next year’s crop with.
Garlic is a fall-planted crop that will be ready to harvest the following summer. In most areas, this will be July or August, although the timeline varies depending on your climate.
You’ll know your garlic is ready when the tops are almost completely yellow. Dig up a sample bulb first to make sure it’s plump and has thick skin. Then, use a garden fork or shovel to lift the rest of your crop.
When to Plant: Plant garlic in late fall before the ground freezes. This is typically sometime in between late September and early November in cooler climates.
Growing Tips: Garlic does best in loose, fertile soil. Add compost or well-rotted manure before planting, and mulch them over the winter with hay or straw. Stored garlic can be planted the following fall.
Winter Squash and Pumpkins
There are so many varieties of winter squash to choose from, including butternut squash, huge pumpkins, acorn squash, miniature gourds, and so on. All will be ready in late summer or fall.
Winter squash and pumpkins (which are a type of winter squash) can be thought of as late summer to early fall vegetables. Depending on variety and when you planted them, most will be ready for harvest sometime between late August and late October.
Cut the fruits from the vine when they are fully colored and the rind is hard. You shouldn’t be able to puncture the rind with your fingernail. Make sure you harvest them all before a freeze comes through.
When to Plant: Plant seeds or seedlings only after the soil has warmed to about 70°F, which will be several weeks after your last average frost date.
Growing Tips: All types of winter squash love heat and sunshine. They also like to have lots of organic matter to feed on. The vines can get huge, so use trellises as necessary.
Best Vegetables to Plant in Late Summer
Lettuce and Other Greens
Enjoy lots of fall salads by planting leafy greens at the end of summer. Sow seeds a little bit deeper than you normally would, since the soil will be hotter and drier at the surface.
Most greens like lettuce, arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, and kale need cool weather to grow in. Planting them at the end of summer takes advantage of cooler fall weather and will give you a harvest before winter.
When to Plant: Sow seeds anytime from early August to early September, depending on how early winter comes to your region. Keep the soil moist and shaded as they germinate.
Growing Tips: Extend the greens season by mulching them or putting up a cold frame to keep harvesting through the first few months of winter.
You might be surprised at how well cabbage grows if you plant it in summer rather than spring. It thrives in the cool weather of fall and can even last into early winter.
If you’ve ever struggled with cabbage worms and tiny heads, try growing cabbage as a fall crop. By planting it in late summer, you’ll avoid most of the common pests, and it will have a longer time to mature.
Cabbage can also take a few light frosts that sweeten and intensify the flavor.
When to Plant: Plant cabbage seedlings 6-8 weeks before your first fall frost date. Or direct sow seeds in mid to late summer.
Growing Tips: Take care to water your cabbage well, especially when it’s still small and the weather is still hot. Row covers can be helpful for providing a little shade and keeping insects off your plants.
Beets won’t do well if you try to grow them through the heat of summer, but they are a great fall crop that can be planted towards the end of summer. Harvest them small for the most tenderness.
Beets are another cool weather crop that will thrive when planted at the end of summer. They mature quickly and can take a few frosts, so you won’t have to worry about losing your crop when the weather turns cold.
You can also harvest beet greens just a month or so after planting.
When to Plant: Direct sow beet seeds anytime from midsummer to early fall, but at least 4-6 weeks before your first fall frost date. Stagger your plantings to get a continuous harvest until winter.
Growing Tips: Beets don’t transplant well, so be sure to sow seeds directly in your garden. Soak the seeds for 24 hours first to improve germination.
Broccoli thrives in cool weather and is an especially great fall crop if you live in a warmer climate. Even gardeners in northern areas can plant it late summer, since plants tolerate light frost.
Broccoli plants are prone to bolting when planted in the spring, but you won’t struggle with this problem by planting in late summer. Like cabbage, broccoli is pretty hardy in cold weather and won’t be damaged by a few frosts.
When to Plant: Sow seeds at least 85 days before your first frost date in the fall. This is typically mid to late August but will vary by region.
Growing Tips: Use row covers to protect broccoli from pests while it’s small. Keep the soil evenly moist as it grows. After you harvest the large heads, leave the stems in the ground so smaller side shoots can develop.
Radishes have a delicious spiciness to them and work especially well in salads and other raw dishes. Grow them through the cool weather of fall for a great crop.
Radishes are a quick-win crop because they grow more quickly than almost any other root crop. You can actually get several harvests out of a late summer planting and can continue to plant seeds well into fall.
Radishes are ready to harvest only 3-4 weeks after planting, so make sure you plant several rounds if you want to eat them fresh until winter.
When to Plant: Start sowing seeds in late summer and continue until early or mid fall. Plant them in the shade of another crop that will soon be harvested to help get them started.
Growing Tips: Mulch around your radishes to keep the soil moist and prevent competition from weeds. Pull radishes when they are about an inch in diameter, and don’t leave them in the ground for too long.
Peas are one of the first vegetables you can harvest in the spring, but they can also be planted later in the season. Enjoy their fresh flavor before the cold of winter comes on.
Peas are typically thought of as an early spring crop, but they are another vegetable that can be planted in late summer for a fall harvest. The main difference is that a fall harvest won’t be as prolific as a spring one, but it’s still a great treat to have them fresh before winter!
They also add interest to a fall garden, especially if you give them a decorative trellis to climb up.
When to Plant: Direct sow seeds 6-8 weeks before your first average frost date in the fall. Keep the soil moist while they germinate.
Growing Tips: Add compost or well-rotted manure to the soil before planting, but go easy on the nitrogen. Phosphorus and potassium will encourage flower and fruit growth, but nitrogen encourages foliage growth.
Cauliflower brightens up a fall garden with its white heads. Plant in August or early September to harvest before winter.
Closely related to both broccoli and cabbage, cauliflower is also delicious and grows well when planted at the end of summer. Make sure you give it lots of sun, but extra shade won’t hurt when plants are still young.
When to Plant: Plant seeds or seedlings 6-8 weeks before your first frost date in the fall. Keep the soil moist while seeds germinate.
Growing Tips: Like with broccoli and cabbage, use row covers to protect small plants from insects. You can remove the covers in the fall when plants have grown.
Turnips are a very underrated vegetable that can be used as a potato substitute and also have their own unique flavor. Small ones are very tender and can even be eaten raw.
Turnips are another root crop that grows quickly and enjoys the cool weather of fall. They tend to be sweeter and more tender if planted in late summer than a crop planted in the spring. Pests will be less of a problem as well.
Enjoy the roots a few months after planting and the greens even sooner.
When to Plant: Direct sow seeds at the end of summer or early in fall. Give them at least 60 days to mature before your first frost in the fall.
Growing Tips: Water consistently and put a layer of mulch down to keep the roots tender. Harvest after a few light frosts for a sweeter flavor, but pull turnips before a hard freeze.
Carrots are fun to grow at home, but don’t expect them to look straight and perfect. There’s nothing wrong with carrots that have a little character, and they’ll still taste better than store bought ones.
Carrots are a very frost-hardy crop that can be planted both in spring and late summer. They take longer to mature than quick crops like radishes or beets but will sweeten after the first few frosts of winter.
You can even heavily mulch carrots and preserve them through the winter months in most regions.
When to Plant: Direct sow seeds in mid to late summer, about 10 weeks before your first frost in the fall. Plant a couple rounds for a continuous harvest later.
Growing Tips: To successfully grow carrots, spend time preparing your soil before planting. Work it about 12 inches deep and get rid of rocks and other debris that may stunt the growth of your carrots. Plant in a raised bed if you have heavy clay soil.
Fennel makes an excellent addition to a late summer garden. The trick is to start your seeds indoors before transplanting seedlings outside.
Fennel can be grown as an herb or a vegetable. As a vegetable, it’s harvested for its bulb-like stems that have an anise, lemony flavor. While it can be grown in spring, fennel also enjoys the cool of fall and grows very well at the end of the season.
When to Plant: Start fennel seeds indoors in midsummer and plant them in the garden 8 weeks before your first fall frost date.
Growing Tips: Make sure you harvest fennel before a hard freeze comes through. Look for them to get several inches across before digging them up.
Enjoying Your Late Summer Vegetables
As you can see, there are so many late summer vegetables that can be grown in your garden. Whether you want to plant in spring for a summer harvest or you’re looking for vegetables to plant in late summer, you aren’t short on options.
If you really want to brighten up your recipes with fresh produce, add an herb garden close to your kitchen to complement all the vegetables you’ll be growing!
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.