Fall Vegetable Gardening Guide
If you can't get enough of homegrown garden produce, don't hang up your garden shovel yet. Diane Blazek, executive director of the National Garden Bureau and All-America Selections in Downers Grove, Illinois, says there's still time to plant a second crop to harvest this fall. "Fall is the perfect time to grow vegetables," she says. "They even taste better in the cool temperatures. And, if Mother Nature threw you a curve ball in spring, it's a chance to circle back and fall in love with the garden again."
The Best Vegetables to Plant for a Fall Harvest
Diane recommends two types of fall vegetable crops: direct sown crops and transplant crops. Direct sown crops are planted by seed directly in the garden. They include easy-to-grow salad greens like leaf lettuce, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, kale, collards and chard, plus root vegetables like radishes, beets, turnips, rutabagas and carrots. Transplant crops can be started with small plants purchased from a garden center or pre-grown indoors from seed. They include broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.
When choosing vegetables to grow, look for varieties that are labeled "early season." Also check seed packets' "days to harvest" to determine varieties with shorter growing times. A few examples include Cherry Belle radishes (22 days), Olympia spinach (45 days) and Di Cicco broccoli (50 days). Diane recommends All-America Selections winners and this list of new 2022 vegetable varieties.
For a super-fast fall crop, try baby greens. Plant a single variety or a mix of beet, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, cabbage and Swiss chard seeds. Greens can be harvested when leaves are 3-4" tall, typically in 2-3 weeks from being planted.
Related: 40 Garden-Fresh Vegetable Recipes
When to Plant Vegetables for Fall
To know when to start, find out your region's fall frost date then count backwards using the "days to harvest" info on the seed packet. For example, if your frost date is October 15 and your leafy greens are 45 days to harvest, then you should plant seeds around Labor Day.
Tip: To continue growing vegetables beyond a fall frost, try using row covers. "With a little extra work and equipment, you can definitely extend the season," says Diane, who serves fresh-picked kale for Thanksgiving dinner.
Where to Plant Fall Vegetables
Fall vegetables can be grown in a garden, raised bed or planter. Just make room by pulling out any overgrown spring or summer crops. If you're short on space, consider mixing ornamental vegetables like kale, chard and mustard greens in decorative containers or perennial borders.
Related: How to Make a Raised Bed Garden
How to Direct-Sow Crops
Follow packet instructions and space seeds accordingly. "My number one tip is don't overplant," Diane says. "You're just wasting seeds and causing yourself more work by having to thin them." When you do need to thin them, carefully snip with fingernail scissors. Resist the urge to pull; you'll risk tearing up all the seedlings.
If planting in late summer, take care to keep the ground watered. Young seedlings may also need afternoon shade. Try an umbrella, piece of cardboard or summerweight garden fabric, from $6.95, to provide temporary shade.
How to Grow Transplants
Transplants can be purchased online or at local garden centers. Handle with care and plant at the same depth as they were in their original containers.
You can also grow your own transplants indoors following seed packet instructions. Consult this helpful tutorial for sowing times. Within weeks, they'll be ready to move into the garden, but make the transition gradually to help plants adjust to the temperature changes. "It's just as important in the spring as the summer because you may be taking them from an air-conditioned basement to a 90-degree August day," says Diane.