Do you want a high-yielding, fall vegetable garden? These five steps will help you transition smoothly from summer to autumn.
Many gardeners feel tired by the end of summer and are ready to give up. The fall garden is a great way to change things up. Cooler temperatures bring a new set of low-maintenance crops like beets and broccoli, as well as lettuce and spinach.
The Fall Vegetable Garden: Timing
Gardeners who are excited to prepare for summer begin to plan in the early spring when frost and snow will still be the norm. Spring is the time to shake off hibernation, and pretend that warmer days are coming!
The fall brings us a similar feeling of anticipation. Even though a fall garden is more productive, it can still be beautiful and productive. Despite this, it is important to remember that the fall garden must be planted months before cool weather arrives.
These are the five steps to grow a low-maintenance, high-yielding autumn garden.
Step 1: Create space for fall garden planting
It’s difficult to think about autumn when your summer garden is lush and full at the peak of the season. You don’t want to have to rip out heat-loving, productive plants in order to make way for cool-season crops. You don’t need to plan well if you do your research!
These are some suggestions.
Plan ahead to make space #1
Leave a bed unattended for fall planting. My garlic bed is used for fall crops. After harvesting garlic in the early summer, I sow buckwheat to cover it, and then I cut it back when I’m ready for my fall garden.
Make Space #2: Separate Cold-Loving and Heating Vegetables
This gardening tip is for experts. When planting your spring and summer gardens, you should group your cool-season crops together (peas leafy greens, root veggies, etc.). Plant your warm-season crops (fruiting veggies) together in the same way. This way, you don’t have to sacrifice heat-loving summer vegetables for your fall garden.
Make Space #3: Get rid of disease- or pest-infested plant matter
Remove infested plants as soon as possible after you spot an infestation. All infested plants should be thrown away or burned. Do not put it in the compost bin where the pest or disease could survive. This is a must-do before you plant the fall garden. You don’t want pests to overwinter in your soil.
It’s okay to have a few pests. They can attract beneficial insects to your garden.
Make Space #4: Get rid of unused plants
Take the seeds from any plants that are healthy or have been planted. Chop the plant matter and place it directly on the soil as mulch. Instead of removing it, you can cut the plant matter back and allow the decaying roots to nourish the soil.
Before and after I removed all the dead plants.
Clear Out Weeds
Clearing out weeds is a great time. However, many weeds can be beneficial to the soil. (Learn more about some of my favorite weeds to welcome in the vegetable garden.) Instead of pulling the “good” plants, you can cut them and place them on top or under the mulch to act as fertilizer.
You can now breathe!
Step 2: Buy Your Fall Garden Seeds & Plants
Assess the space available to you for a fall garden. Decide what plants you would like to plant depending on when it is and your hardiness zone. To estimate how many seeds or plants I will need, I draw the garden on paper.
Many popular fall crops such as broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale, and Swiss chard (I love this Celebration Swiss chard from Botanical Interests) can either be direct sown or transplanted as seedlings. Seedlings are a faster way to get a yield if you have limited time. These can be found at your local farmers’ market or garden store.
If I am short on time, or if my fall crops haven’t started in the right time, I will purchase seedlings.
You can also plant other popular crops like beets and carrots directly in your garden.
Make sure to leave enough room for fall garlic! In my zone 6 garden, I plant garlic in October. I like to grow a hardneck variety called Chesnok Red.
Step 3: Modify the Soil
It is always a good idea to amend the soil before you plant. Organic matter can improve soil fertility and help to feed beneficial soil microbes, which will aid plants in growing strong and healthy. To allow the soil to absorb the nutrients, it is best to amend the soil at least two weeks before you plant. If you don’t have enough time, you can still plant right away.
Before planting my fall garden, I like to amend the soil.
Step 4: Transplant or sow seeds
After you have prepared your space for the fall garden, it is time to sow seeds or transplant seedlings.
Make sure to water your plants and transplants regularly. Also, keep the soil moist until the end of the season. September is the driest month in my area. Colder weather can make it easier to water the garden.
Step 5: Protect your Fall Garden to Increase Harvest in Winter
Make sure to protect your plants from frost in order to keep your fall garden thriving. You could keep them going through winter, depending on where you live.
The weather in fall can vary from one region to another, and from year to year. Frosts can strike in my area as early as October or late December.
Cold frames and row cover are two season extension techniques that are relatively inexpensive and easy to store in the off-season.