Experienced gardeners know that the gardening season does not close at the end of summer! It to to plant fall vegetables and prepare fro next season’s vegetable gardening. But, it hardly seems logical to discuss fall planting when summer’s bounty is just getting underway, but it’s the right time to begin your plans for an autumn garden. Ideally gardeners should start preparing for fall right around the summer solstice, if not before if you live in an area with a short growing season. In most areas planting should take place from July through August and possibly September for warmer climates to allow for plenty of time for seeds and plants to grow and mature before the first autumn freeze. The average date of the first killing frost in your area is the most important thing to know when it comes to fall vegetable gardening. Your local garden center is a good source of information for this date. To determine when to start planting, find out the number of days to maturity for the vegetable. Next, count back the number of days from the first average frost date. Add a week or so to allow for a few extra days to harvest the produce once it’s mature. You will find maturity information on seed packets and some plant labels. Most everything you plant in spring you can grow in your fall garden, too. These are cool season plants, meaning they will tolerate a light frost, thrive in short daylight hours and perform best with mild temperatures. Some vegetables even taste better when nipped by a light frost and bug damage is lower in the fall time.
Last average frost FREE date for Hurricane Valley: November 1st. Adjust a few days up to a few weeks for surrounding areas.
Plants for Your Fall Vegetable Garden:
Cauliflower– Plant seedlings 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. Cauliflower can be tricky to grow. Rich soil and consistent watering are the keys. Never let your plants dry out and young starts are best. Fluctuations in temperature, moisture and nutrients can cause the plant to “button” or produce small, undersized heads. Blanch the heads by tying the outer leaves together over the heads when they are about 2 to 3 inches across. This keeps them from turning green and becoming bitter. 60 days to maturity.
Kohlrabi – Kohlrabi is a member of cabbage family, super easy to grow, but it looks and tastes similar to a turnip. The bulbous edible portion grows just above the soil line. Shade young plants from summer sun. 40 to 60 days to maturity depending on variety.
Lettuce – Sow seeds in late summer. Provide the seedlings with consistent moisture and shade from the afternoon sun. 45 to 60 days to harvest depending on type and variety.
Mustard Greens & Mesclun Mixes – Sow seeds 6 weeks before the first frost. Seeds will germinate in soil that is 45 to 65 degrees F. Keep the soil consistently moist to encourage rapid growth and tender greens. 45 days to maturity. – Sow seeds for radishes 4 weeks before the first frost. Winter varieties such as China Rose and Giant Sicily mature slower, grow larger and store longer. They should be sown about 6 weeks before the first frost. Sow the seeds evenly so you don’t have to thin them. No feeding necessary, but soil should be fertile and well drained. They are quick to mature so check them regularly. They are ready to harvest as soon as they are of edible size. 25 to 50 days to maturity depending on variety.
Spinach – Sow seeds 5 weeks before first frost date. The short days and cool, moist weather of fall is even better for spinach than spring. An established spinach crop will last well into winter and can survive temperatures down into the 20s. Spinach prefers very fertile soil to encourage rapid growth and tender leaves. 45 days to maturity.
Arugula – Begin sowing seeds in August every two to three weeks for continued harvest. Arugula is fast growing and should be harvested often to prevent from going to seed. Baby arugula can be harvested as early as 25 days. Larger leaves, 45 days to maturity.
Broccoli – Broccoli seedlings should be planted 10 weeks before the first frost date in your area. This means planting them during the last hot summer days so it’s important to mulch around them to help keep the ground cool and moist. Feed the plants 3 weeks after transplanting into the garden. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer. About 70 days to maturity.
Brussels Sprouts – Brussels sprouts are ideal for fall gardens because they really taste best when allowed to mature in cool weather. In my mid-South garden, summer comes too quickly to grow them in the spring garden. Set the plants out in mid to late summer. It will take about 3 months before the sprouts appear. They are ready for harvest when they are firm and green. 90 days to maturity.
Cabbage – Plant seedlings 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. If the heat of summer is still intense when it’s time to plant in your area, give the young plants protection from sun. Cabbages are heavy feeders that require fertile soil rich in organic matter and consistent moisture. 70 days to maturity.
Tips for fall gardens:
Plant seeds twice the depth of the seed. So, lettuce is just barely covered with soil. Use a floating row cover for newly planted seed beds. This keeps birds from eating the seed, keeps moisture in during warm days and helps control seeds from being washed away during watering.
Keep soil moist to insure good seed germination and new transplants healthy.
If temperatures are higher than normal while planting new transplants, use a light row cover to keep young tender plants from burning.
Keep frost blanket or clouches on hand just in case of a hard, early freeze.