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Lovelies: Planting a Fall Garden

Lettuce and Parsley The Prudent Homemaker

Fall is a great time to plant a garden! All of the wonderful things you want to grow in early spring grow well in fall.

Once temperatures reach frezing, most will overwinter in an unheated greenhouse, under floating row covers, under hoop houses (plastic sheeting over hoops) and cloched under glass or plastic.

Something that has helped me tremendously in having better success with seeds is using a thermometer to gauge soil temperature.  Rather than purchasing an expensive soil thermometer, you just need one with a short probe that can go down to at least 40ºF. I've found that Walmart carries one that does this for around $6. In general, I've found that soil temperatures are about 10ºF cooler than air temperatures, with shady locations being cooler still. (Please note: All temperatures for germination in this article are listed in Farenheit).

It is helpful to know your first frost date. If you don't know it, you'll first need to know your hardiness zone. For U.S. readers, you can go here to determine your zone, and here to figure out your first and last frost dates. You can then count backwards from there to see when you need to plant, with a little extra time alloted for ripening as temperatures cool and daytime hours become shorter. Choose varities that will work with the time that you have. For example, some lettuces are ripe in just over a month, but most are closer to 7 weeks before being ready, after germinating. Remember that covering your crops can extend your growth time throughout winter.

 

Greens:

Add nitrogen (blood meal) to the soil before planting

Lettuce in the Raised Bed The Prudent Homemaker



Lettuce


Soil temperature for seeding: 40-75º

Days to Germination: 2-15

Grows best when the air temperature is between 50-75º.


Lettuce The Prudent Homemaker

Sow lettuce every three weeks for a continuous crop. Looseleaf lettuces are great for fall and winter planting. You can usually harvest from each plant 3 times. When the weather warms, lettuce will bolt (go to seed) and become bitter.  

Some types of lettuce do particuarly well in winter, such as Merveille de Quatre Saisons.

Lettuce can be ready in 39 to 55 days, depending on the type you choose.

 

Jelly Jars in the Garden The Prudent Homemaker

For a spring crop, plant the third week in January. To speed growing time of seedlings during colder times, cloche any seedlings. This will triple their growth rate.

I've shared this video earlier, but if you haven't seen it, it's worth watching, even if you don't speak French. This is a great video on planting lettuce for fall and winter and there is a lot to learn just by watching.


Spinach


Soil temperature for seeding: 50-75º

Days to Germination: 6-21

Pick a crop in December, and then let rest until spring with just a few leaves on the plant. You'll be able to pick again from the same plants as the weather warms a bit more in early spring. Spinach loves cold weather. Some types, such as Bloomsdale Long-Standing, take cold temperatures better than others.


Swiss chard on bench The Prudent Homemaker
Swiss Chard (Silverbeet)


Soil temperature for seeding: 50-75º

Days to Germination: 5-17


Swiss Chard in the Garden The Prudent Homemaker

Sow in August and September for winter use. Plants should be mid-sized by fall so that you can harvest throughout the winter. If you plant later, the plants will be smaller. You can still harvest (just not as much). Swiss chard grows more slowly during cold weather. If it dies back in a frost, cut it down to the ground, cover it with glass or plastic, and it will regrow in spring.  Swiss chard tolerates temperatures down to 15ºF, uncovered, but may experience some loss at 26ºF.

Swiss chard does not transplant well; however, it can be done in the late evenings in cooler temperatures, but it may not make it.

Swiss chard can tolerate some shade, but will grow slower in shade than in sunny areas.


Mache The Prudent HomemakerSpinach in background, mâché in foreground



Mâché (aka Corn Salad) 

I fell in love with this green in France, where finding it at the grocery store was a common thing fall through spring. 


Soil temperature for seeding: 50-75º

Days to Germination: 2-15


This green likes cold weather. It does well planted in fall for a winter crop. Harvest the entire plant.


Arugula (Rocket, Roquette)

Soil temperature for seeding: 50-75º

Days to Germination: 2-15




Alliums:


Onions on Scale The Prudent Homemaker

Onions

Soil temperature for seeding: 55-75º

Days to Germination: 6-16

Green Onion Row The Prudent Homemaker

Green bunching onions will grow year round in mild climates without covering, enduring frosts without a problem. For more info on growing green onions, read my post on the subject.

 

Leeks

Leeks are a cool season plant that can survive the winter uncovered and provide food in spring. Depending on type, they can be ready in 70 to 120 days.

 

Soil temperature for seeding: 55-75º

Days to Germination: 6-16

 


Garlic


No mater what climate you live in, you can plant garlic bulbs in fall. Hardneck garlic produces scapes, and softneck garlic stores longer. Fall planted garlic means a spring harvest.




Asian Greens:



Bok Choi, Pak Choi, Chinese cabbage, Mustard Greens


Soil temperature for seeding: 40-75º

Days to Germination: 2-15



Legumes:

Snow Peas The Prudent Homemaker


Snow peas and regular peas

Soil temperature for seeding: 40-75º

Days to Germination: 8-25

Snow Peas in the Garden The Prudent Homemaker
Plant in October/November for February-April harvest.



Fava Beans

Soil temperature for seeding: 60-85º

Days to Germination: 8-15



Root Crops:


Add bone meal and soil sulphur to the garden before planting. In places where the ground freezes, root crops can keep in the garden a bit longer with a covering of mulch. Frost will make many of them sweeter, such as beets and parsnips.



Radishes 1 The Prudent Homemaker

Radishes

Soil temperature for seeding: 45-80º

Days to Germination: 4-11


Plant crops every 2 weeks for a continuous supply


Turnips The Prudent Homemaker

Turnips and Rutabagas

Soil temperature for seeding: 55-75º

Days to Germination: 5-17


Fall sowings mean a January-March harvest. You can sow seeds a few weeks apart for a continuous supply.

Parsnips The Prudent Homemaker


Parsnips

Soil temperature for seeding: 55-75º

Days to Germination: 15-28


Cold improves flavor.



Carrots

Soil temperature for seeding: 55-80º

Days to Germination: 6-21

The biggest challenge is not letting the seeds dry out for three weeks while they are germinating.


Beets in Basket The Prudent Homemaker

Beets

Soil temperature for seeding: 50-75º

Days to Germination: 5-17


Will grow well throughout the winter. The green tops taste very similar to Swiss chard, but unlike Swiss chard, the greens grow faster and more abundantly during the winter. Plant every 2 weeks for a continuous harvest.



Cole Crops:

Start indoors from seed in mid -August to transplant at the end of October or consider starting with plants from the nursery. You can start another crop indoors later than this to plant in the garden in November (Or try direct seeding in October for a spring crop).

Add nitrogen (blood meal) to the soil before planting


Broccoli The Prudent Homemaker

Broccoli

Soil temperature for seeding: 55-75º

Days to Germination: 5-17

Cut the main head and smaller side shoots will form



Cauliflower

Soil temperature for seeding: 55-75º

Days to Germination: 5-17

Put leaves over to keep it white


Kolhrabi

Soil temperature for seeding: 55-75º

Days to Germination: 5-17


Brussels sprouts

Soil temperature for seeding: 55-75º

Days to Germination: 5-17

Pick from the bottom up

Purple Cabbage The Prudent Homemaker

Cabbage

Soil temperature for seeding: 55-75º

Days to Germination: 5-17


Kale

Soil temperature for seeding: 55-75º

Days to Germination: 5-17

Harvest outer (bottom) leaves


Collard Greens

Soil temperature for seeding: 55-75º

Days to Germination: 5-17



Herbs:

Parsley dill cilantro The Prudent Homemaker

In warm climates, the following herb will do well all fall (parsley can do well under cover in colder climates).

 

Cilantro

Soil temperature for seeding: 65-75º

Days to Germination: 7-14


Dill

Soil temperature for seeding: 60-75º

Days to Germination: 7-15


Parsley on Washcloth The Prudent Homemaker

Parsley

Soil temperature for seeding: 50-75º

Days to Germination: 12-28

Will grow in shady areas


White Strawberries The Prudent Homemaker

Alpine Strawberries

Soil temperature for seeding: 60-75º

Days to Germination: 14-30

White Alpine Strawberries The Prudent Homemaker
Seeds are surface sown and should be kept moist; the plants prefer a shadier location. They can be white, yellow, or red. In cooler climate these can produce all summer long. These tiny berries (no bigger than you fingernail) are intensely sweet. They grow from seed, and do not send out runners.

 

Flowers:

 

Fall and winter flowers are available in flats from nurseries as well as big box stores in the fall, and can also be grown from seed.

 

Pansies, Violas, and Johnny Jump-Ups

Soil temperature for seeding: 60-70º

Days to Germination: 7-14

My first experience with pansies in winter was as a university student. Snow had fallen and the pansies were covered. I thought they were done for the season, but the snow melted and a few days later the pansies were perky and blooming.  If you live where snow fall melts, pansies can make it through the winter. In warmer climates, they are best planted in fall, as they prefer cooler weather. Violas are smaller than pansies and johnny jump ups are smaller still. 

Stock The Prudent Homemaker

 

Stock

Soil temperature for seeding: 70º

Days to Germination: 14-28

In warmer climates, stock, another cool-loving flower, will bloom and perfume your garden during the winter. There are both double and single flowered types, and it comes in several colors, including white, blue, pinks, and lavenders.

Sundial The Prudent Homemaker

Ornamental Kale and Cabbage

Soil temperature for seeding: 65º

Days to Germination: 7-14

Purple, pink or white centered, as well as white with the very center pink, ornamental kale will winter without covering in most climates. If you want to cut them for indoor bouquets in spring, continously harvest the lower leaves, which will force the plant to grow taller (giving it a stem for cutting). These are also edible. You can get these from your local nursery or big box store, or grow them from seed.

Paperwhites in the White Garden The Prudent Homemaker

Paperwhites

In cold climates, these bulbs are planted indoors in winter, to bloom at Christmas time. In warmer climates, these can grow outside. Mine bloom every November in the garden. These are highly perfumed; some people love the fragrance, and some hate it.

 Nasturiums The Prudent Homemaker

Nasturiums

Soil temperature for seeding: 68º

Days to Germination: 7-10

These are a summer flower in warm climates but grow rather well in winter in warmer climates, blooming in spring. They love to drop seeds, and you can easily collect them to replant. They will also self-sow. Both the flowers and leaves are edible, with a peppery taste.

Snapdragon The Prudent Homemaker

Snapdragons

Soil temperature for seeding: 64-72º

Days to Germination: 10-21

Another summer flower in cool climates, snapdragons are a cool season flower in warmer climates. 

 

Camellias

Start with a potted plant. Camellias are winter bloomers that prefer acidic soil. In hotter climates, they will need to be in a shadier spot, protected from burning by the sun in summer.

 

 

Sources:

 

Because I know you will ask, I've included my favorite sources for seeds. I'm not affiliated with these; I just use and like their products.

Territorial Seed Company

This is where I'm now buying most of my seeds, as they have a a huge selection of open-pollinated seeds. Most everything I grow is open-pollinated, which allows me to collect my own seeds to grow the next year, reducing/eliminating the need for purchasing seeds.  They have a whole section of their website devoted to fall and winter gardening. They also have cover crops to plant and till under to noursih your soil. They have a discount for fall seed orders that goes through tomorrow, September 10th; use code PTWLBR1 for 15% off.

Outside Pride

Packets of 100 seeds for $4.95? Yes please! Amounts of seeds will depend on variety, but in general the quantity is large and the price is good. If you ask on their facebook page for a discount code, they'll give you an individual one for 10% off. Through today (September 9th) you can use the code LABOR for 10% off your order. They have flowers (and you can search by color), alpine strawberry seeds, ornamental kale, herbs, and grass seeds.

Wildseed Farms

For large quantites of wildflowers, such as johnny jump-ups. (Though a summer flower, I also purchase my zinnia seeds from this company). Some seeds are best fall planted; their website and catalog denote which ones are best planted in fall, especially in more mild climates.

I also visit my local nursery, which has fall plants now. They occasionally put out coupons in the mail (usually a $10 off $40 purchase) in addition to seasonal sales.

Don't forget that fall is a great time to plant fruit trees! You can read my post here: Choosing Fruit Trees For Your Garden

Books for further reading on fall and winter gardening:

Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long

The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses

 

Also note: You can still buy spring seeds to plant this fall, which may be on clearance at your local stores. Our Walmart also still has their packs of 20 cent seeds avialable; there aren't a lot in each packet, but if you're just planting a pot or a small space, they would be enough.

 

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Comments

  • Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker September 10, 2015

    Cindy,

    You need to thin your seeds. Some people just throw them out. I don't like to waste them, so I transplant them in the evening (they do better in the evening) to where I want them to be in the garden. If you watch the French video I referenced above, you can watch him do it--he actually let them get get quite tall before he transplanted them but you can do it sooner. The way he does it, you can wait until you have a bigger spot open in the garden (where summer items are done) and plant there.

  • Holly B. September 10, 2015

    I would like to reaffirm those readers who live in much colder zones that even we can grow a great fall garden. I live in upstate NY boarder line 5a/4b.

    I am able to get a spring crop of peas in late june/early july and a fall crop in september. I have also planted a late crop of beans after my first crop of peas for fresh beans in the late fall when the other beans are giving up. I have picked radishes and carrots in late october. I have put coverings over my pepper plants to allow smaller a peppers a chance to get bigger while protecting them from frost through out september (sometime in october/november the winds&snow falls get too much for our lightweight coverings to hold up). I have planted late lettuce and spinach with great success. I am sure one can grow much more, but this is what I have experiment with so far. I'll see how my experiments do this fall.

    September is also a great month because those long, long season crops our finally ripening. My melons that I planted in May are finally ripening!

    In terms of berries, ever bearing strawberries and raspberries ripen throughout the summer well into fall. Late bearing blueberry varieties give fruit in September. Cranberries also ripen in September.

    I think the best rule for gardening in the north is to *always* have a crop growing during your growing season. For me from April to October I have something growing whether it is with the purpose of giving me food, or a cover crop to suppress weeds and give nutrients back to the soil.

  • Patricia September 12, 2015

    Thank you for such great, through information. I have never planted a fall garden but many spring/summer gardens so this will be a nice guide. Serendipitously, today I noticed a great chart on the Old Farmer's Almanac that I thought I might mention (although you may have already seen it). It is a chart of best planting times for your zone http://m.almanac.com/gardening/planting-dates/CA/Danville . (You just need to plug in your city or zip code to customize the info) I am never sure when to start seeds or plant things out, especially in the fall. This is a great graph that lists seed starting, planting out and harvest times for many vegetables by geography. There is also another geographical chart for those who want to plant by the moon.
    I silently enjoy your blog quite often and I am always inspired especially by your energy and perseverance, your beautiful gardens and your time honored way of doing things. Thanks for being there!

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