Your tomato and zucchini plants may be withering, but autumn’s cooler weather provides the perfect opportunity to breathe new life into your garden.
Maybe your butternut squash and pumpkin plants are already starting to produce nice hefty fruits for the fall…or maybe not. Even if you’re a late bloomer when it comes to planning your fall garden, there are a variety of vegetables you can start planting now to enjoy this autumn (or even next spring).
Now is the time to directly sow your root crops, such as turnips, carrots, beets, and radishes. The seedlings need the warm soil (about 75 degrees) to sprout. Hybrid varieties, which are selected to grow fast, are ideal for the fall garden, when the number of days with warm, sunny weather is limited.
Even though these vegetables like cooler weather and can withstand a light frost, many varieties will not survive a harsh frost, so be sure to mark your region’s first frost date in your calendar.
Harvest these vegetables before the ground freezes, or you can shield them with a floating row cover on chilly nights. Row covers not only keep out frost, but they also help plants retain moisture and will keep the soil warmer by two or three degrees.
As long as you mulch them with straw, fall radish varieties can hang out in your garden through the winter, allowing you to harvest them as needed. Also, certain varieties of these root veggies, such as Napoli carrots, are specialized for overwintering. When you sow these in late autumn, protect with a row cover and harvest in early spring. If you live in a milder climate, they’ll be fine out in the open.
Get your salad tongs ready because many greens thrive in cool weather, including lettuce, kale, spinach, swiss chard, and mustard greens. Kale especially tastes better after a touch of frost. Direct-sow seedlings about one month before the first fall frost date. These leafy greens need extra nitrogen to grow vigorously, so plant them in your garden where your snap beans or peas were located, or supplement with a nitrogen fertilizer.
Also, keep these seedlings well-watered, because many leafy greens, such as arugula, sprout in less than a week. If a bout of scorching, hot weather pops up in September, protect those delicate sprouts from the drying sun with an old bed sheet or even a wooden plank, propped up by two bricks.
Arugula, lettuce, and baby spinach are ready to be harvested after 30 days. Swiss chard requires 45 days and kale needs 60 days to reach maturity.
Some of the hardier greens, like mache (also called corn salad), spinach, and kale, can survive the winter season with proper care. I successfully overwintered my spinach plants by spreading newspaper over the base of the plants, which kept the soil warm. Then I gently covered the plants with straw until spring arrived. You can also use a floating row cover to protect them from the blistering cold.
Herbs and bulbs
Scallions, or green onions, are ready to harvest within 30 days of planting, when the stems are pencil-thick. Certain varieties, such as Tokyo Long White and White Lisbon, are hardy enough for overwintering.
Garlic, leeks, and shallots should be planted in the fall if you live in the south, around the time of first frost, or in the late winter/early spring if you live up north. Harvest leeks in the spring, when they are small and mild. Harvest garlic in the summer before they flower.
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