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Growing Short Season Fall Crops

by Dawn
bunch of orange carrots

The Easiest Crops to Grow in your Fall Garden

I know, I know, summer has barely arrived and I’m talking about fall???

The thing is, if you live in Zones 6 and colder, you need to start thinking about what to plant in your fall garden now, because many of these crops need to be started before the middle of July.

First, I’m going to give you a list of 16 crops that do well in the fall, with the time frame for planting and general ideas on hardiness. Then, we’ll go into a few specifics on fall growing and go in-depth on a few of the crops.

Not sure of your first frost date in your area? Check out this resource. Note: This one is pretty accurate for my zip code for the first fall frost (according to my records, they’re about a week early). All of the calculators I tried (even this one) were really off (early) for my last spring frost.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Crop List

CROPWEEKS BEFORE FROSTCOLD HARDINESS
ARUGULA4-6 No heavy frost (also no heat)
BEETS10-12Light frost ok
BROCCOLI12Hard frost ok
BRUSSELS SPROUTS12Very hardy (freeze & snow ok)
CABBAGE6-12 (variety-dependent)Temps down to 20F ok
CARROTS8-10Frost ok, harvest before ground freezes
CAULIFLOWER12No deep freeze or heavy frost
KALE6-8Very hardy, can take frost and snow
KOHLRABI8-10 Light frost ok
LETTUCE4-8Light frost ok? (variety-dependent)
MUSTARD GREENS3-6 Light frost ok
PEAS10-12Light frost ok
RADISHES4Frost ok, harvest before ground freezes
SPINACH8Can tolerate frost if fully grown
SWISS CHARD10Light frost ok
TURNIPS8 Frost ok, harvest before ground freezes

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Fall Growing Guidelines

Plant availability at Garden Centers is lower in the summer

Trying to find crop plants at garden centers this time of year is very difficult. Almost all garden centers supply spring crop plants, but fall plants are hard to come by.

Because of this, it’s better just to grow your own from seed. This is easier to accomplish for those with limited space than in the spring because you can put your seed trays outside, just shield them from the hot sun.

If you need seeds, check out Baker Creek Seeds. I absolutely love them and get most of my seeds from them. They have a wonderful selection and their products are of great quality.

Seeds (or Seedlings) Need Consistent Moisture

water droplet

Because you’ll be planting your seeds or seedlings while it’s still quite hot out (12 weeks before last frost for me in Zone 6b is around July 17th, when the heat of summer is just ramping up), you need to be REALLY consistent with watering.

The easiest (and best) way to do this is with soaker hoses. You may remember me discussing olla watering pots in my Garden Watering post here, but soaker hoses are better suited to seeds and seedlings that are just getting started when its hot.

The problem with olla pots is that they water under the ground (which is GREAT for established plants), but seeds need moisture at the top of the soil and seedling roots aren’t established enough to benefit by olla pot watering yet.

Soaker hoses are the easiest, most economical and most consistent way to water your new baby plants and seeds.

Mid-Summer Seedlings Need Mulch

straw mulch

Another way to make sure your seedlings get consistent moisture is to use a healthy layer of mulch.

A layer of newspaper covered by a couple inches of straw is ideal. That way, the weeds will stay away, too, and you won’t have to be out weeding in 90F+ weather!

You can even cover your soaker hoses with mulch so the water doesn’t evaporate before it has time to get to the plants.

Use Summer-weight Row Covers on Crops that Need Them

On crops that require row covers (we’ll get to that down below), use summer weight covers. These are lightweight and airy so that heat doesn’t build up under them. Something like this is ideal.

You can even get wedding tulle at a craft or fabric store and use that, although it may not protect against flea beetles if the weave isn’t ultrafine.

Note: DON’T get fabrics listed as “frost protection” or “plant blanket” for use in the summer. These are designed to hold in heat and will fry your plants.

Before planting, you should have an idea of how you’ll keep the row covers supported and up off the plants as they grow. Stakes or hoops work well for this.

Be Patient and Let them Adjust

Just as you need to be patient with spring seedlings you’re acclimating to the cooler outdoor weather, you must be patient with summer seedlings you’ve started indoors and are acclimating to the hot summer sun.

Give them AT LEAST a week to acclimate outside (just as in spring, give them increasing amounts of sun each day, although you don’t need to bring them in at night), then try to plant out on a cloudy day.

If you must plant out on a sunny day, putting a shade cloth over your seedlings for a few days to a week once they’re planted certainly won’t hurt, especially if your temperatures are quite high.

Take Advantage of Shade from your Summer Crops

Since your new fall crops are more likely to be heat-sensitive, why not take advantage of some of your tall summer crops to help shade them?

tall corn plants

Plant radishes or Swiss chard in the shade of your tomatoes, or plant arugula, lettuce or mustard greens at the base of your pole beans or corn. Think creatively to give your new plants their best start.

Also be sure to take advantage of the extra nitrogen your spring beans and peas put into your soil by growing spinach or any of the cabbage family crops in succession. Yes, some nitrogen will remain in the soil until spring, but some is inevitably leached out over the winter, so use it while you can.

Specific Crops

Broccoli, Cabbage & Cauliflower

I’ve grouped these plants together because they have similar requirements, and all must be grown under row covers due to cabbageworms and other pests. You may find that pests aren’t nearly as big a problem in the fall as they were in the spring, but row covers are still a mighty fine idea.

head of cabbage

All 3 crops should be planted indoors approximately 12 weeks before your last frost. This may vary with cabbage if you get a quick-maturing variety, and you can adjust accordingly.

When the plants are about 3 weeks old, they can be transplanted into the garden after proper acclimation. You should immediately cover them with row covers.

Cauliflower is sensitive to hard frosts and should be harvested immediately if there is a freeze. Broccoli and cabbage are a bit more hardy, with cabbage being ok in temps down to 20F.

Lettuce, Mustard Greens, Arugula, Swiss Chard, Kale & Spinach

All of the greens do well in the cool fall temperatures.

Swiss chard requires the earliest start. Get seeds started in pots 10 weeks before your last frost, and plant your seedlings out when they’re about 4 weeks old.

The other greens can be direct sown, with spinach and kale going in about 6-8 weeks pre-frost and the others going in later (according to the table above).

lettuce leaves

Arugula, in particular, doesn’t like heat, so be sure to give it some shade if your weather’s still hot when it goes in (approximately 4 weeks before first frost).

Kale is extremely cold-hardy and will take freezes and snow without missing a beat. In fact, it gets sweeter in colder temperatures, so delay harvesting until after your first frost.

Carrots and Beets

bunch of carrots

Both carrots and beets can be started 8 to 10 weeks before your first frost.

Although it’s often recommended that you direct sow these seeds, you’ll most likely have better luck if you plant both carrots and beets indoors at this time of year.

I had already decided I would be planting carrots and beets indoors next spring anyway because they just don’t seem to do well germinating directly in the garden. I tried both this spring in the garden and ended up buying plants instead because the seeds didn’t grow.

TIP: Soak both carrot and beet seeds about 24 hours ahead of time to increase germination rates.

Peas

I’ve never tried fall peas before, but I think I might this year.

You’ll need to start them 10 to 12 weeks before first frost. As with beets and carrots, I’ll be starting them indoors this summer, as I think it will increase germination rates. You should also soak them for 24 hours before planting.

person shelling peas

Don’t forget to inoculate your pea seeds before planting. If you don’t have inoculant (you can find it here if you need it) but you grew beans or peas this spring, just be sure to dig a couple of shovelfuls of that soil into your pea bed before planting.

Herbs

There are many herbs that do well in cooler fall temperatures. Why not plant a container near your front or kitchen doors with parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, cilantro or lavender? The parsley does need to be planted about 10 weeks before frost as it takes a bit to mature, but if you plant in a pot that can come inside, that won’t be a problem.

parsley

TIP: You should also soak parsley seed before planting as it doesn’t always germinate well.

Since you’re probably thinking about salsa with your tomatoes and peppers maturing later in the summer, that cilantro will come in handy!

Mint also likes cooler fall temps, but I would suggest planting it in its own container as it’s a bit of a bully and likes to take over.

You can even plant chives in a container, although I prefer them in the garden as they’re perennials. Because it gets cold in the winter where I live, most plants in pots won’t survive outside.

In a future post, I’ll cover garlic and onions, but since those don’t have to be planted until fall actually comes, I’ll save them for later.

I hope this post has been helpful for you. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them. I’ve also included several pinnable images below. Please pin to your Garden Vegetables board for future reference.

As always, smile and have a crazy organic day!

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8 comments

Nikki Gwin 07/23/2019 - 12:15 pm

This will be my first fall garden ever. It is always so hot in Alabama, that by this time I am usually just fizzled out on working in the garden. But this year we’ve had an unusual amount of rain and I’ve worked in the rain. LOL Anyway, I’ve gotten 4 tomato plants and a couple of cucumber plants going. I hope to get some more in soon and especially some more herbs.
🙂 gwingal

Reply
Dawn 07/23/2019 - 8:31 pm

Yay! This is really my first year making a concerted effort at a fall garden too. Mine will look a bit different than yours, though. I’ve got broccoli, cauliflower, mizuna, lettuce and New Zealand spinach started. I’ll be starting bush beans, kohlrabi and maybe carrots soon.

Reply
Linda Carlson 07/13/2019 - 9:30 pm

WE are just now getting some beets and turnips.. Carrots coming along. We got such a late start this year. Weather was strange..

Reply
Dawn 07/17/2019 - 10:42 pm

It definitely was! The carrots are still small, tomatoes are there but not ripening yet, beets should be ready in another week or so, and green beans are just starting. It’s been crazy!

Reply
Sarita 07/12/2019 - 9:07 am

I’m bookmarking this post because even though it’s about Fall planting, I think I can adapt it to our climate (FYI we’re in zone 2A and get our first frost usually in the first week of September). Thanks again for a very informative and useful post!

Reply
Dawn 07/12/2019 - 8:34 pm

Oh my, first week of September! You don’t even HAVE a fall! I know you were working on a greenhouse though, so maybe this would be applicable to that once you’re up and running.

Reply
Michele Cook 07/12/2019 - 8:59 am

That chart is awesome! I am in zone 7 but am already starting to get prepared for my fall planting. I want to do some more growing this winter than I have in the past. Thanks!

Reply
Dawn 07/12/2019 - 8:33 pm

You’re welcome! Glad it was helpful!

Reply

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