Put on your brimmed hat, gloves and clogs. Stretch your green thumb. The sizzling days of summer are fading to the refreshing temperatures of fall—the perfect time for planting cool-season vegetables and herbs. Artichokes, spinach, radishes, cilantro and parsley are favorite headliners of late-season gardens. Whether you are new to garden planting or know your way around compost and N-P-K ratios, we’ve got several tips and reminders for your fall gardening.
Check the Calendar
Your fall planting and harvesting evolves around the average date your area experiences its first autumn frost. This date will determine your fall growing season and which vegetables and herbs you can harvest before temperatures drop too low or the ground freezes. Cool-season veggies typically flourish in temperatures lower than 70°F and when the air and soil temperatures are at least 40°F.
Get in the Zone
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) compiles a plant hardiness zone map that divides the country into growing regions based on average yearly minimum winter temperatures. You can find this map online or on individual gardening seed packets to see how long a plant is expected to grow in your area. Be aware that some microclimates with slight climate variations do exist that may not be on the official USDA map. Keep in mind that garden temperatures drop with shade trees and in lower spots where chilly air accumulates. The coldest sections of the nation, like Alaska, will need to plant cool-season crops for summer harvest.
Thrive and Survive
Some cool-weather plants are best to grow directly from seed and others are better started indoors. Container pots work well for cool-season herbs that you can keep near the kitchen and snip off what you need when cooking. As the days get shorter, be sure to check the soil temperature before planting. Garden shops typically carry soil thermometers, but an ordinary thermometer will do if it measures to 32°F. A hard freeze can ruin all your hard work. Keep floating row covers, old sheets or newspapers on hand to protect plants if the weather dips below their cold-tolerance levels.
To determine how long your selected vegetables and herbs take to reach maturity, check seed packets or a gardening resource such as The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Note that harvest dates vary based on whether you start from seeds or from transplants and what variety of plant you choose. Radishes grow quickly, averaging about 30 days to maturity, while peas take about 60 days from plant to table.
5 Top Cool-Season VegetablesBroccoli
5 Top Cool-Season HerbsChives
Talk to your local garden center or cooperative extension office to learn more about specific growing conditions in your area including soil, fertilizer and moisture. Some herbs like thyme are perennials, which means they are usually hardy to the cold and will return again in spring. Just in time for you to pull out your gardening hat, gloves and clogs for your warm-season plants.
What are some of your tried-and-true vegetable and herb growing tips?
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.