Begin your spring with fresh vegetables from your garden by planting in the fall. Many plants favor the cool fall weather, from garlic and onions to root crops and leafy greens. I like to plant my cool-weather crops early in the season, when the daytime temperatures are in the 70s and the nighttime temperatures are in the 40s and 50s. Besides keeping fresh produce on the table year-round, gardening in the fall means less watering and fewer insects and plant diseases to manage. The cooler temperatures also allow for a more comfortable gardening environment. Best of all, there are many tasty crops to choose from!
Garlic is easy to grow, is frost-tolerant, and doubles as an insect repellent. While garlic can be planted in the spring, waiting until fall typically means bigger and more flavorful bulbs. Plant your garlic about six to eight weeks before an anticipated frost if your area is prone to hard frosts. In other areas, plant about one month before the ground freezes.
Onions are hardy plants that can survive harsh winter temperatures with minimal protection. Start your onions from seed or transplants. If you prefer seeds, grow them indoors for six to eight weeks under lights, then transplant the seedlings outdoors. When planting outside, make sure that the soil is crumbly and well-drained. Add a two-inch layer of compost before planting to deter weeds and preserve moisture.
Fall is the perfect time to plant fast-maturing radishes, turnips, rutabagas, and beets. Root crops require rock-free, light soil with a depth of 10 to 18 inches. Plant your root crops about a month before the colder weather emerges. Root crops can be harvested through the winter and into spring or once they have reached a desired size. Planting your root crops in the fall instead of the spring or summer often leads to a better flavor.
Spinach can be successfully planted in the spring, but many gardeners experience undersized harvests. Planting at the end of summer or in early fall is a better alternative if you want to achieve a more bountiful harvest. Spinach grows best in rich, well-drained soil enhanced with compost or manure. If you live in a cold climate, your crops may do better in a cold frame or covered with hay during the winter.
Greens like leaf lettuces, mustard, kale, and collard greens are tough enough to survive the cold and can usually be lightly harvested for mid-winter meals. Plant your greens in late summer or early fall. These cool-season plants are frost-resistant. In fact, the frost actually improves their flavor.
The brassica family, also known as cruciferous vegetables, includes favorite veggies like cabbage, turnips, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Plant brassicas in moist soil about 60 to 90 days before the first frost. Soil temperature plays a major role in proper seed germination: Cool-season plants like brassicas grow best when soil temperatures are between 50 and 85 degrees. This cold-climate crop is best suited for regions with mild summers and cool springs and falls.