Five Vegetables That Thrive in a Fall Garden

Just because it’s fall doesn’t mean the food growing season has ended. In fact, there are several leafy green vegetables that thrive in cooler weather. Some of these are transplanted in mid-to-late summer and some are sown by seed, depending on your location. In this article, we’ll introduce you to five easy-to-grow vegetables that thrive in a fall garden and tell you how to grow them successfully.

In this article:

How is fall gardening different?

Some plants just do better when it’s not blazing hot. In extremely hot temperatures, fall (and spring) vegetables go to seed, called bolting. Or they are killed by temperatures that are too hot. 

The benefit of planting a fall garden is that the soil is already warm, which encourages seed germination and root development. In general, rainfall in fall is about perfect for keeping seedlings and plants moist. However, provide supplemental water if there’s not rain for a week or more.

In a lot of ways, fall gardening is similar to spring in that you’re always trying to out-guess Mother Nature. Dodging killing frosts and freezes is the same. Vegetables that thrive in a fall garden are cool season crops. 

Chard

This leafy vegetable falls into the superfood category, chock full of vitamins K, A, and C, and antioxidants. Chard leaves come in green and a rainbow of colors. Another attribute: It can be planted in the garden or in a container in spring and it can be harvested throughout summer and into fall. The rainbow chard works great as an ornamental plant in containers, too.

It takes just 14 to 21 days for chard seeds to germinate, so it’s good for fall planting, when the growing season is shorter. If the soil is colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it may take a month.. Sometimes called Swiss chard, it tolerates light frosts. 

If you’re a big fan of chard, grow several plants to satisfy your appetite. A member of the beet family, chard has a mild green taste. It can be used fresh or cooked. Use it fresh in salad, stir-fry and other dishes. The whole leaf (sometimes called a blade) is edible. 

Here are some tips for growing chard in the fall:

  • For a fresh fall harvest, sow seeds about six weeks before the first frost date.
  • Cover the crop with a floating row cover to extend the harvest.
  • Grow chard in full sun to light shade. If you’re growing rainbow chard, full sun is best for the color. 
  • Harvest by breaking or cutting off the outside leaves. The rest of the plant continues to grow.  

Botanical name: Beta vulgaris var. cicla

Plant type: Biennial, goes to seed in the second year

Mature plant height: 18 to 24 inches

Maintenance needs: Low

Ideal growing condition: Full sun, organically rich, slightly moist soil.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 6 – 10

Collards

These large, leafy vegetable plants have been on the menu for more than 2,000 years in Africa, Portugal, Brazil, Greece and elsewhere. Slaves in the southern United States grew collards year-round in their gardens to supplement their diets. The leaves are high in protein, minerals and vitamins.

A member of the Brassica family, which also includes cabbage, mustard and broccoli, collards have a slightly bitter taste. There are several ways to prepare collards, from rolling and stuffing them to adding them to salads and stir-fry.

Sometimes called collard greens, they can be grown in spring and fall from seeds or transplants. 

Here are some tips for growing collards.

  • For the fall vegetable garden, sow seeds in August and September in the South. In the North, start seeds indoors in late June or early July for transplanting in August or September, or about six weeks before the first frost date. It takes a week to 10 days for seeds to germinate. 
  • Grow collards in full sun. Collards can be grown in a 15- to 18-inch tall and wide container or larger. Collards develop roots about 2 feet deep.

Botanical name: Brassica oleracea var. viridis

Plant type: Annual

Mature plant height: 1 ½ to 3 feet

Maintenance needs: Low

Ideal growing condition: Full sun, organically rich, slightly moist soil.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 6 – 11

Chives

Chives are a perennial evergreen in much of the country. They die back in cold weather regions but sprout again in spring. A member of the onion and garlic family, chives have a mild taste. Sometimes called common chives, the thin, hollow green stems can be chopped and used in salads or added as a garnish to scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes and more. The small white bulbs work well sliced in stir-fry and other dishes. 

Besides the green stems and bulb, chive flowers are wonderfully delicious and colorful in salads and other dishes. They are best eaten just as they bloom. Eating the flowers reduces chives’ habit of self-sowing. 

Here are some tips for growing chives.

  • Chives can be a bit challenging to grow from seed, especially when sown directly outdoors in northern climates. Buying transplants at a garden center or sowing seeds indoors to transplant in the garden may be easier.
  • In southern climates, chives are evergreen and easier to grow from seed sown directly in the garden. Chive seeds germinate in roughly two weeks to a month. 
  • Grow chives in full to part sun. They tolerate shade but may not be robust. Once established, chives return every year.
  • Chives make easy, worthwhile container plants, either growing singly or mixed with seasonal annuals. The wispy stems add a lovely texture to many pot combos. Chives also grow nicely on a sunny windowsill.

Did You Know: There also are garlic chives, a slightly larger plant with a stronger flavor. The stems are larger and flatter. Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) also have small white bulbs and purple flowers, all of which are edible. They have the same growing conditions and habits as common chives.

Botanical name: Allium schoenoprasum

Plant type: Perennial, may be evergreen

Mature plant height: 8 to 12 inches

Maintenance needs: Low

Ideal growing condition: Full sun, organically rich, slightly moist soil.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 – 9

Lettuce

There’s nothing like fresh-picked lettuce from the garden. Lettuce and other greens are super easy to grow from seed, germinating in about a week. They tend to do best in cooler weather in spring and fall. Summer heat causes them to bolt, or set seed, which makes lettuce bitter and tough.

Lettuce is a catch-all word for all kinds of leafy greens: Romaine, oak leaf, butterhead, mesclun and iceberg carry the lettuce scientific name. Arugula, endive, watercress, frisee and radicchio are sometimes listed as lettuces, but they have different scientific names.

Here are some tips for growing lettuce.

  • For an extended harvest into late fall and early winter, grow lettuce in containers in a sunny, protected area like a porch. 
  • Sow again every 10 days to two weeks so you have fresh lettuce even longer. 
  • Grow lettuce in full sun or part shade. Lettuce can endure light frost.
  • If growing in the ground, tent a row cover or other cloth above the plants when cooler weather or frost threatens. 
  • Lettuce plants in containers can be protected from frosts with an inverted nursery pot, bucket or cloth. 
  • Harvest lettuce by breaking or cutting off the external leaves. The plants continue producing leaves.

Botanical name: Lactuca sativa

Plant type: Annual

Mature plant height: 8 to 12 inches

Maintenance needs: Low

Ideal growing condition: Full sun, part shade. Slightly moist soil

USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 – 9

Spinach

The last of the leafy green vegetables that thrive in the fall garden is spinach. Sow seeds in a sunny, moist area about eight weeks before the first frost. Spinach can have smooth or crinkled leaves.

Like other veggies grown in fall, spinach is a cool season crop. Like lettuce, spinach bolts or sets seed in hot weather and becomes inedible. 

Here are some tips for growing spinach.

  • Spinach tolerates cool weather in the 20s. It does quite well when protected by a floating row cover in colder temps. 
  • Add straw mulch to help insulate the spinach, and you may be able to harvest during winter and have new growth coming on for spring. 
  • Spinach also can be grown in a container in a sunny, protected area. Cover the container if a freeze is predicted. Use an inverted bucket, nursery pot or cloth.
  • Harvest spinach by snipping off the outer leaves or by cutting off the plant at soil level.  

Botanical name: Spinacia oleracea

Plant type: Annual

Mature plant height: 8 to 12 inches

Maintenance needs: Low

Ideal growing condition: Full sun, part shade. Slightly moist soil.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 – 10

FAQ

Q. How do I sow seeds?

A:  The seed packets give planting depth, distance between plants, when to plant, soil and water requirements, days to germination and harvest.

Q. Should I fertilize vegetables?

A: Yes. Espoma Garden-tone is a natural, organic product. Follow the directions on the label.

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