Fall Gardening: Why Try It and What to Plant

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be sharing several excerpts from a publication I recently wrote about Fall Vegetable Gardening. Here’s the first bit!

Why a Fall Garden?

Fall gardens in Kansas can be very productive and enjoyable after a hot summer. While many of our summer vegetables will continue to grow and produce until frost, a well-planned fall garden can provide vegetables into the early winter, while some plants can be over-wintered to get an early start the following spring. Cooler temperatures make it refreshing for gardeners to spend more time in the garden again during the fall.

What to Plant

Vegetables for fall gardens generally fall into the “cool season” vegetable category. These are vegetables that prefer the cooler, more moderate temperatures of the spring or fall in Kansas. Many of them will also tolerate cold weather in the early winter.

Types of Vegetables

The three main types of vegetables that will do well in a fall garden are:

  1. Leafy salad greens
  2. Root vegetables
  3. Brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc)

While not every vegetable in each of those categories is a good choice for fall, many of them will do very well. Lettuces, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, Asian greens, collards, beets, carrots, turnips, radishes, some onions, chicories, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli raab, leeks, and other related vegetables do well in fall plantings.

Vegetables that Grow Best in Fall

Although our fall weather can still be quite hot at times, the trend is always toward cooler temperatures. This allows for some vegetables, especially the Brassicas, to be more productive and better quality in the fall. Often when planted in a warm spring, they will go directly to flower (bolting) rather than producing a good crop. Cauliflower in particular may be more productive and of better quality when planted in the fall. Bok choy and other Asian greens will also be much less likely to bolt and develop a strong flavor in the fall. Likewise many lettuces will have a crisper, sweeter characteristic in the fall.

Vegetables that Do Not Grow Well in the Fall

A few vegetables that we plant in the spring will not be as productive in the fall.

  • Peas love cool weather, but they also require a cool soil for good germination. Our soil temperature is typically too warm in early fall for the peas to germinate and produce well. When planted later in the fall, they may not have enough time to mature and produce a crop (although you can get some awesome pea shoots that can be a delicacy! Another blog reminded me of this a few days ago.). Snow peas may be more successful when planted in late August than other types of peas.
  • Potatoes can be planted for a fall crop in the northern parts of Kansas, but in southern Kansas the soil is too warm and usually the yields are poor on fall planted potatoes.
  • Fall planted onions will produce great green onions and some small onions, but they will typically not produce the large storage onions due to the shorter season. Some types of onions may do better than others, and some may also overwinter well, producing larger onions in the spring.

Choosing Varieties for the Fall Garden

While you can often use the same seeds you planted in the spring to grow again in the fall, there are also times when it is beneficial to choose different varieties specifically for fall plantings. Depending on your planting plan, you may want to look for varieties that have more heat tolerance for the late summer transplanting. You may also want to consider varieties with great cold tolerance to allow your garden season to stretch even further into the winter. Another consideration on some crops is to choose a variety with a shorter “days to maturity” to ensure that you get a crop before it gets too cold, especially if you end up planting later due to hot weather in August.

About Rebecca

I'm a Horticulture Educator with Sedgwick County Extension, a branch of K-State Research and Extension, located in Wichita, KS. I teach about fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

Posted on August 30, 2012, in Season Extension Gardens, The First Time Gardener and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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