While we often tend to think of gardening as a spring and summertime venture, there’s plenty to do in the garden during the fall, too! From preparing for winter dormancy to planting last minute fall crops, you can do lots of fall gardening tasks right up until the first hard freeze…and even sometimes beyond.
Read on for some must-do tasks for fall gardening, and some tips to help you make the most of your garden growth and yard space in the autumn months!
Planting A Fall Veggie Garden
Fall gardening can actually be an ideal time for some extra plant growth, as autumn temperatures tend to be a lot easier on many kinds of garden veggies, plants, and shrubs. These cooler temperatures can also mean less weeding as well as fewer pests and diseases to deal with. That sounds like every gardener’s dream!
Fall gardening can be a low stress way to taper off your garden at the end of the year while you’re preparing the rest of your yard for the winter months.
1. Prepare the Soil
When it comes time to prepare for some fall gardening, the first thing you need to do is prepare the soil.To begin, you will want to pull out any spring or summer plants that are no longer producing, or that you no longer intend to harvest. Not only will this make way space-wise for your fall gardening plants, it will also ensure the soil is diverting fewer nutrients to plants that are already tapering off.
Now, some of your produce may not be quite ready to pull up by the time you find yourself ready to start fall gardening. In that case, it’s a good idea to research companion plants, so that you’ll be planting your cold tolerant veggies alongside plants with whom they will grow harmoniously.
To further prepare the soil, you can do a bit of the same work for fall gardening as you would for spring gardening. Till the soil a bit, add some compost, but avoid fertilizing. As we will see later, fall is not an ideal time to fertilize your garden.
2. Gather the Right Veggies
While there are many kinds of plants that can really thrive in fall gardening due to the benefits of fewer pests and less caustic summer heat, you do want to bear in mind which veggie varieties will best withstand the cold. After all, frost is all but inevitable, and some veggies are cold tolerant while others are tender to frost.
Something else to be mindful of is that cold hardy veggies tend to produce much more quickly. With the soil being already warmed from the summer heat, plants will germinate much more rapidly once your seeds are planted.
Some of the best cold tolerant veggies to plant for fall gardening include:
Most lettuce varieties tend to be wilty in hot weather and struggle to fully meet their potential in the hot soil. With fall gardening, on the other hand, salad greens can be ready to harvest by the full head in just 40 days! And loose leaf varieties and butterhead lettuce can be harvested throughout the growing process, meaning that while fall gardening, you will often be able to harvest lettuce in a month or so.
Spinach is another leafy type that does great in fall planting. Often fall spinach does even better than spring spinach, as this plant loves the cold and will tend to struggle more with wilting if grown during the height of summer heat.
In fact, if protected properly from the cold, spinach has been known to not only last well into the fall gardening season, but even to overwinter and produce a fresh crop in the spring! It’s important to tend your fall garden bearing this in mind, laying down enough cover to bring spinach about in spring if that’s your goal.
Perhaps the hardiest of the leafy greens, a kale plant can last deep into winter. If you add kale to your fall gardening rotation, you will likely be able to continue harvesting it even after all the rest of your fall garden has died off to frost.
Veggies like carrot plants and beet roots will tend to take a bit longer to grow during fall gardening, since they’ll be in such close contact with the cooler soil. However, these vegetables actually tend to get a flavor boost from fall gardening that you won’t find when growing them in the summer, so this late season planting is highly worthwhile.
Radishes are another cool weather lover, making them perfect for fall gardening. They will tend to mature in just 25 to 30 days, so you will get to enjoy the fruits of your labor quite quickly.
These are just a handful of veggies you can choose from when doing some fall gardening. Broccoli, kohlrabi, asian greens, and even bush beans and snap peas can all be enjoyed in fall. It just takes a bit of extra effort to prepare and protect them from frost, as some veggies (like bush beans) can be more sensitive to the first cold snap.
3. Plant At the Ideal Time
Where fall gardening is concerned, no preparatory task is truly more important than choosing the right planting time. This can make or break your fall gardening venture as it will affect the germination of the seeds and how much time every plant has to mature.
Luckily, you will often find that even after the first frost hits, you will have some really great growing time before a truly hard, killing freeze. The warmth of the soil will also allow for your plants to grow and mature more quickly when fall gardening than spring gardening.
With all this in mind, it’s important to check your USDA plant hardiness growing zone. Know your local weather patterns and plan to start your fall garden usually around September.
Tasks to Tackle While Your Fall Veggies Are Growing
4. Rake Up Leaves
This is a unique task for fall gardening, and not something that every gardener may have to deal with. However, if you have shedding trees in or around your garden, such as apple trees, persimmon trees, and the like, you want to make sure you care for their leaves properly.
Fallen leaves on the lawn or over the rest of your garden can seriously compromise soil and grass health in the long term, leading to mold, dead grass, and other unpleasantness. To avoid this risk, your best bet is to rake up leaves and add them to your compost pile. This will help keep your compost pile fed, while reducing the waste that comes with bagging leaves.
5. Do Some Pruning
The fall season and into winter are crucial times for pruning many perennial plants in your garden. This is true of fruit trees as well as flowers. Make sure you work time into your schedule to properly prune your fall garden, as this will help your plants grow back better and stronger the following year.
6. End Your Spraying Schedule
Typically, you will want to end your fertilization of plants in the middle of summer, around July or so, to avoid the risk of over fertilizing. If you have some fall harvests you want to keep going into the cold months, you may have chosen to continue fertilizing through the end of summer.
However, when it comes to fall gardening, this is the time you want to stop fertilizing altogether. This will give the soil time to rest and recover before the spring planting season.
The same goes for spraying for pests and diseases. Even organic sprays can be hard on the soil and on plants, so as the weather gets colder, you should end the spray cycle. Keep a watch out for any late season insects who might come for your fall garden veggies, and remove them as needed, but try to do so without adding more spray to the soil.
7. Say Goodbye to Mowing
Once the temperature in your area starts to dip to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, this is a great time to say goodbye to mowing your lawn. Like the rest of your garden and landscape, the grass needs time to recover during the cooler months. You will also find that weeds are making fewer appearances by this time, requiring less mowing in order to tackle dandelions, crab grass, and other lawn invaders.
Tips for Making the Most of Your Fall Gardening Ventures
8. Prepare to Face the Frost
You don’t want to find yourself in a panic over what to do if a sudden, early frost is set to strike in your area while you are still growing produce. Make sure you prepare ahead of time with the proper tools (like this plant cover) to protect your fall garden from any unexpected cold.
You may also want to use these types of tools with younger trees and perennial plants that have not fully established themselves by the time the cold rolls around.
You can also prepare for the cold in your fall gardening by being strategic by what you plant, and when, given the space and time you have to spare. You might, for example, consider planting root vegetables or bush beans closer to the beginning of fall, as these take longer to grow and are less cold hardy, respectively.
On the other hand, kale is something you can plan to plant a little later in your fall gardening venture, as it will better tolerate the cold. Plants like radishes that have a quick turnaround for harvest, you might also consider planting closer to frost and freeze times.
9. Think About Next Year
Did you grow anything in this year’s garden that you’d really like to grow next year–or for many years beyond? Be it a flower or a plant, there are many varieties in your garden that you might want to grow again. A crucial aspect of fall gardening is seed gathering and storage!
While fall gardening, be sure to gather, properly organize, and store any seeds you would like to try your hand at growing again in the future. Also, in the interest of your garden’s future health, be sure you take the time to pull up all annual plants once they’ve died off, and do one last round of weeding, so your soil truly has time to rest and recover over the winter months.
10. Think Decor
Fall gardening doesn’t just have to be about foods you can eat! You can also harvest things like colorful berries, pumpkins, and beautiful greenery from your garden, and use it for indoor decor. This is a great way to stretch the enjoyment of your garden and find fun ways to make every bit of your growing effort memorable and useful.
11. Make Your Garden a Fun Fall Getaway
In the fall, many folks love to spend time outdoors. If you have fall veggies growing, or fruit trees or landscaping trees bursting into an array of fall colors, chances are your garden can continue to be a fun and attractive place for family and friends to spend time and make memories before the cold truly sets in.
Consider setting up a fun fall fire pit, keeping the outdoor furniture uncovered and ready to use, and making your fall garden an inviting gathering place. There’s nothing like enjoying the fruits of your labor in a final sendoff–or several!–outdoors in the beauty of your garden, before winter rocks the world to sleep again.
Wrapping Up Essential Tasks and Tips for a Perfect Fall Garden
Feeling equipped with the proper tasks and tips for fall gardening that’s memorable, productive, and fun? Check out our recipes section for some ideas on what to do with all of the produce you harvest, so you can keep the gardening fun going well into fall!