10 Vegetables You Can Still Grow In The Fall

These veggies actually thrive once the sunniest days of summer are past.

September 14, 2016
vegetables
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Summer is over, which can only mean one thing—it’s time to get planting again! There are plenty of reasons to grow a fall vegetable garden, chief among them that it can be even easier than tending a garden in spring and summer. “In fall, soil temperatures remain warm, while rainfall is more predictable and cool nights help prevent water from evaporating from the soil,” says John Toepfer, a life-long gardener and co-founder of Blooming Secrets, a website that provides personalized gardening tips and tools. These factors create the perfect conditions for seeds of cool-weather crops to germinate. Plus, you’ll have fewer weeds and pests to deal with in autumn, since most are at their peak during summer. Score!

(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

Before you get digging, you’ll want to know the average first frost date in your area. This will help you determine when and what you should plant. You can find it with a simple internet search, or you can look it up in the The Old Farmer’s Almanac. You want your plants to be mature before the first frost date to ensure they’ll be strong enough to survive chillier nights. To figure out when to plant, Toepfer says to simply check the seed packet for the number of days it takes the crop to reach maturity, and then count backward from your first frost date (check out these seeds you should be planting in autumn). For example, if your average first frost is October 20th and your seeds take 35 days to mature, you should aim to plant them by September 16th.

So what should you plant? “One of the characteristics that you may notice about late-season vegetables is that many of them grow very low to the ground, which helps them to stay warm,” Toepfer says. “You can give them a little extra protection from cold by adding a layer of mulch.” We’ve put together the list below to get you started, but there are plenty of other veggies you can choose from, especially greens, members of the cabbage family, and fast-growing root vegetables.

arugula
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Arugula

Give your salads a kick with this spicy green (try it in arugula pesto). Toepfer says arugula is ideal for planting in fall because it will taste bitter if temperatures are too warm. It grows quickly, too—you can harvest most varieties within 35 days of sprouting, making it perfect for a short growing season.

How to plant

Sow seeds in rows about ¼ inch deep, and keep the soil moist until the seed germinates. Toepfer recommends planting seeds every week or two to ensure a continuous harvest throughout the fall.

turnips
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Turnips

Don’t turn your nose up at this root veggie! There are dozens of ways to eat them, from salads to stews to sides (try this ridiculously tasty vermouth roasted turnips recipe), and they grow best in cool weather. In fact, Toepfer says that waiting to harvest turnips until after the first frost actually improves their flavor.

How to plant

Sow seeds about ½ inch deep in loose soil. After sprouts appear, thin seedlings to 2-3 inches apart. If you plant too late for roots to develop, you can always feast on the tops, just like beet greens. Read more about the best ways to grow turnips.

kohlrabi
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Kohlrabi

If you’ve never grown this unusual-looking vegetable, now’s a good time to start. Its signature bulb-like stem can be added raw to salads, but you can also roast and steam them, or throw them in a soup. The leaves are a great addition to a salad, too. Toepfer recommends harvesting when they’re young for more flavor.

How to plant

Sow seeds about ¼ inch deep, 10 to a foot-long row. Thin seedlings to 4 inches apart. Toepfer advises harvesting when the bulbs are 2 to 3 inches in diameter to prevent them from becoming tough. Read more about how to grow kohlrabi here.

spinach
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Spinach

Hot weather makes spinach bitter, so it’s actually best when grown during the refreshing days of autumn. Some varieties are even hardy enough to overwinter and be harvested in spring if you give them some protection.

How to plant

Sow seeds in loose soil 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost, and thin seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart. Keep plants evenly watered as dry spells will encourage the plants to bolt.

Related: Why Your Spinach Isn’t As Sweet As It Could Be

radishes
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Radishes

You may associate radishes with spring delicacies, like sautéed radishes with garlic greens, but they taste just as good in autumn. They mature in as little as three weeks, so chances are you can get in several plantings in one season—space plantings about 10 days apart so you have a continuous supply.

How to grow

Work soil at least 6 inches deep, and sow seeds ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart. Water regularly for best flavor, and thin seedlings to 2 inches apart. Repeat. Here's more info about growing radishes.

broccoli
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Broccoli

While you can grow broccoli in spring and summer, it does best in fall’s more stable growing conditions. You’ll get bigger, sweeter heads in cool weather.

How to grow

Space plants at least 18 inches apart, and keep about 24 inches in between rows. Broccoli prefers slightly acidic soil, so do one of these easy soil tests to make sure you’ve got the right growing conditions. You may also want to consider a cold frame or cover tunnels to keep plants from freezing. Before you plant, check out these 6 things you need to know before you plant broccoli this fall.

kale
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Kale

The darling of the health-food world is also the king of cool weather. Once it matures, you can keep on harvesting even after the first snowfall. Plant 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. (Just be sure to read these 10 Things Every Kale Lover Should Know before you get started.)

How to grow

Plant seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep, and later thin to 8 to 10 inches apart. Use mulch to protect roots and keep soil moist.

mustard greens
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Mustard Greens

Tangy mustard greens are the salad ingredient you’ve been missing out on. Toepfer recommends harvesting the leaves when they’re young for the best flavor.

How to grow

Loose leaf varieties are your best bet, as they will mature in 45 days, while heading mustards need 60 to 75 days. Start by planting seeds 6 inches apart, later thinning to 10 inches, leaving 10 to 12 inches between rows. Plant a small amount every two weeks for a continuous crop.

Related: What You Need To Know About Growing Salad Greens

lettuce
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Lettuce

Lettuce is one of your most reliable options for cool-weather planting. It’s very frost-tolerant and can handle temperatures even down in the 20s, so an unexpected cold snap won’t finish it off. Plus, you can harvest baby leaves as well as mature ones, so your crop never goes to waste.

How to grow

Like mustard greens, select loose-leaf varieties that mature more quickly. Sow lettuce in rows about 8 to 10 inches apart, and thin when the seedlings have 3 to 4 leaves (you can eat the thinnings on a salad). If you’re growing baby lettuce, there’s no need to thin the rows.

Related: A Plan For Growing Lettuce For All Season Long

collard greens
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Collard Greens

You probably associate collard greens with southern cooking (like chicken with sweet potatoes and collard greens), but they belong in gardens in colder climes, too. “Collards can tolerate temperatures as low as 10 degrees, which makes them an especially good crop to grow in the fall in all parts of the country. Frost is said to sweeten the flavor, too,” Toepfer says.

How to grow

Plant seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep in full sun. It’s important not to let the soil dry out, so water consistently, especially if you don’t have much rain. Harvest the greens after the first frost. Here's more info on how to best grow collard greens. 

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