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!
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.