Guide to Fall Planting

Guide to Fall Planting

Sep 4, 2018

Fall is the cozy season, the time of hot chocolate and spiced cider, changing leaves and pumpkins on porches. After summer, many gardeners throw in the trowel and sit back to wait until spring.

But autumn is a productive, underappreciated growing season, perfect for growing hardy vegetables and mounding, elegant flowers. A fall garden provides a lovely and useful harvest and prepares your soil for the spring growing season.

We’ve compiled all you need to know about fall planting, from plant selection to soil preparation. Keep reading and begin planning your autumn garden today.

How to Lay Out Your Fall Garden

A successful fall garden is all about succession. While most autumn-thriving plants have short growth times, they have different peaks and harvests throughout the season. Vegetables require more planning than flowering plants — stagger your crops to get as much out of your garden as possible.

For example, vegetables such as arugula, turnips, and radishes are ready to harvest in little more than a month. If you sow them in September, by October, you will have empty beds ready to be planted with end-of-season spinach that will keep producing well into winter.

If you are new to fall gardens, try using one of the many free online templates – many include design and rotation tips, so you can easily maximize production.

Tip: The shorter days of fall mean fewer hours of sun. Plant your fall garden in a sunny area of your yard to get as much light as possible.

Getting Ready to Plant

It doesn’t take much effort to begin a thriving fall garden. But before you start sowing seeds, take time to make sure you’re setting up your plants for success.

  • Clear out Debris: Spend an afternoon clearing out weeds, leaf litter and dead and harvested plants from your summer garden. You can add organic matter to a compost bin, but be sure not to include any weeds with seeds still attached — you’ll end up re-planting the weeds when you fertilize your garden beds.
  • Prepare the Soil: Summer growth will have drained many nutrients from the soil. To enrich your garden, add in organic matter like compost or manure. You don’t need heavy fertilization — lightly raking in natural soil amendments should be enough to help your fall plants flourish.

Tip: If you live in a hot-summer climate, start seeds of cool-season plants indoors. They will often germinate better in air conditioning than summer heat.

purple and pink pansies

What Plants Thrive in Fall?

To plant a successful fall garden, you have to think in reverse.

Begin by checking the Old Farmer’s Almanac to see your area’s predicted frost dates. The time between the current date and the projected frost is your “growing season.” When you’re deciding which plants to choose, look for varieties that will mature within this time frame. Ideally, they will mature in 40 days or less. For flowers, allow for even more time so you can enjoy a blooming season.

Tip: To be sure your plants will bloom in time, add an extra two weeks of “buffer time” into your calculations — many plants will grow a little slower in the shorter autumn days.

Fall Annuals

Annuals provide gorgeous, thick blooms without the year-round maintenance of perennials. To give your autumn garden some dashes of color, consider these cool weather annuals.

1. Pansies

With vibrant, heart-shaped petals and high cold tolerance, it’s no wonder pansies are a favorite of gardeners. Highly versatile, pansies thrive in containers, along borders or as a colorful ground cover.

If starting from seed, plant pansies during the summer for autumn and winter flowering. Pansies love full sun but can’t withstand hot weather — if you are growing them from seed, keep the seedlings inside until the temperature cools. Space pansies roughly 7 to 12 inches apart, and water regularly. Remove dead or faded blossoms to encourage new growth.

2. Marigolds

Warm and cheerful, the sunset-colors of marigolds brighten any garden. While marigolds can thrive in the heat, they also do well during autumn, when their bright blossoms complement the changing leaves of the trees.

Marigolds like full sun and well-drained soil. For fall gardens, plant at least eight weeks before the first frost. Sow seeds directly into your garden bed — they’ll sprout within days, and bloom around 45 to 50 days after planting. Pinch off the tops of marigolds once they are established to encourage bushier growth and more blooming. Water marigolds from the base, not from overhead — too much water on the leaves can lead to powdery mildew.

orange and yellow mums

Fall Perennials

For most of the year, fall perennials quietly add green foliage to your garden. But as your other flowers begin to fade, these late bloomers burst into color, bringing new life to your yard. Try adding these steady, stunning perennials to your fall garden.

1. Garden Mums

Hardy Chrysanthemums are beloved autumn staples. With large flower heads and rich colors ranging from deep purples to fiery oranges, mums are a bushy and low-maintenance fall perennial. Mums thrive as well in garden beds as they do in containers.

They flourish in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 9. In northern climates, plant mums in the spring to give their roots time to establish. If you live in warmer, more southern climates, you can plant mums in early autumn for beautiful blooms during the fall. Mums thrive in full sun and well-draining soil. Once they are established, water them regularly. Trim down stems once they reach 4 to 6 inches to promote business and the overall health of the plant.

2. Caryopteris

For soft, lavender-purple blossoms in the late summer and early autumn, add some Carypoteris to your garden. These perennials form mounds of silvery-blue flowers that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.

Caryopteris blooms in the early fall months, and do best in dry, average to sandy soil. Water well until they are established. Caryopteris does well in zones 4 to 9, and benefit from a strong cut-back before the first snow. We recommend either the Dark Knight or Beyond Midnight varieties for a lovely, striking splash of fall color.

3. Perovskia atriplicfolia (Russian sage)

A semi-woody, winsome perennial in the mint family, Russian sage is a long-blooming and aromatic addition to your fall garden. It thrives in zones 5 to 9 and does best in full to part sun.

Russian sage is drought tolerant, so it is ideal for drier autumn climates. Avoid planting in moist or poorly-draining soils. After the first hard frost, cut back almost to the ground to encourage abundant spring growth.

4. Woodland Aster

The shade-loving woodland aster provides delicate white flowers throughout the fall. A native North American wildflower, aster thrives throughout most of the United States, in zones 3 to 8.

After it is established, woodland asters prefer dry, average to sandy soil. In winter, the roots will rot if in wet soil. When in bloom, the aster’s daisy-like flowers attract pollinators and hummingbirds, making it a stunning member of your fall garden.

big group of lettuce in a garden

Fall Vegetables

When you plan out your fall garden, try throwing in a few hardy winter vegetables for a supply of fresh produce throughout autumn.

1. Greens

Greens are some of the hardiest of the fall vegetables and can often keep producing into the winter months. Try adding a few of these popular vegetables into your autumn garden.

  • Arugula: In late summer, sow dainty arugula seeds in a sunny bed. You can begin to pick leaves after three or four weeks, and arugula will continue to produce into heavy frosts.
  • Lettuce: Fall crops of lettuce are crisp and packed with flavor. Lettuce thrives in 45 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so plant four to eight weeks before the first winter frost. If you cover them with a cold frame or row cover, you can continue to grow lettuce throughout the winter in many garden zones.
  • Collards: Highly frost-tolerant, collards are a perfect late autumn crop. Expect to harvest within 60 to 75 days after planting.
  • Swiss chard: A dark, hearty green, swiss chard thrives in cool autumn conditions. Sow chard seeds around 40 days before the average first frost date. Space new plants roughly 18 inches apart, between ½ inch and ¾ inch deep in the soil.
  • Spinach: Spinach is the ideal late-autumn crop. Sow seeds six to eight weeks before the first frost. If properly covered, spinach can continue to produce well into winter.

The salad crops are high-producing additions to a fall garden patch, and they provide plenty of ingredients for fresh holiday dishes.

2. Brassicas

Brassicas are beautiful, low-maintenance additions to a fall vegetable patch. Try planting a few of these useful staples:

  • Broccoli: Broccoli loves full sun and moist, slightly acidic soil. Since it takes longer to reach maturity than other fall vegetables, plant broccoli 85 to 100 days before your first frost.
  • Cabbage: Sow in an area that gets at least six hours of full sun every day, six to eight weeks before frost.
  • Cauliflower: Cauliflower does best in temperatures that are consistently in the 60s Fahrenheit. Add compost or manure to the soil before sowing.
  • Kohlrabi: Kohlrabi is grown for its thick, bulb-like stem, which tastes somewhat like a sweet turnip. For best results, root plants six weeks before frost.
  • Kale: While it can grow in part shade, kale does best in full sun. Sow six to eight weeks before the projected first frost, and, in warmer zones, continue to grow throughout winter.

Brassicas can take cold conditions, and some will even become sweeter after a freeze. This makes them ideal for late autumn harvests.

3. Roots

Maturing deep in the soil, root vegetables are a hardy winter crop with high cold tolerance. There are many different types to choose from, but these are some of the most popular:

  • Carrots: Pest and disease resistant, carrots need around 10 to 12 weeks to mature. Sow seeds only ¼ inch underneath soil to make sure they get enough sunlight to germinate.
  • Turnips: Plant turnips in late summer to early fall, when the soil is still warm. You can still sow them through the autumn, as long as temperatures remain above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Beets: In warm regions, beets can be grown successfully throughout the winter. You can sow beets in areas with sun or partial shade, and plants begin to sprout 1 to 2 weeks after sowing. Depending on the variety, beets can mature quickly, sometimes within a month of sowing.
  • Parsnips: Parsnips are a little more finicky than other root crops, and take up to four months to mature. For a fall harvest of this subtle and delicious vegetable, begin planting in midsummer.
  • Radishes: When planting radishes, be sure to select winter varieties, not spring. Sow in a sunny spot with well-draining soil and expect to harvest quickly — radishes will sometimes mature within three weeks.

While some roots, like radishes and beets, mature quickly, others take months to reach harvest. If you are planting root vegetables, be sure to plan ahead when you’re designing your garden.

How to Care for Your Fall Garden

With fall gardens, you don’t have to worry about noxious pests or harsh, drying sunlight. But although they’re less high-maintenance than summer beds, a successful fall garden still needs a little upkeep. Consider these simple tips to ensure your garden looks lovely until frost:

  • Don’t Forget Water: With cooler temperatures and more frequent rains, it is tempting to think that fall gardens don’t need the same water as summer ones. However, especially during the warm early-season months, regular watering is essential for a thriving garden. Most fall vegetables do best with around 1 inch of water a week. Because fall soils retain moisture more easily than hot, summer earth, try one deep watering every week instead of several lighter ones.
  • Protect From Frost: Even the most careful gardeners can’t perfectly predict the weather. Sometimes, temperatures will cool faster than estimated. Be prepared to cover your garden to protect against early frosts. A cloche is a simple and elegant way to guard individual plants. For larger areas, you can use a row cover, tarp, blanket, or even an old sheet to protect your garden.

carrots growing in the ground

After the Harvest: Using Your Fall Garden to Prepare for Spring

Fall is the ideal time to prepare your soil for spring planting. By prepping your soil in the autumn, you set yourself up for successful spring gardens.

Take Care of the Weeds: Close to the first frost, go over your garden and remove any weeds from the roots. Pull up faded vegetables and any dying annuals. Especially target plants that have seeds still attached — by clearing out your beds in the fall, you reduce the work you’ll do in the spring.

Enrich and Aerate Your Soil: The end of the autumn growing season is the perfect time to fertilize your soil for spring. Many organic fertilizers have a slow-releasing effect and need time to be absorbed into the soil. Spread out compost or manure over your garden, and then roughly till it into the soil. In fall, a rough till is best — the uneven clumps of dirt will protect the ground from drying out over winter.

Shop for Fall Blooming Plants

The options are endless for a thriving, beautiful fall garden. But the selection can be overwhelming, and it’s hard to know if you are choosing healthy, high-quality plants.

Take the hassle out of garden planning and order online today.