You might be familiar with planting crops in the spring to harvest in summer and fall. However, it is possible to sow and harvest later with fall planting.
So, what is fall planting? Fall planting means starting vegetable crops later in the season to get a second harvest in late summer or fall. Fall planting gives cover crops (such as clover or alfalfa) and perennials (such as grass, shrubs, & trees) a head start on growth so they can establish strong roots before winter.
Of course, most vegetable crops cannot survive temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius). So, it is important to know the first frost date in your area, long with the days to maturity for the crops in your fall planting.
In this article, we’ll talk about the crops you might want to try for fall planting. We’ll also give some examples of when to plant, based on last frost date and days to maturity.
What Is Fall Planting?
Fall planting is when you sow later in the growing season (late summer or fall). Fall planting is useful for a few reasons:
- To get a second harvest of warm-weather crops in late summer or early fall, before cold and frost arrives.
- To get a second harvest of cool-weather crops in fall, since they grow well as temperatures drop.
- To give cover crops a chance to grow before winter, at which point you can sow them into the soil to restore nutrients.
- To give perennials (grass, shrubs, and trees) a head start on growth so they can get established before winter.
Fall planting is great if you have limited space in your garden, since you can get more vegetables from the same area by extending the growing season.
Cover crops (or green manure) help to restore nutrients after the vegetables from spring planting have depleted the soil. Some good cover crops include:
- Alfalfa – this legume is also called Lucerne. Alfalfa has a deep root system, which makes it drought resistant and allows it to pull up nutrients from deep underground.
- Beans – this legume crop grows above ground on vines. Beans like warm weather, and they are a good protein source for humans or animals. You can grow bush beans (short and wide) or pole beans (tall and narrow).
- Clover – this legume has leaves with 3 round sections. Clover is used as livestock feed and as a cover crop.
- Peas – this annual legume grow best in cool weather. Peas are another good source of protein for animals and can supplement feed to save on grain costs.
- Vetch – this is another member of the legume family. Vetch is a close relative of peas and lentils. Once eaten widely by humans, it is often used as a cover crop or as animal feed.
If you want to plant cold hardy perennials (such as trees or shrubs) in the fall, pay attention to frost dates. The Penn State University Extension suggests a fall planting should be done 6 weeks or more before first frost.
For example, the first fall frost date in Boston, Massachusetts in 2021 is on November 3. Working backwards 6 weeks (42 days) gives us a fall planting date of September 22 (8 days at the end of September + 31 days in October + 3 days in November = 42 days or 6 weeks).
So, the latest you should plant trees or shrubs in Boston is September 22 (around the beginning of fall).
Vegetables For Fall Planting
You can plant warm weather crops (such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers) later in the summer to get an early fall harvest. However, cool weather crops are the ones that will really thrive in fall.
Cool weather vegetables are the best ones to plant in a fall planting – here are 9 that you might want to try.
Beets are a frost-tolerant cool weather crop that can survive temperatures down to the high 20’s Fahrenheit. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests planting them 4 to 6 weeks (28 to 42 days) before first fall frost.
Beets are great because you can eat the roots from below ground (with their deep reddish-purple color) or the greens from above ground (I like them in salads with spinach and lettuce). The greens have more nutrition than the roots!
Broccoli is a cool weather crop that can tolerate light frost. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests planting broccoli 85 to 100 days before first fall frost.
Broccoli is great because you can harvest the main head first and then get smaller side shoots later in the season. Just make sure to harvest before the greens start to turn yellow and flower!
Too much heat will cause the heads to button (produce small heads prematurely).
Brussels sprouts are a cool weather crop that can survive temperatures of 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests planting Brussels sprouts 4 months before your first fall frost date (they mature best in the cool temperatures of fall).
Brussels sprouts are another member of the cabbage family. You can sauté or roast Brussels sprouts.
Cabbage is a cool weather crop that can survive temperatures of 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests planting cabbage in mid to late summer.
You can use cabbage to make sauerkraut or kimchi by fermenting the vegetable. You can also sauté or fry cabbage.
Cauliflower is a cool weather crop that can tolerate light frost. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests planting broccoli 6 to 8 weeks (42 to 56 days) before first fall frost.
Cauliflower is related to broccoli (both are in the Brassica family), and like its cousin, it will button (form small, premature heads) with too much heat. It is often white (sort of like albino broccoli!), but it can also come in purple, yellow, and orange.
Kohlrabi is a cool weather crop that can tolerate light frost. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests planting kohlrabi in mid to late summer.
You can chop kohlrabi into cubes and boil or steam it. You can also roast it.
Lettuce is a cool weather crop that can tolerate light frost. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests planting lettuce 8 weeks (56 days) before first fall frost.
You can use lettuce (along with spinach and other greens) in salad, or use it to make wraps.
Radishes are a cool weather crop that can tolerate extreme cold (until soil freezes). The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests planting radishes 4 to 6 weeks (28 to 42 days) before first fall frost.
You can roast, bake, or pickle radishes.
Spinach is a cool weather crop that can tolerate light frost (it will survive winter in some cases). The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests planting spinach 4 weeks (28 days) or more before first fall frost.
You can use spinach (along with lettuce and other greens) in salad, or use it with tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and balsamic vinaigrette to make caprese.
Turnips are a cool weather crop that can tolerate light frost (in fact, they get sweeter after a mild frost!) The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests planting turnips 6 weeks (42 days) or more before first fall frost.
You can use roast, boil, or steam turnips.
Fall Planting Table (Crops, Cold Tolerance, & Days To Maturity)
The table below gives the 10 crops mentioned above, along with their cold tolerance and approximate days to maturity (this will always depend on the weather and the variety you choose).
|Days To |
|Beets||Down to |
|Down to |
above, along with their cold tolerance
and approximate days to maturity.
To give an example, let’s go back to Boston, Massachusetts, with a first fall frost date of November 3. For a fall planting of turnips, we should plant 6 weeks (42 days) before that.
Working backwards, we find a date of September 22 (8 days at the end of September + 31 days in October + 3 days in November = 42 days or 6 weeks). So, we should plant turnips for a fall planting in Boston no later than September 22.
If you are looking for a fall planting guide, you can also find a planting calendar for your area on this page from the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Vegetables To Plant In Fall For Spring Harvest
Some vegetables can survive the winter or need a long time period to mature. Some vegetables you can plant in fall for a spring harvest include:
- Asparagus – this perennial can survive wither and will live to produce spears for several years.
- Garlic – this member of the onion family takes 9 months to grow and mature, so it will need to be planted in fall for a spring harvest the next year.
- Greens – spinach and kale are two leafy greens that are cold-tolerant and may even be able to survive the winter, giving you two harvests from the same crop in different years.
Now you know more about fall planting and which vegetables are good candidates for it.
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