It’s hard to believe that the time for planting a fall vegetable garden is already upon us! With temperatures cooling off, fall is the perfect time to plant a wide variety of vegetable crops in your garden.
Just like humans, some plants enjoy warm weather and some prefer cool weather. Cool-season crops (such as cabbage, broccoli, carrots, greens and lettuce) grow best when temperatures are between 50 and 70 F, so in the early spring and fall. Warm-season crops (such as corn, melons and beans) are often damaged by frost and grow best when temperatures are above 70 F.
The fall garden is composed primarily of cool-season crops. Fall is a great time to grow these vegetables because the temperatures are decreasing instead of increasing as in the spring. Often, spring temperatures increase too rapidly and cause bitterness or flowering in leafy greens. However, fall vegetable gardening can be challenging due to the hot, dry conditions during planting. Also, insects and diseases can be worse in a fall garden since populations have built-up over the growing season.
The first step in fall gardening is preparation of the garden area. This means removal of leftover spring crop residue. Okra, beans and cherry tomatoes can be left in, but seriously consider removing ragged-looking crops. Large tomato plants should be removed if there are less than 20 large-sized fruit on the plant. Before removing plants from the garden, harvest all usable produce. Plants that were diseased or unhealthy during the growing season should be dumped — do not compost them since some diseases can survive in the pile. Healthy crop residue can be tilled into the soil.
Once you have removed old plant material, till or spade the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. This will help loosen the soil and prepare it for planting. A thin layer of compost can be added and incorporated into the soil. If the spring garden was heavily fertilized, additional fertilizer may not be needed at planting. If additional fertilizer is needed, add 1-2 lbs. per 100 sq. ft. of a complete fertilizer (10-10-10 or equivalent). Additional nitrogen will be needed later in the season at a rate specific to the crop.
When planting your garden, be sure to rotate crops. Do not plant crops in the same family in the same area for a minimum of three years. This will help decrease disease and insect buildup for those crops.
Choose vegetable cultivars that are quick to mature and appropriate for fall gardening. Some vegetable cultivars are better suited to short days and cool temperatures than others. Also, look for disease resistant varieties — this should always be your first line of defense in a disease control program.
You may choose to direct seed or use transplants for your garden. Direct seeding can be difficult with the hot, dry soil conditions typical at this time of year. Be sure to provide adequate moisture during germination. Plant seeds 1.5 to 2 times deeper than recommended to take advantage of the cooler, moister conditions deeper in the soil. Some seeds may need light shading in order to aid in germination (spinach and lettuce especially). Provide shade with a board, newspapers or a light mulch that will be removed at germination.
After planting, provide one inch of water per week. Young plants may need more frequent water. Remember that it is better to provide less frequent, deeper irrigation to promote deep rooting. Sidedress with nitrogen according to specific crop recommendations.
A fall vegetable garden can provide produce through the fall and winter months, further utilizing your garden space. For more information on fall vegetable gardening, reference HIL 8100: Growing a Fall Vegetable Garden or contact our Center at (919) 775-5624.