The best fall vegetables for your garden are cold hardy
Whether you want higher-quality food, cheaper prices, or more reliable and sustainable food supply, gardening in the fall could be an integral part of your ticket to success. Here are 9 of the best vegetables for fall planting in your garden, when to plant them, and how to keep harvesting them longer.
A summer garden is great for binging on tomato sandwiches all summer long. Okay, who am I kidding… stuffing your face with them in the garden, sliced and drenched with olive oil and basil (maybe a little mozzarella on the side), tomato sauce. On everything. Tomato salads of all varieties and canning them until you can finally find your way outta the kitchen…
I love tomatoes. The canned versions are delicious and sustaining all through the winter in casseroles and soups, but you can’t live on tomatoes alone. Really. True story.
And there are so many vegetables that don’t lend themselves to preserving or are just so much better after being kissed by a frost that you don’t want to miss out on. The answer is getting out there for one last planting push right when your thoughts (and aching muscles) are leaning toward putting that garden to bed for the winter…
But it’s so worth it, my friend. Promise.
On the other hand, you may just be getting started. There are a record number of people actually getting out there and growing their own food this year, and that is great. But you may not have had a chance to get started yet. 2020 has been an extremely crazy year. The good news is, it’s not too late to get started. A fall garden can still get you so much food. You can find out when it will be too late to plant your fall vegetables here so check it out and stop stressing 🙂
Planting your fall vegetable garden
The key to getting a constant fresh food supply for longer throughout the year is planting crops that actually like cooler temperatures. Yep! Work with the plants, not trying to get them to do things they hate. Who knew?
There are a lot of very cold hardy fall vegetables out there that are delicious. You will also find a lot of crops that you normally grow into the summer, but taste so amazing in the crisp weather of fall.
Tweaking the environment a tad is also a great way to extend these hard-working cool-season crops a little longer with very dramatic results. I avoided season-extension for a lot of years because I thought it was so complicated (I mean, buy this, aim for this temp, complicated grades of plastic and just the right frame. I am growing this stuff to save money people. Right?)
But then one year I had some great lettuce and arugula…
I threw some plastic over those rows with some pots to hold it up, and some rocks to hold it down.
And we kept eating from them for months. Win. Zero complicated.
Extending your fall garden harvest is really fairly simple.
What to plant in the fall: your fall garden vegetables List
Let’s start with what to plant for a fall garden. Check out this article for a complete year-round list of when to plant what. Remember, we want to work with the plants, not against them. You’re not going to have much luck planting peppers or tomatoes that are going to just be getting ready to produce when the first frost hits!
Here is a list of 9 different veggies that thrive in a fall garden, along with attention to why variety matters in some cases. And when and how you can sneak a few warm loving plants in too…
The best fall vegetables to plant in your garden are cool loving plants or plants that produce quickly and will be ready for harvest before a frost.
Leaf lettuce, head lettuce, salad mixes like mesculin or stir-fry. They are all included here. Lettuce and other leafy greens thrive in the cooler weather of fall (as well as early spring) and I have even seen them continue to do well uncovered clear down to 20 degrees depending on wind and moisture (I don’t really recommend keeping them uncovered much lower than 30 degrees if you’re depending on them for winter harvest though – the point is only anecdotal. They are very frost hardy 🙂 )
Let me tell you, it’s bad to be standing in the produce aisle of the grocery store in December looking at a tiny, wilty, wimpy head of lettuce with a $4 price tag on it when you’re craving a salad.
On the other hand, it is amazing to eat a beautiful, sweet, crispy salad in December that cost you nothing. (okay, so it costs the effort to actually throw the seeds in the ground in September when you are feeling so done with gardening… and the $2 for the packet of seeds to plant the whole row. But you going to count that?)
Lettuce and all kinds of leafy greens are a must for any fall garden. Most lettuce and salad mixes are right at home in the fall garden and can take a light frost like a champ (and be better for it)
But there are a few varieties that do well in warmer weather like Lettuce Mereveille Des Quatre Saisons. Avoid these, they are usually marketed as slow to bolt, or heat resistant in the description.
Some varieties, like Lollo Rossa, become a more brilliant color in the cooler weather. And some are extra frost hardy, like the Landis Winter Lettuce (you can see a ton of lettuce varieties to suit your needs here) The Little Gem variety is a nice all-round, tasty head variety.
Fall planted lettuce will remain in peak condition in the cooler weather and shorter days of late autumn. Therefore, you can have a whole row of perfect head lettuce keep right there in the garden for you for weeks.
Kale, collards, mustard, turnip greens, and chard are great additions to your fall vegetable garden. They can be used as the outer layer on keto wraps, in soups and casseroles, sauteed alone or added to an omelet, or as the “crust” in a frittata… as well as thousands of other variations. They are super to add variety to your cold-weather fresh eating.
They are gorgeous enough to use as landscaping plants, some even come in brilliant fall colors. And they take up minimal space for large harvests as you pinch off leaves and the plant continues to grow new leaves for your harvest 🙂
These all withstand a good amount of frost, but if you check you can find some in each category that is especially well known for their frost hardiness.
Spinach, cress, pea greens, Arugula. Even though most of these can be cooked also, they are all wonderful salad greens or sandwich toppings. All of these can add so much variety and texture to your eating this fall and into the winter, you will be so glad you took the time to include them.
Spinach is the most well-known. It can be sauteed and eaten alone or added to any egg dish. It is great in soups, casseroles, and skillet meals also. But it can also be eaten raw in salads (the baby leaves are amazing for this), added to sandwiches, or as a topping for pizza. Spinach is delicious used in wraps, sushi, and spring rolls also.
Upland cress and arugula have a spicy flavor that kicks up any meal a notch. Not everyone appreciates their flavor but if you do, they can be quite addicting and both are very cold-hardy.
Pea greens are simply the tender shoots of pea plants. They are popular in Asian markets and they are simply delicious. Even children who don’t like peas love these as they have a sweet taste, but a very different texture than peas.
Pea greens or shoots are great to have on hand to add to salads of any kind but especially lend themselves well to Asian themed salads and dishes. They can be sauteed up with sausage or are great on a sandwich. You want to harvest them while they are still young and tender.
There are varieties of peas that are specifically marketed to use for their shoots, but you can use any pea seeds you have on hand as shoots for your fall vegetable garden, also.
4 Cool-season root vegetables.
Beets, green onions, radish, carrots, and turnips all fall into this category and they are great for adding spice and variety to your winter meals.
There are advantages to adding these to your fall garden, even if you grew them for fresh eating and storage in the spring and summer. All of these vegetables are great additions to your menu fresh and they store well in the ground clear into quite cold weather conditions. It’s just like adding an extra fridge -for free 🙂
There is nothing like a carrot that has been in the ground through a frost. They are incomparable in sweetness and crispness.
All these vegetables are super easy to cover well into the winter for continued fresh use and extending your fall garden harvest.
Don’t forget to include herbs! Cilantro, parsley, and chives are all must-have herbs for the fall vegetable garden. All of these herbs love cooler weather and will add so much to your fall and winter meals.
All of these herbs are somewhat frost hardy and can be covered for a continued harvest, too. They are all good in salads and sandwiches as well as in a multitude of cooked dishes.
You can also sneak in a last planting of Basil and other heat-loving herbs, late-season plantings of these herbs are great to bring inside when it gets cold to continue to use into the winter months.
Save these 9 Best Fall Vegetables For Your Ultimate Victory Garden
6 Snow peas.
Snow peas love cold and can take a hardy frost, kids love to munch on them raw and they are great in stir-fries, salads, and gorgeous in skillet meals.
The biggest trick to growing snow peas in the fall is in climates where the heat is unpredictable. Sometimes it can remain unbearably hot and dry here in Missouri well into September! Snow peas do not like that. If it remains hot for too long it can stunt their growth or stall production so that when it gets cooler they don’t have enough time to really get producing by the time the daylight becomes too short for actual growth. I am sure they are much easier to grow in the fall in more northern garden zones! That’s why I love to grow pea shoots (see above) the shorter harvest time makes them a snap.
7 Cruciferous vegetables
These cool loving plants are a must for your fall garden. Cabbage, broccoli, broccoli raab, and cauliflower all love cooler weather, are easy to grow, and add a ton of variety to cooler season eating.
A HUGE plus to growing these vegetables in the fall is the lack of pests. Cabbage butterflies are by far the arch-nemesis to gardeners of these vegetables in the spring and early summer, just when these crops are developing and into the harvest … if they make it that long! The cabbage larva (worms) hide so well and are so hard to spot that they can cause a ton of damage before you even know they’re there. It takes hours and hours to pick them off too. They leave you with holes all in the leaves of your cabbage and nasty worm poop to have to wash off. Yuk. But that’s only if you’re lucky! Too often they just eat the whole thing up before you can get them resolved.
By planting them out after the butterflies are finished laying their eggs you totally avoid the whole nasty process, thus, giving you a lot of food for very little effort.
Some varieties, like sprouting broccoli, can be planted in the fall and overwintered to continue growing in the spring for a very early harvest.
Again, like lettuce, all varieties of these do well in the cold but you can find varieties that thrive in super cold conditions.
Yes, you read that right, zucchini, or summer squash in the fall garden. All squash, including zucchini, is a hot season crop. However, summer squash grows quickly with only an average of 50-60 days from planting till that first harvest so they are a great option for fall planting.
Summer squash (there are so many colorful and tasty varieties that come in all shapes and sizes, don’t limit yourself to zucchini here is one of my favorites) that is planted in the fall can be almost completely free of pests such as squash bugs and squash vine borer beetles. Big plus right there. By planting them 70-90 days before your first frost you will get several weeks’ worth of harvest before they get killed by the cold. This allows you to continue to get fresh squash well after your spring-planted plants have succumbed to the squash bugs.
Squash is so good to have in the fall for soups and skillet meals. The trick is getting yourself to want to plant them while you are still being overrun by zucchini from your summer crop!
Bush varieties of green or snap beans are perfect for your fall garden. These are so good to eat fresh, why wouldn’t you add them in to extend the season as long as possible? Their advantage of fall planting is their short time to maturity (and harvest). They usually take 50-60 days to mature so be sure to add in a couple of weeks for harvesting to come up with your last possible planting time.
If you love fresh green beans it’s a good idea to continuously plant them every few weeks clear up to 75 days before your first expected frost.
There you have it, my top 9 picks for fall vegetables to plant in your garden. Now for When to get those bad boys in the ground.
When to plant your fall vegetables in your garden
Is it too late to plant fall vegetables in my garden? This is one of the top searches in google for the gardening category.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
Good news! Even if you haven’t planted a single thing this year, you still have time to harvest a good amount of food! You can see the exact dates for most garden crops in your gardening zone in this handy Fall Planting Calculator Tool.
For reference, I will give you an example of a fall garden planting schedule by the month for where I live in Southwest Missouri, gardening zone 6b. Our first expected frost date here is around October 31, but that can vary greatly year to year. The variability of the weather can be the trickiest part of fall gardening, even more so than in the spring. In my opinion. There is no way to predict in the sweltering heat of August if September will bring milder temps, or if the heat will stay cranked up. To combat this wild variation of possibilities I make heavy use of succession planting… that way you have a good chance of something doing well 😉
These are very general, but with this and the Fall Planting Calculator, you will have a fairly easy time planning an amazing fall garden.
However, if you are feeling overwhelmed, or wanting to do some more in-depth planning (or looking ahead to growing all your food for next year) This garden planning course is a very wise investment. For less than the price of one quality gardening tool, you can get all the knowledge and resources you need to make a thorough garden plan.
Super Easy Guide To Planning Your Garden Like A Pro includes formulas to figure out exactly how much you will need to plant of each vegetable. It’s customized to your particular family size and eating habits. You will also get a bonus of 30+ printables to keep track of all your plans. You’ll learn how to make a visual garden plan on paper, or virtually. You learn how to best use succession planting and companion planting to maximize your production along with when to plant and much, much more.
The very best part of the whole course is the Plating chart where you use all the customized figures and ideas you worked out in the course to chart out a planting plan for the year where you can see everything at a glance. It’s so handy to see everything you need to do by the month on one chart with no flipping pages and leaving out important tasks. You can check it out here.
What to plant in July in zone 6b
<Start your seeds indoors where it’s cooler for cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts.
< Direct seed turnips and rutabagas meant for storage in your garden
What to plant in August in zone 6b
< Direct seed onion once or twice for fresh eating as green onions and scallions
< Plant carrots, beets, radish, kohlrabi, turnips, by seed once or twice in smaller plantings
< Transplant Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower
< Direct seed snow peas
< Direct seed spinach, cress, pea greens, Arugula. Usually later in the month, or during a cool spell.
< Direct seed lettuce, lettuce mixes, and baby green mixes during the latter weeks of August or during a cool spurt.
< Direct seed kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, and collards during the first part of the month.
< Direct seed bush varieties of green beans once or twice
< Summer squash, direct seed right into the garden
< Direct seed cilantro, parsley, and chives toward the end of the month, or if there is a cooler break in the weather. You can also sneak a second planting of basil in this month if you want.
What to plant in September in zone 6b
< Direct seed onion once or twice for fresh eating as green onions and scallions.
< Plant carrots, beets, radish, kohlrabi, turnips, by seed once or twice in smaller plantings for fresh eating. Make a larger planting this month specifically for harvest throughout early winter using season extension methods.
< Direct seed spinach, cress, pea greens, arugula if you haven’t already. Or as a succession planting (highly recommended.
< Direct seed kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, and collards if you haven’t done it yet, or if they failed.
< Direct seed lettuce, salad greens, and baby green mixes in succession throughout September.
< Plant snow peas if you haven’t done that already, or if they bombed out
<Plant cilantro, parsley, and or chives either for succession plantings or if you haven’t gotten to it yet. You could also plant warmer weather herbs in a pot to bring inside when the weather gets cooler.
<Plant more bush beans early on in the month.
< Plant all the greens that you plan on harvesting throughout the winter using season extension methods toward the end of September.
What to plant in October in zone 6b
< Plant more lettuce, lettuce and salad mixes, spinach, to harvest as baby greens
< Plant more salad radish and baby carrots, turnips etc.
< Plant more snow pea shoots
Extending your fall vegetable garden harvest
There are as many ways to extend your harvests into late fall and winter as there are gardens. We’ll just touch on some of the most basic methods here, but your harvests are only limited by your imagination and ingenuity. So, get inspired!
•Covering your crops with row covering material or plastic to hold in heat and keep off frost and snow. You will need a way to support the plastic, or covering to keep it off the plants. You will also need a way to keep the plastic secured to the ground so the wind won’t blow it off. Something like a bedsheet can keep warmer season plants alive during an early, light frost but you will need heavy plastic that the sunlight can shine through in order to extend your harvests of greens and cruciferous vegetables long term and throughout hard freezes.
•You can mulch your root crops heavily with straw or some other organic material to hold in heat and keep the ground from freezing too hard.
•You can pot smaller plants and herbs and bring them inside.
Fall vegetable gardening tips
Go with the flow of seasonable, or unseasonable weather.
If you have a cool spell in august, get in some of those cooler crops early. Even if it heats up, they should survive with enough water, as long as they mature in cooler weather.
When an unexpected frost comes early, cover any plants that you would still like to keep harvesting from. Chances are it will warm back up and you could get several more weeks of harvest in.
Make use of cover crops. Buckwheat only takes 30 days, it is awesome to use in that short space between summer and fall crops. Something like winter rye is great for places you don’t intend to plant until spring. Cover crops nurture your soil for higher quality and keep out weeds, making your job easier.
Heavily mulch your plants that are growing as well as any bare ground in your garden. It keeps the soil warmer, keeps out weeds, and composts into the soil adding to its quality.
Make use of plants that will come up in the spring. The ultimate in gardening efficiency is planting bi-annuals that will overwinter and come up in the spring with no work on your part! Purple sprouting broccoli and Parsley are two that come to mind that I’ve used.
There are also crops you can seed in late fall or early winter that will lay dormant during the winter and come up very early in the spring if they are mulched properly. Broccoli Raab is one such plant that is delicious.
The ultimate in garden efficiency are perennials. Plants that come back year after year and require very little work. Mint, sorrel, and most berries are examples that (well contained) can provide nourishment and enjoyment year after year for very little work.
The little book How To Grow Vegetables And Save Money Too is a big help with everything from choosing the vegetables to plant, to preserving the vegetables you grew.
Fall vegetable gardening success
With 9 basic sets of vegetables to plant, a good guide for when to plant your fall garden, and tips to make your fall gardening easier. And with ideas to extend your garden harvests well into the winter you are all set to get out there and make it happen.
For more help with planning a garden to feed your family all year long be sure to take a look at the Super Easy Guide To Planning Your Garden Like A Pro for a comprehensive guide with done for you printable worksheets, tables, and charts.
What are your favorite fall gardening vegetables? I’d love to hear from you. Or if you have any tips I left out, be sure to share them with everyone in the comments below, as I said the methods of gardening are as many as the gardens out there.