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Plan and grow a fall vegetable garden

Patricia Conte has a background in marketing communications and works as an independent writer. In 2010, she was given the opportunity to combine her love of writing and food when she started as a contributing writer for the Food channel...

Growing season

Just because the temps are cooler and the winter holidays are around the corner doesn't mean you have to put away your garden tools. Pick some vegetables to work into a fall garden and reap the benefits in your own backyard — for many of us around the country, there's still time!

Fall garden with carrots

Thank you, Mother Nature

A fall vegetable garden is a great thing for a few reasons, first and foremost being the obvious — all the goodies you can bring into your kitchen from just a few steps away. But there are several other reasons you might enjoy a fall garden. Weeds don't grow as quickly and they aren't as plentiful in the cooler weather as in the warm summers, and this will mean less work for you. Also, there aren't as many bugs to chase off your plants. Not only that, but since it generally rains more in the fall, you'll spend less time and fewer resources watering your garden.

Learn to create an indoor herb garden >>

What does your garden grow?

Many plants prefer, and grow better in, the cooler weather. Consider the following fall vegetables for your garden:

  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Garlic
  • Shallots
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Leeks
  • Arugula
  • Endive

Each state in the U.S. is assigned a growing zone. To determine when and the types of plants to grow in your garden, consult a zone directory.

If you can, determine when the likely first frost of the fall season will be and count backward. For example, if a plant takes eight weeks to mature, plant it eight weeks prior to what you determine will be the first frost. That way, your plants should be hardy enough to make it.

If you're growing from seeds, try to pick vegetables with the shortest growing time. If you get a bit of a late start for your fall garden, you can try transplanting seedlings. Check your local garden store for seedlings and seeds, and read the seed packet planting instructions for the best results.

Show your green thumb: garden for a healthier diet >>

shovelReady, set, plant

To prep your growing area, be sure to remove any dead plants that are no longer producing food and clear out all the weeds. Add an inch or two of a good compost and till the area.

Plant your seeds a bit deeper in the fall than you would in the spring, so they stay moist and cool. Be sure to use extra seeds, just to compensate for the ones that might not make it. Once the plants start to grow, you'll want to thin them out while they're still small. This will give your vegetables the appropriate growing space they need.

According to the Iowa State University Extension, square-foot gardening is a good way to make use of your space. For a square-foot garden, divide your planting area into squares that are one foot by one foot in size. Each square is for a particular plant, but you need to determine the amount of space each needs. For example, 16 onions, spaced 3 inches apart, can be planted in one square. When the seeds have started to grow, it's good to give them one long soaking each week.

Take a bit of cover

To help protect your plants from the elements, you may consider using some protection, like row covers. Consider these if the nighttime temps dip down to the 30s or 40s. Row covers are made of fabric that insulates without overheating plants like, for example, plastic would. Place them over your plants, and tuck the edges around the plants, into the soil.

If you haven't planted a fall vegetable garden before, you may want to use your first year as a trial run. The weather in the fall can be unpredictable and might cause some disappointment for you. But, with a bit of attention and planning, you might be pleasantly surprised with the results. Just imagine the veggies you might be able to serve at a Thanksgiving dinner!

Watch: How to grow seeds inside

In this episode learn how to effectively grow seeds indoors.

More gardening tips

Prepare your garden for winter
How to grow seeds indoors
Five great ideas for creating your own potting bench

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