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Colorful Kales Provide Tasty Leaves for Months
Kale is a great cold-weather vegetable to plant in your fall garden.

QUESTION:

Do you have any tips for fall planting? I am really anxious to know about any rules of thumb, great things to plant and anything that would help me — for the first time — get a winter crop in the ground.

ANSWER:

I’m so glad to hear that you are eager to try fall planting! We’re so conditioned to think of spring as the start of the growing season that most gardeners ignore fall altogether. So much missed opportunity! The only real difference between starting in the spring versus the fall comes down to the way the season progresses. The spring growing season moves from cold to warm with the days growing longer and the nighttime temperatures rising accordingly. In the fall, the temperatures move from hot to cool, with the length of day decreasing and nighttime temperatures cooling off.

It can be sad to see our favorite summer crops nearing their end; however, there are plenty of crops ready to take their place in the garden bed. In fact, plants such as winter radishes and other fast growing root vegetables as well as most greens prefer growing into cooler weather and will perform even better than they did in the spring.

When to Plant

When to sow or plant a late-season crop depends on how long each plant takes to reach a reasonable harvest size. To begin, you’ll need to know the “First Frost Date” in your region. You can find it at Almanac.com. Next, look up the number of “Days to Harvest” listed on the back of each seed packet. Calculate the sow date by subtracting the “Days to Harvest” from the “First Frost Date” on a calendar. Plants grow a little bit more slowly as the days and nights grow cooler. Subtract an additional week or so to account for the difference. This final number will be your approximate planting time. You are free to start earlier, weather permitting.  This isn’t an exact science. Every season is different. If you miss the cut-off date, don’t be afraid to start a bit later, especially with leafy greens that can be harvested at baby size within weeks of planting.

Planting Perennials

Cooler fall temperatures make it much easier to introduce new perennial herbs, fruit trees and bushes to your garden. Northern gardeners probably won’t reap the benefit from them this year, but I find that hardy herbs such as oregano and winter savory will start to produce a larger harvest faster next year if they go in now.

When to plant transplants and perennial edibles is a lot more loosey goosey and less precise. Your goal here is to get plants into the soil and establishing a happy root system before the hard freeze stops all growth. Take advantage of end-of-season closeouts with hardier plants such as oregano, sage, chives, winter savory, currant bushes, sorrel, mint, blueberries and strawberries.

More Planting Ideas

Plant garlic in the fall, and while you’re thinking about alliums, try ‘Egyptian Walking Onion’ and ‘Welsh Onion.’ Both are perennials that will come up early next spring when other onions are only just being planted out.

Broccoli, sprouting broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, collards, beets, parsnips and winter radishes love the cool weather season. These hardy greens and root crops may even over winter without aid or protection depending on what winter is like in your region.

Leafy salad greens such as lettuce, arugula, endive, chard, cress, mustard greens and radicchio also love the cooler weather and may be sown a lot later than you think. Mâche and spinach can survive through hard frosts and will even stay alive underneath snow. Try a tougher winter lettuce such as ‘Rouge d’Hiver’ and ‘Four Seasons.’ I’ve managed to keep mine going here for months in the cold north with just a little bit of coverage and mulch as protection.

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