What to Plant in a Fall Garden

autumn planting

What plants are suitable for fall planting and when is the best time to plant them

Fall is the ideal time for planting many plants, including cold-hardy vegetables. Most gardeners only harvest vegetables and fruit in the autumn months while they're preparing their garden for winter, but fall is still a good time for planting to extend the growing season in your garden. In addition to trees, shrubs, bulbs, groundcovers and lawns, for which the autumn season is ideal for planting, it's possible to plant a number of vegetables and perennials as well. 

Advantages of fall planting:

warm soil promotes plant growth

sufficient rainfall provides the plants with moisture

reduced pest and disease activity

pleasant daytime temperatures without heat waves

Alongside these advantages, planting in autumn months also has its downsides. The biggest one is the lower night temperatures, which, especially for vegetables, can be largely mitigated by using protection against the cold (polytunnels, hoop houses, cold frames and greenhouses), or by selecting cold-hardy vegetable varieties.

Don't hesitate to take advantage of fall planting to extend the growing season in your garden.

What to plant in fall

1. Cold-hardy vegetables

fall vegetablesThere is still time to plant vegetables in early autumn, especially cold-hardy species. These include lettuce and other leafy greens, radishes, peas, kale and mustard. If you have cold protection in the form of polytunnels, cold frames or greenhouses, carrots, parsley, beetroot, broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi can also be planted in the fall. Always choose cold-season varieties that are meant to be grown in cooler months and mature in a shorter time period (under 60 days to maturity). Some of the most cold-hardy vegetables that can handle even a slight frost include claytonia, kale “white russian”, tatsoi and mache. When planting vegetables in autumn, you should opt to transplant pre-grown seedlings over sowing seeds directly, which will take longer to produce a crop.

When to plant:

The growing season usually ends with the arrival of the first hard frost. Plants then stop growing their above-ground parts and are unable to produce further crops. Autumn planting dates should therefore be scheduled so that the vegetables have time to produce a crop well before the first frosts arrive. Information on the time needed to produce a crop from sowing or transplanting can be found on each vegetable seed packet or on the internet. Planting dates can be postponed by an additional 6 weeks if you use cold protection in form of polytunnels, cold frames or greenhouses. It is therefore important to know the estimated date of first frost for your location when scheduling your fall planting date. 

2. Bulb vegetables and flowers

fall gardeningAutumn planting is the ideal choice for bulb vegetables and flowers, as this allows them to take root before winter and continue to grow with more strength during the following early spring. You can plant onions and garlic this way. Spring-blooming bulbs are also suitable for fall planting. Select cold-hardy bulb plant varieties for autumn planting. 

When to plant:

Wait until the cold weather arrives in late autumn/winter before you plant bulbs. The ideal time to plant them is two weeks before the ground freezes completely, which for different climates means October to December. This late fall planting prevents the bulbs from germinating prematurely and prevents various fungal diseases.

3. Perennials to plant in fall

fall flowers to plantAutumn is also a good time to plant perennials. The above-ground parts of perennials gradually die in autumn, but the root systems remain active in order to survive the winter. You can plant most ornamental perennials suitable for your climate, as well as perennial vegetables such as asparagus, rhubarb, sorrel and others, during the autumn season. However, only larger plants with developed root systems that can survive the winter are suitable for fall planting. It is advisable to spread a layer of organic mulch (bark, dry leaves, straw, etc.) around newly planted perennials in order to increase their protection against the cold.

When to plant:

Perennials can be planted throughout the autumn, but no later than 2 weeks before the ground freezes.  The benefits of planting in autumn apply to perennials just as they do for annuals and bulbs.

4. Trees and shrubs

fall garden what to plant Fall is the best time for planting trees and shrubs. Warm soil and plenty of moisture allows them to root well before winter and gain strength before budding in the spring. All deciduous trees and shrubs are suitable for autumn planting, including both fruit and ornamental species. You can plant trees from pots or bare-root trees. Avoid fall planting of conifers and evergreens.

When to plant:

Deciduous trees and shrubs can be planted at any time after going dormant (after leaf drop), but no later than 2 weeks before the ground freezes to give them time to take root.

5. Lawn

planting grass in the fallFall is also the perfect time to plant grass, either by seeding or laying down turf. Autumn provides the ideal conditions for grass to take root, and thanks to more regular rainfall, sown or laid lawns don't need to be watered as often.

When to plant:

Grass seed planting can be scheduled at any time during fall, but no later than 6 weeks before the first frost. Turf should be laid no later than 2 weeks before the first frost.

6. Winter cover crops

winter cover crops planting in autumnIf soil has no plants growing on it for a long time, it's exposed to the elements and thus slowly degrades and loses its fertility. Therefore it's a good idea to sow ground cover winter crops on unused soil. Their primary role is to protect the soil from erosion, but winter cover crops also act as a green manure, enriching the soil with organic matter. Leguminous crops are particularly beneficial in this respect, as they fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil.  The most common winter cover crops planted in fall include barley, oats, legumes (peas, clover, alfalfa, vetch), radishes and mustard, among many others. 

When to plant:

Winter cover crops should be planted at least a month before the first frost, but this also depends on the plant type and variety. Some hardy winter crops (rye, white clover) can be sown after the first frost, as they'll survive the winter and resume growth in the spring. On the other hand, field peas, radishes and oilseed rape should be planted as soon as possible after summer crops have been removed so that they can form a sufficiently dense stand before the first frosts, when they'll die back, but their biomass will cover and protect the soil during the winter and early spring.

Fall planting tips

There's no need to cultivate the soil by digging after the removal of summer crops. It is sufficient to level the soil surface with a rake, or you can add a layer of compost on top and the soil is ready for planting.

The shortening autumn days will gradually slow down the growth of vegetables.  Be sure to plant your vegetables in the sunniest place in the garden so they can get as much sunlight as possible.

Even if rainfall is more regular during the fall, it's important to keep the soil moist, but not soggy, after planting. Sufficient moisture is needed for plants to take root and prepare for the coming winter.

Covering the soil around the plants after planting with mulch (wood chips, bark, dry leaves, etc.) is beneficial in autumn, as this insulating layer maintains a higher soil temperature and prevents rapid moisture loss.

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