Vegetables to Plant in Late Summer or Early Fall
Introduction: If you only plant produce in the spring, you’re missing out on a whole second growing season. In fact, plenty of veggies flourish in the cooler temps and shorter days of late summer and early fall—and may even taste better after a light frost. If you ask us, planting veggies should be on everyone’s list of fall gardening to-dos. Read on for seven vegetables you can plant in late summer or early fall for a bountiful autumn harvest.
First things first: Let’s determine your average first frost date. This is the average date temps dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit where you live. It marks the end of the growing season for most plants and serves as a helpful date to work backward from to ensure your late summer and fall veggies have enough time to develop. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a frost date tool that will give you an average date based on your ZIP code. Your local Extension office may be able to help as well.
Once you figure out your average first frost date, you’re ready to start planning and planting.
Direct sow beet seeds roughly six to eight weeks before your average first frost date. Because they only need to be planted about one inch apart, you can pack plenty of beets into even a small space, then harvest and preserve them for the winter. Plus, their greens make for a fantastic sauté.
In Northern climates, direct sow fall carrots from early July to early August so you can feature a homegrown Thanksgiving side dish. Those in Southern climates without a hard freeze can plant as late as November. Alternatively, you can simply plant a second set of carrot seeds after you harvest your spring batch.
Some gardeners believe this leafy green tastes even sweeter after a light frost. Plant from mid-July through early September in the Northern half of the country. If you live in the South, you can enjoy fresh kale throughout the winter.
Direct-sow cool-season kohlrabi about two months before your first frost date, or grow it throughout the fall and winter in the South. Harvest when bulbs are about 3 inches—any bigger, and they turn tough and woody. You can freeze it or store it in the fridge for up to two weeks.
If you grew a spring garden, chances are, it included lettuce. Bring it back for fall by directly sowing or transplanting seedlings in mid-to-late-summer for unforgettable autumn salads. Plant them near radishes for the ultimate companion plant.
Start direct-sowing radish seeds four to six weeks before your average first frost date. Because radishes are fast to mature—sometimes in less than 30 days—plant a fresh patch every one to two weeks, so you have radishes at the ready ‘til frost.
Whether you purchase seedlings or direct sow, plant spinach six to eight weeks before your average first frost date. Don’t hesitate to grow a little extra to freeze for smoothies and soups throughout the winter.
Tips for Growing Late Summer and Early Fall Vegetables
- Fertilize when planting: If this is your second crop of the season, chances are, your soil could use a nutrient boost. Apply a fertilizer designed for vegetables according to package directions.
- Have a cover handy: You can purchase or build cold frames or row covers to protect delicate plants from late-summer heat or an early frost.
- Surround with mulch: Once all seedlings have sprouted, adding a thick layer of mulch not only insulates the soil, but also helps keep the temperature and moisture levels more consistent.
- Water, water, water: Because it may still be hot and dry when you first plant, ensure your garden receives about an inch of H2O per week.
- Don’t plant too early: Cool-weather crops can stall out or turn bitter—also known as bolting—when temperatures get too high. Resist the urge to plant during the dog days of summer and wait until the optimal time for your plants to thrive.