If the beautiful foliage and the crisp fresh air don’t lure you outside this fall, perhaps the enticement of a prolific autumn vegetable garden will do the trick.
Autumn is a wonderful time to plant a productive veggie garden – if you plan it right.
The changing seasons mean new conditions in the garden. From sun exposure to soil prep, air and soil temperature requirements, and differences in the amount of rain that your garden receives during the cooler months, there are a few factors to consider.
Here’s everything we’ll go over in this article:
How to Plant an Autumn Vegetable Garden
Are you ready? Time to get growing!
Check Your Sunlight
In fall, the sun shines at a lower angle in the sky. Before you get busy with your fresh batch of autumn plants, make sure to take a good look at your beds or rows and make sure they will get enough light. Many fall crops require full sun exposure, which is defined as at least 6 hours of sun a day.
A plot or raised bed that was perfect for growing edible crops in the summertime may be less than ideal come autumn. If they are at risk of being shaded out by trees, buildings, walls, or other tall structures that could block sunlight, consider planting in an alternate location, one that gets full sun at this time of year.
Container gardening is another option. As long as containers aren’t too heavy, or if you have a wheeled cart or wheelbarrow to set them on, plants can be moved to follow the daylight as needed.
Make Your Beds
Do you still have vegetables that are producing? If they look happy, let them hang out. If they look scrappy, maybe it is time to, well, scrap them. Some, such as kale, may improve in the cooler weather.
To prepare your soil for your new seeds or seedlings, loosen it up a bit and remove any weeds.
Work some compost in next. If your soil has been busy growing plants all summer, it will need a fresh infusion of organic material and nutrients to help your new plants grow.
Plan your plantings as you would for a spring or summer garden. If you get a lot of rain at this time of year, you may want to provide more space between plants, to promote air circulation.
If your garden soil has decent drainage throughout the heavy rains of summer, you should be good to go in the fall. If you notice runoff or water that’s pooling in new and unexpected places, these might not be the best spots for your fall crops.
Choose Your Crops Wisely
Determining which plants to include in your autumn vegetable garden will depend in large part on your palate – but this choice will also be determined by your climate. This includes your thermometer’s highs and lows, as well as your soil temperature and day length.
If you live in a location that gets light frosts in the fall, you’ll probably want to stick to cool-weather crops that can survive, and even thrive, when temperatures hover around or below freezing.
Check out our guide on when to plant crops in autumn to make sure you plant your veggies with plenty of time to mature.
Gather Seeds and Plants
You might be able to purchase seedlings at this time of year, but more than likely, you will need to start them yourself. Make sure you start your seedlings early enough and follow our recommended best practices for starting annuals indoors from seed.
Buy new seeds from your favorite seed sellers, or use up what’s left in your seed packets from spring or summer plantings.
Get Ready To Dig In
Finally, you’re ready to plant. We’ve got you covered if you need a quick primer on planting a vegetable garden!
Don’t forget, it’s sweater weather for your soil, too. Make sure you mulch around your plantings to keep the soil warm.
And if you aren’t getting regular autumn rains where you live, make sure to water. Your garden won’t need as much water as it does in summer, since lower temps and indirect sun mean less evaporation, but it still needs an occasional drink.
Cooler temps and occasional high winds mean some plants will benefit from a little extra protection.
With less food available at this time of year when many plants are going dormant, don’t be surprised if the local deer, squirrels, birds, and other wildlife stop by for the occasional snack. Bird netting and row covers or screens with a larger weave can come in handy here, if you want to protect your plants from hungry passers-by without shading them too heavily.
Book Recommendations: Dig Deeper Into Your Fall Garden
You may want to go deeper into the wonderful world of gardening after summer’s gone. If so, I recommend the following books, which will surely help you master the subject and produce delicious crops well into winter.
My first recommendation is “The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses” by Eliot Coleman, available on Amazon.
Coleman is a “plant-positive” organic farmer and gardener who grows vegetables for market during the cold season in Vermont. We can learn a lot from his decades of experience.
My next pick is Charles Dowding’s “How to Grow Winter Vegetables.” This is a thorough guide to planting autumn vegetables for a winter crop that includes soil preparation tips, planting calendars, recommendations for growing under cover, and of course, suggestions for storing your harvest.
Dowding practices no-dig organic gardening in the UK, and his book is available on Amazon.
Finally, Niki Jabbour’s book “The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live” offers growing advice not just for fall, but for every season.
Jabbour gardens in Nova Scotia, so she knows a thing or two about growing in cooler weather. You can find her book on Amazon.
Your Fall Cropping Spree
Go ahead – plant a glorious autumn vegetable garden for yourself! Just make sure you have sufficient sunlight, choose the right plants, prepare your beds, and follow the recommended best practices for planting.
What will you be planting in your autumn garden this year? Let us know and show us your pics!
Since you are obviously enamored with gardening during the year’s – possibly! – sweetest season, here are a few other articles I bet you’ll like:
Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Chelsea Green Publishing, Storey Publishing, and Green Books. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Clare Groom and Allison Sidhu.
About Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on a dryland permaculture homestead in the high desert of Utah. Originally from the temperate suburbs of North Carolina, she enjoys discovering ways to meet a climate challenge. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer and a Building Biology Environmental Consultant, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina loves the challenges of dryland gardening and teaching others to use climate compatible gardening techniques, and she strives towards creating gardens where there are as many birds and bees as there are edibles. Kristina considers it a point of pride that she spends more money on seeds each year than she does on clothes.