How to Plant an Autumn Vegetable Garden

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.

A vertical image of a collection of freshly harvested vegetables, beetroot, cauliflower, onions, rutabaga and carrots, with soil in the background. Green and white text banners at the center and the bottom of the frame.

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:

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.

Two raised garden beds, made of timber, a mixture of seedlings and mature vegetables planted in the dark soil. Wood chips surround both garden beds. In the background is a stone wall with two chairs and a wooden pallet compost pile.

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.

A close up of lettuce growing in soil. To the left of the frame, a bright green plant with small leaves, to the right of the frame, a plant with darker leaves. To the top of the frame is a young kale plant. The background is rich, dark soil.

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.

A man, pictured from behind, digging soil with a fork, wearing blue jeans, a blue t shirt and gardening gloves. The soil in the background is dry, contrasting with the freshly dug soil which is a rich earthy brown.

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.

A close up of a spade, digging compost out of a black plastic compost bin. In the background is soil.

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.

A fresh harvest of fall vegetables. Cabbage, courgette, Swiss chard, a beetroot, two orange pumpkins, with a metal bucket full of apples behind. To the left of the frame is a small metal watering can.

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.

A close up of green curly kale leaves, covered in light frost, with snow in the background.

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.

Close up of two hands, wearing brown and white gardening gloves, holding a black tray of seedlings, ready to plant out.

Buy new seeds from your favorite seed sellers, or use up what’s left in your seed packets from spring or summer plantings.

A close up of beetroot seeds on a light brown piece of paper, on a wooden table. A white planting sign with black lettering rests on top and to the side of the seeds. In the background are the tips of a garden fork.

In addition to cold-loving brassicas, don’t forget that you can include potatoes and alliums in your fall garden, too.

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!

A close up of a man's hand, planting a garlic bulb in a small furrow in the soil. His other hand is holding a wicker basket, containing more garlic bulbs. The background is soft focus soil and grass.

Don’t forget, it’s sweater weather for your soil, too. Make sure you mulch around your plantings to keep the soil warm.

Ornamental cabbages, one with bright purple inner leaves, contrasting with the deep green outer leaves, surrounded by straw mulch.

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.

A close up of a light green garden hose, coiled up with yellow and orange autumn leaves around it. Grass is visible in the background.

If you’re not sure exactly how much water your plants are getting naturally, consider installing a rain gauge in your garden, and supplement with sprinklers or the garden hose accordingly.

Provide Protection

Cooler temps and occasional high winds mean some plants will benefit from a little extra protection.

Row covers and cold frames can come in handy to extend the gardening season into the fall, and if you have a greenhouse, this may be the perfect spot to place pots of tender seedlings.

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.

A close up of a pile of hardback books, with navy blue covers, the top one is open, on a park bench, in fall. The background is the bench in soft focus autumn colors.

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.

Winter Harvest Handbook

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.

How to Grow Winter Vegetables

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.

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener

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.

A close up of a man's hand from the right side of the frame, holding a bunch of newly harvested bunching onions in bright sunshine. The roots are still intact, with soil around the base, and bright green stems. The background is a garden bed in soft focus.

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.

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