When to Plant Crops In Fall

After a long summer growing season, when autumn rolls around, planting a fall garden might be the last thing you want to do.

But autumn can be the perfect time for gardening. The soil is still warm and the milder temperatures more pleasant. You might catch yourself eyeing your mature summer crops and wondering, “Do I have time to plant a fall garden?”

A metal tray with pots of little seedlings, a small plastic trowel and gardening gloves, in bright sunshine. The background is soft focus green, and to the center and bottom of the frame is green and white text.

The answer depends on where you live, and what you want to plant. While there are a lot of variables involved, most gardeners in the continental US will be able to grow a fall garden if we plan it right!

Here’s what’s to come in this article:

Planning a fall garden requires knowing a couple of things about your climate, and a couple of things about the crops you dream of harvesting. Once you gather this information, you will be ready to don your gardening gloves.

First Frost Dates: Winter’s First Kiss

First things first, before you can figure out the best time to plant any given crop in autumn, you’ll need to know your region’s average first frost date.

Young bright green curly leaves with light frost on the ends, with soft focus dark soil in the background.

Your first frost date is the average date that you will experience a light freeze in your neck of the woods. If you don’t know this date, you can look it up by your zip code at The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Temperatures at or a couple of degrees below freezing will kill most tender plants, whereas cold-hardy vegetables can survive a deeper freeze. The flavor of some will even improve in the cold weather.

Fall Crop Planting Schedule

Do you live in a warm growing zone where winter weather is generally unheard of? Lucky you! With the exception of the occasional frost and nights when temperatures may dip below freezing, you’ll have little to worry about in comparison to your friends up north.

A close up of young shoots with a light covering of frost over them, and the soil around them.

Those in extreme southern and tropical growing zones should still keep an eye on the thermometer if cold weather is predicted, and plan to provide a little extra protection – such as a burlap wrap or row covers – to tender plants that cannot withstand the cold.

As for the rest of us? Once you know approximately when your first freeze is due, use this handy schedule to plan when to start seeds indoors, transplant, or direct sow all your favorite veggies and herbs.

14-16 Weeks Before Average First Frost

Start indoors:

Direct sow:

  • Arugula
  • Beans (snap)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Collards
  • Lettuce
  • Lima beans
  • Mustard
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Rutabaga
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnips

12-14 Weeks Before Average First Frost

Start indoors:

  • Artichokes
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower,
  • Kale

Transplant:

Direct sow:

10-12 Weeks Before First Frost

Start indoors:

  • Artichokes

Transplant:

Direct sow:

  • Arugula
  • Beans (snap)
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Collards
  • Lettuce
  • Lima beans
  • Mustard
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnips

8-10 Weeks Before First Frost

Transplant:

  • Kale

Direct sow:

  • Arugula
  • Broccoli rabe
  • Cabbage (Napa)
  • Cilantro
  • Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnips

A close up of a boot pushing a blue spade into soil.

6-8 Weeks Before First Frost

Transplant:

Direct sow:

  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Cilantro
  • Fava beans
  • Lettuce
  • Mache
  • Radicchio
  • Spinach

4-6 Weeks Before First Frost

Transplant:

  • Radicchio

Direct sow:

  • Arugula
  • Buckwheat
  • Cilantro
  • Fava beans
  • Lettuce
  • Radishes (fast growing)
  • Spinach

Around First Frost

Direct sow:

Is it that easy?

Well, maybe not. But you didn’t take up gardening because it’s easy, did you?

I didn’t think so.

While referring to the schedule of recommended planting times above is a necessary part of the process, there are a few other factors you’ll need to consider as well.

Soil Temperature for Germination

Before planting seeds, make sure to refer to your seed packets to check the recommended soil temperatures for germination.

Just because you start your parsnip seeds 16 weeks before your predicted first freeze doesn’t mean the soil will automatically be the right temperature for them to germinate as well.

A close up of a soil thermometer, the metal rod at the bottom is in a pile of soil, the top is a black handle with a digital display and red buttons. The background is dark soil in soft focus.

Some regions may have warmer or cooler soil than is recommended for germination at the time when you plan to sow. You’ll have to take your specific conditions into account as well, to determine what will grow for you.

A soil temperature right around 70°F is the sweet spot for many seeds to germinate. But specific plants may have different requirements, so remember to check those packets!

Days to Maturity and Freeze Out Temperatures

Before you grab your seeds and run into your garden to plant, take a look at those seed packets and double-check the number of days to maturity. Do they match up to your planned schedule?

The recommended planting schedule above will give you a general idea of when the listed plants should be started, transplanted, or sown. But the total time needed for them to reach maturity may differ somewhat for different varieties.

A close up of an open packet of seeds, with seeds spilling out on to a wooden surface.

To calculate how many days you will need, take the number of days to maturity, then add fourteen extra days (two more weeks) of growing time to compensate for slower growth in autumn.

If your seeds say they take 70 days to reach maturity, then you need to count on at least 84 days.

A close up of a hand on the right of the frame, planting seeds into coarse brown soil. The hand is holding one seed, and three have already been sown. The background is brown soil.

Keep in mind that standard days to maturity are also typically calculated from the time when seeds germinate, not from the moment you put them in the ground. If you direct sow seeds in the garden, start counting when they germinate.

If you start seeds indoors and transplant them into your garden, start counting from the date when you transplant.

A close up of young beet shoots sprouting out of the soil, the background is soil in soft focus, in light autumn sunshine.

The crops most commonly planted in fall can handle a light freeze.

If any of the plants you’ve selected cannot handle freezing temperatures, make sure they will have time to mature before your first frost.

If your seed packet says the plant is frost tolerant, then it can continue to grow and reach maturity after your first frost.

You’ll have to take into account the sometimes unfortunate reality that some edible plants will “freeze out” and die when the mercury plummets. If you live in a northern climate with low temperatures early in the fall, you may not be able to bring certain plants to maturity if winter arrives early.

But with careful planning, you should be able to get cold-hardy crops as well as some tender fall plants started on the path toward success!

Three seedlings planted outdoors, with snow around them, the dark soil can be seen in patches where the snow is less deep.

To find freeze out temperatures for the plants you want to include in your autumn garden, you can refer to the following chart.

It corresponds with the recommended plants that we have included in the planting schedule above, and describes the lowest temperature ranges common garden crops can usually withstand.

Frost and Freeze Hardiness of Fall Garden Vegetables

Tender/Susceptible to Light Frost (Above 32°F)

  • Beans (snap)
  • Lima beans

Light Frost Tolerant (28-32°F)

  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli rabe
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Fennel (bulb)
  • Onions (bunching)
  • Radicchio
  • Radishes
  • Swiss chard

A close up of young seedlings, the bright green leaves contrasting with the soft focus dark soil behind.

Heavy Frost Tolerant (28°F and Below)

  • Artichoke
  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cabbage (Napa)
  • Carrots
  • Collards
  • Cilantro
  • Celery
  • Fava Beans
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Mache
  • Mustard
  • Onions (bulb)
  • Parsley
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Rutabaga
  • Shallots
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

Note that this chart is intended to serve as a general reference only, and that plants will react differently depending on other conditions as well, such as the amount of rainfall that they receive and the relative humidity, wind, and other fall conditions.

A hand on the right of the frame, wearing a blue gardening glove, is planting a seedling outdoors in soil. To the left of the frame is a black seed tray with seven more seedlings ready for planting.

Certain planting techniques, such as planting with row covers or in cold frames, as well as applying a protective layer of mulch, can help to alleviate the risk of frost damage.

But nonetheless, knowing the average temperatures for your area and what certain plants can withstand serves as an excellent starting point when planning your fall planting schedule.

Weather patterns can of course vary from year to year. But you want to give your plants the best start you possibly can, based on recorded averages for your area, temperatures that they are known to be able to withstand, and the time they will require to be ready for harvest.

Rows of cabbages planted in an autumn vegetable garden, with soil in between and around them, in light sunshine.

If you find that certain items you had hoped to grow probably won’t do well with the allotted number of available fall growing days for your area before winter sets in, save those seeds for spring.

If varieties of a certain crop known for having a shorter number of days to maturity, or for their cold hardiness over others, are available, go for those when you make your picks.

Container gardening is another good option for certain crops that are less cold-hardy. If you have the space for it, and if you find certain items are a little slow to grow this year and your crops have yet to come in when Jack Frost arrives despite your careful calculations, bring these pots inside to a well-lit area and hope for the best. With a little luck, you’ll still be able to produce a delicious harvest, despite the weather outside.

Planting in Fall is Easy, With Proper Planning

Now you know how to calculate when to plant your favorite edible crops in fall. Refer to your average first frost date, and take into account the ideal soil temperatures for germination. Always consider freeze out temperatures and the required number of days to maturity for the specific varieties that you are growing.

A close up of cabbage leaves with a light frost on the leaves, in bright sunshine.

Are you ready to make a personalized plan for planting your favorite crops this season? It’s time to take advantage of that beautiful autumn light and crisp fall air, and get to planting!

If you found this guide helpful, let us know in the comments. And be sure to tell us what you’ll be planting this fall.

Considering other gardening projects this autumn? If so, check out these other helpful articles:

Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. 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.

Leave a Reply

avatar
  
smilegrinwinkmrgreenneutraltwistedarrowshockunamusedcooleviloopsrazzrollcryeeklolmadsadexclamationquestionideahmmbegwhewchucklesillyenvyshutmouth
Photo and Image Files
 
 
 
Audio and Video Files
 
 
 
Other File Types
 
 
 
  Subscribe  
Notify of