Fall Gardening

Fall gardening is tricky for those of us in the north. The summer is warm and not conducive to propagating and growing cool season crops, fall is short, and the frosts come before Halloween.

Lettuce Mixture Growing in Greenhouse

Let’s address these issues one at a time. Ideally, you plant your fall garden as early as possible, once the worst of the heat has begun to dissipate. For me in Zone 6, it is mid to late August. If you can provide shade for your germinating seedlings, you can with success plant a few weeks earlier. If it is still hot, mid to upper eighties or higher, you will not be able to get germination from your cool season seedlings. Even the low-eighties is not ideal for germinating cool season seeds. I try to overcome that by watering daily until I get germination, and after if it is hot and dry.

The fall is short for me, with a probability of 50% that I will receive a frost by October 15th. If I plant in late August, that only gives me about fifty days until my first frost. This makes the majority of the plants listed at the bottom of this article not possible without some kind of frost protection. Also bear in mind that the days to maturity start from the germination date, not the planting date.

Greenhouse with shade tarp. Shade is a must for planting a fall crop inside.

Floating Row Cover

You can extend the season by using cloches, floating row covers, or a greenhouse. It also helps to plant in a sheltered spot that is frost resistant, like against a south facing wall. Tips for fall gardening success:

  1. Find out your frost date, and plan accordingly.
  2. Get going as early as possible. Plant as soon as heat of summer starts to dissipate.
  3. You can use artificial shade, like shade cloth to starts plants earlier in the summer.
  4. Water your seeds to keep them cool and to get quick germination. Soak your peas and beans before planting to get a jump start.
  5. Use cloches, row covers, or a greenhouse to extend the season past mild frosts.
  6. Plant in a sheltered spot in front of a south facing wall to provide mild frost protection.
  7. Provide compost tea and organic fertilizer to give your plants a jump start. The larger they grow before the first frost, the more likely they are to survive it.

The quickest and best fall crop around - Radishes

Below is a list of plants that I grow in the fall, with the number of days to maturity. Remember the number of days is from the germination date, not the planting date. Plan accordingly to determine if any of these plants would work as a fall crop for your garden.

Bean - 48 to 60 (NOT frost resistant)

Beet - 55 to 70

Kohlrabi - 50 to 60

Lettuce, leaf - 40 to 50

Onion - 90 to 150 (To be harvested the following spring)

Radish - 21 to 30

Spinach - 40 to 50

Turnip - 45 to 75

Peas – 60 to 70

~ Phil Williams

Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com.  He is also the author of numerous books, most recently, Fire the Landscaper and Farmer Phil's Permaculture. His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/fall-gardening/

It's a little late for much of the country, but you can still plant certain things, especially if you have row covers, cloches, or a greenhouse.
Also, arugula is another cool season salad green that germinates and grows really quick.

Autumns temp is the right time for you to start off with spinach and lettuce. Consider succession plating. Fast growing salad crops will revive the most. Get the right timing and plan backwards starting with your areas average first fall frost date. Calculate harvest days needed for each plant. Check for the number on the seed packet. 

Thanks for useful tips! I want to try my hand on gardening. I believe there's nothing better than growing your own vegetables. At least you know what you're eating.


We love to grow daikon radishes in the fall. The greens are edible.
Don't forget parsnips as a fall crop. We plant them in November here is SC and harvest them in February: they overwinter in our beds. Dragon's tongue kale and leeks, too.

Thanks Wendy!
That's interesting that down in SC you plant parsnips now for a February harvest. Here in zone 6 Pennsylvania, I let parsnips self-seed in the summer. I harvest in early spring- March/ April. If I wait too long into the spring, the parsnip quality goes down.

Also, great idea on the daikon radishes.



Hi Phil!
Upon the PP gurus advice, I found myself an itty-bitty microfarm in SW Colorado. I rented out the farmhouse to a lovely family, and get to use the one acre myself to dig in the dirt.
I set up plasticulture to smother out several 20 by 20 foot plots, and tried my hand at some no and low-till gardening on the first 20 by 20 plot. I learned a lot, and enjoyed my own squashes, tomatoes and apples immensely. (I also put in an itty-bitty orchard, four pear and four apple trees, they like it down there).
Anyway, now that it’s frosted, I’m looking for advice on how I put the garden to bed. Do I just let the frosted plants lie there? Chop up the tomato skeletons?
Any advice would be appreciated and all resources investigated.
Thanks so much!

What we do:

  • Cut off everything above the ground, chop it up, add to the compost pile
  • Keep all roots in the soil
  • Heck, use the lawn mower if needed (I use hand shears)
  • Gather all the leaves we can get, pile them all over the garden, 6 inches or more deep
  • Sometimes we use black weed block to keep the soil covered (blocks weeds and keeps the sun off), but don’t block too much or you kill the soil
  • Add leaves to the compost pile, mix the pile well, add water if it’s dry
  • The leaves protect the soil, block weeds, and break down into new soil
  • We also add some straw (but straw can add grass seeds)
  • Be careful where you get external stuff like straw that they did not use any herbicides
    When spring comes:
  • Pull back the leaves where your rows are at, add new composted soil to the row, and plant new stuff
  • Only trim the weeds if they get too tall, but generally leave them
    After doing this for a few years the insect life is our back yard is doing amazing. Yes we loose a few items, but generally everything everything is much healthier.

We have been planting a mix of winter wheat, hairy vetch, field peas and red clove after we have winter killed. It serves to cover the soil and feed the fungi over the winter. Great thought Travis! And spot on.

…a settled mares manure makes this…https://www.facebook.com/angie.robinson.5283/posts/2164379157196673?notif_id=1572479671674893&notif_t=feedback_reaction_generic_tagged