For farmers and backyard gardeners, growing food doesn’t stop when summer does. Many vegetables thrive in the cooler temperatures of the fall, and even some into the winter.
Timing is the biggest factor when it comes to fall gardening, as most produce needs to be harvested before the first frost or shortly thereafter. Here are 10 vegetables you can grow in the fall, and how to plant them.
Before we dive into the list, it’s important to calculate what your window for harvest is. Fall means different things for different growing zones. This article will focus on zones 4-7, which are the vast majority of zones in the US.
These areas experience all four seasons, where temperatures fluctuate between warm summers and cold winters. As such, fall brings cooler temps and affects what can and can’t be grown.
Zones 8-10 are warmer and can continue to enjoy hot weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, and may want to stay away from the veggies listed here until true winter kicks in for them.
Tropical zones 11-13 in places like Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and parts of the Florida Keys won’t have much luck growing cool weather crops at all.
Zones 1-3 will have shorter windows for growing, but longer periods of cool weather to make some of these crops work.
There is still a fair amount of discrepancy within zones 4-7, so make sure to check your exact micro-climate, noting frost dates, average low temperatures, as well as expected rainfall and sunlight through the cooler season.
Kale is one of the best fall crops to plant as it’s hardy, decorative, and provides a long-lasting yield into the winter. It’s great in autumn recipes like soups and warm salads when thick, lush greens are welcomed.
Although used like other leafy greens, kale is actually from the brassica family along with Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli. It’s much easier to grow than other brassicas, however, with similar characteristics to lettuce.
For the best flavor, timing is imperative for most cultivars. The heat of summer will bring out a bitter edge, whereas plants that mature in cool temps will taste the best. Seeds should be planted around three months before the first frost.
If direct sowing in hotter zones, start seeds indoors in a cooler room until temps fall and then transplant them into the garden. Kale is extremely cold-hardy and can handle light frosts, so err on the side of waiting to plant until temps cool down. Or purchase seedlings from nurseries to plant after the heat of summer is over.
Feel free to try out varieties you don’t find in the grocery store like Winterbor, True Siberian, and Russian Red for an assortment of textures, yields, and colors.
Kale is also very ornamental and looks great in autumn planters—try growing an edible fall planter out of various types or paired with other frost-tolerant plants like spinach and parsley, which can also tolerate temps as low as 15-20 degrees F.
2. Brussels Sprouts
Also in the brassica family, Brussels sprouts are another hard-working, high-yielding, frost-tolerant crop that, like kale, can produce into the winter, even after it snows. The flavor actually gets better after a few frosts.
They are not as easy to grow as kale, however, and require a much longer growing time of 80-100 days. They also require more upward space, as the tiny, round sprouts grow along a thick, central stem with a head of leaves at the top.
Mature plants can reach 2-3 feet tall and may benefit from trellis support or stakes. They are best planted in the garden or raised beds where they can get full sun, but be kept cool.
Since they need closer to four months to mature, timing this with your last frost date and keeping the plants protected from the summer heat can be a bit of a trick. They will continue to perform past the first frost, so planting a little later and finding a cooler spot in the garden during the summer months is recommended.
If grown in containers, this will allow them to be moved accordingly throughout the season. Sowing indoors can help with this issue and can also allow the plant to mature quicker, as the summer heat will slow down the maturing process.
Another leafy green that is rich in nutrients and vitamins, common spinach is a wonderful cool-weather crop to plant as soon as the summer ends. For most growing zones, sowing directly into the soil around mid-August or early September is recommended for fall planting.
The soil shouldn’t be any warmer than 70°F as spinach requires approximately six weeks of cool weather to mature.
It’s not recommended to start spinach seeds indoors as they have trouble transplanting. Either direct sow or purchase as mature seedlings when the temps are right. Spinach can tolerate part shade, so even if August is warm, a cool spot sheltered from the intense sun may be all you need to get around the issue of hot weather.
Once you get the conditions right, spinach is a breeze to grow, and just like kale and lettuce, you can pick outside leaves as they mature - just don’t wait too long as larger leaves lose taste. You can also wait to harvest the whole plant.
Spinach also requires nutrient-rich, well-draining soil and consistent watering to produce a good supply of dark leafy greens like the others. Continue to succession sow as conditions allow, as spinach can survive temps as low as 15 degrees F.
Tip: plant arugula, another leafy green, at the same time as spinach (or together in planters), as it has the same mature time with similar needs.
While we’re on the topic of leafy greens, lettuce is a versatile crop that is almost as frost-hardy as kale but can also handle warmer temperatures.
Lettuce will even grow in the heat of the summer as long as it’s protected with a bit of shade from any intense sunlight, so there’s no need to start seeds indoors. It may not grow as quick in shade, but it won’t bolt, either - just keep it well-watered in nutrient-rich, well-draining soil.
It performs best in cool weather, around 60-70 degrees F, so direct sowing can start late summer for regular fall harvests or anytime temperatures are between 40-85 degrees F. The other great thing about lettuce is its quick maturity time, with green and red leaf cultivars ready in 30 days, or earlier than microgreens.
Lettuce can also grow easily in planters or garden beds and comes in various colors and textures like the common leaf varieties, romaine, butterhead, and iceberg.
Lettuce is a wonderful crop to succession plant every two weeks so that you have continuous yields up until the late fall—it will even handle a few light frosts before temps drop consistently below 28 degrees F.
Beets are highly nutritious root vegetables that are excellent choices for fall planting. Beets can be started during the midsummer around 4-6 weeks before the first frost date and will continue to do well in some light frost, withstanding temps between 28-32 degrees F.
u may lose the leaves first, but the root is more protected and can continue to be harvested during deep frosts.
Known for their vibrant, red color, beets also come in yellow, white, and striped varieties that are just as tasty. You can also harvest the tops or “beet greens” at any time, as long as you only take one or two at a time and leave some on the plant, as the root needs them to grow (they are even more nutritious than the beet root is).
Roots can be harvested once they are the size of a golf ball, though you can leave them to get as big as a fist.
They will need full sun and unobstructed soil so the root can form without any barriers. Best to plant them in garden beds where many can be sowed together in rows. Even though beets do just fine when transplanted, the easiest thing is to direct sow into the garden, as most varieties won’t bolt, and all varieties are cold-tolerant.
A smaller root vegetable that packs a punch, flavor-wise, radishes are great cool weather vegetables with some cultivars ready to harvest in as little as three weeks! This brassica also boasts edible leaves and can be eaten as is, sliced into salads, or cooked in stir-fries.
Radishes come in spring and winter varieties: look for daikon, Spanish black, and watermelon for fall planting.
They don't grow well once temps reach 70 degrees F, so best to wait until the weather is consistently cooler and direct sow into beds or planters, especially since they grow quickly.
This also makes them excellent choices for succession plantings: sowing every one to two weeks will provide continued harvests through light frosts until temps drop consistently below 20 degrees.
They need full sun and lots of space to thrive, so don’t plant too close together, and be punctual with your harvests, so roots don’t overdevelop and turn bitter. They don’t take up a ton of real estate, so plant them anywhere there is empty space after a summer garden cleanup.
Radishes are also excellent at deterring pests, making them ideal companion plants with many other cool-weather crops.
Kohlrabi is another cool-weather brassica that will add more variety and nutrition to your fall garden. This unique looking plant grows baseball-sized bulbs under upright, turgid stems that come in green or purple varieties. Kohlrabi is fairly quick to mature, ready to harvest around 6-8 weeks before the last frost date.
The entire plant is edible, though the inner flesh of the bulb is used the most, as it provides a refreshing, crisp taste when eaten raw (I call it the vegetable version of melon), or braised and cooked like water chestnuts.
The leaves can be sauteed, as well, and while the rubbery outer layer is edible, too, it's not very palatable and is usually cut off.
Seeds can be started indoors and then hardened off before outside planting, or directly sowed 3-4 weeks before the last frost date when temperatures are between 40-75 degrees F. These plants are simple to grow, pest and disease-free, and can handle light frosts between 28-32 degrees F.
Like other brassicas, hot summer weather will hinder the taste and slow down growth.
8. Swiss Chard
A relative of the beet in the Amaranthaceae family, Swiss Chard does not produce any edible roots but is prized for its brightly colored leaves and flavor. It’s not quite lettuce and not quite kale, but these plants pack a nutritious punch, boasting rich, wavy, dark green leaves on hefty stalks that can reach almost two feet tall.
Varieties range from red, white, or rainbow, and leaves can be harvested like other greens, either one or two at a time or by cutting the whole plant at the base. The plant will regrow after cutting. The leaves are usually cooked and end up with a soft texture like spinach, though they don't reduce in size as much.
They can be eaten raw, as well, but the taste is slightly on the bitter side.
Direct sow seeds 50-60 days before the last frost. Summer heat will cause the plant to bolt or slow growth down, so plant in mid-to-late summer. Once plants are established, they will be able to withstand light frosts, only succumbing to sustained, deep freezes.
hey are great in planters and pots, meaning they can be moved from a cooler, shaded sight until temps start to cool down, where they can then thrive in full sun. Or, choose a partially shaded area in the garden, and they will do just fine.
Carrots are such a versatile crop to have in the fall pantry as they have a long shelf life and are used extensively in soups, chili, and other cool-weather recipes.
There are many different cultivars for various soil conditions and harvest times, and since carrots can be temperamental, it's recommended to start with a few to get the best yield.
They also take a while to mature and need to be direct sowed 10 weeks before the first frost date. They are not as sensitive to warm weather, however, so you don’t have to worry about them bolting if you plant them in the summer. Carrots don’t take up a lot of space, either, and can be planted a mere two inches apart in rows.
This makes them excellent cool-weather crops to fill in unused garden space. Prepare a few short rows and succession plant every three weeks for a good amount of variety and harvest.
Carrots can be dug up at various stages of their growth cycle but get tastier with time. The carrot tops are also edible and will withstand light frosts, whereas the roots will grow during harder freezes, similar to beets.
The Eastern swallowtail caterpillars love to dine on the tops, which will not harm the root, and in the end, will bring beautiful butterflies to your fall garden.
Garlic is grown a little bit different than the others, as fall planting brings about a summer harvest, not the other way around. Plant single cloves around six weeks before the frost date, as it needs cool temps to establish its root system underground.
Garlic will be one of the first plants to pop up in spring, with new whole bulbs ready to be dug up in midsummer. Garlic scapes form at the top of hard neck varieties and can be cut off and harvested in the early spring, around March and April.
These curly, thin greens are similar to chives in that they can be roasted or chopped and added fresh to salads, but their texture is harder. They add a bonus, signature garlic taste to dishes while you wait for the bulbs to grow.
Garlic is also a well-known pest-deterrent in the garden and has a wonderful ability to adapt to different growing conditions, essentially learning as it grows and doing better each year.
Remember that even though a certain vegetable performs as a cold-tolerant or frost-tolerant crop, there are cultivars that are made to extend the hardiness even further. Some lettuce cultivars, such as “winter density” lettuce, can handle temps down to 15 degrees F, for example.
The devil is in the details—always check the package instructions and make sure you understand the specific needs of what you are planting, and feel free to look for winter hardy varieties.
For beginners, start simple and go with some common varieties. After a season or two of learning, you can start manipulating the growing season even more by using cold frames, row covers, or perhaps even a small greenhouse to extend the life of these cold-weather crops.
There is a beautiful bounty waiting beyond the limits of the warm summer months once you start learning how to grow vegetables in the fall.