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Fall Vegetable Gardening – Time to Get Started!

submitted by Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator

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This summer has been a busy one, and it's passing quickly. August is already here, bringing with it final summer vacations, county and state fair, and school preparations. With all that going on, it's easy to forget that now is also the time to think about planting a fall vegetable garden. So if you haven't already, mark your calendar with reminders to plant some fall crops.

What to Plant

Most cool-season vegetables grow as well, or better, in fall than those planted in spring. Vegetables well suited for the fall garden include:

  • Semi-hardy vegetables (can stand light frost, 30-32° F) – beets, Chinese cabbage, collard, potato, lettuce, radish, spinach, Swiss chard, and green onion.
  • Hardy vegetables (can stand several frosts but are killed when temperaturers drop near 20° F) – cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrot, tunip, rutabaga and kale.

New transplants of broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower should be started now. Or, try direct seeding any of the above for a fall crop. But, remember to provide protection from cabbageworms and loopers, they'll decimate your baby plants in days!

If you start early enough, there may be time to plant heat-loving crops like tomatoes and peppers. Look for cultivars labeled "early season", or compare the number of days to harvest and select those with the fewest days to maturity. Plants can be direct seeded, or started as transplants indoors.

When to Plant

To decide when to plant your fall crops, get out your calendar and start counting backward from our normal first frost date, which is October 10th to 15th.

  • Add together the days to harvest, which is usually printed on the seed packet and the number of days you'll need to harvest a crop.
  • If your plants are sensitive to cold, add in 10-14 days to protect them from early frost.
  • Add in 10-14 days for the "fall factor", which accounts for slowing plant growth due to shorter day length.

The total number of days, counted backward from the first frost date should give you a pretty good estimate of when to seed your fall crops. Of course, plants that are hardy or semi-hardy will flourish in the cool autumn days and survive light frosts so timing doesn't have to be so exact as with very frost sensitive plants, like lettuce, tomatoes, or snap beans.

Benefits of the Fall Garden

There are a few really nice things about a fall garden. First, you can start over with a clean planting area if weeds took over while you were on vacation. A quick tilling takes care of them.

The cool, short days of fall results in sweet, mild flavor for many vegetables, when compared to plants grown during hot summer weather. Some vegetables, like turnips, actually improve in flavor with a touch of frost. Although the tops of semi-hardy root and tuber crops like beets and potatoes may be killed by hard freezes, the edible portion will store well in the ground if mulched with a heavy layer of straw.

Late plantings of tomatoes store better because the plants are usually more vigorous and healthy than those that have grown all spring and summer. Pick them before the first frost, or provide them with extra protection during cold nights, and you could use your own homegrown tomatoes in this year's Thanksgiving cooking!

This resource was added August 2013 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

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