Planting in the Fall for a Spring Bounty

Plant root vegetables, greens, winter squash and pea varieties in the Fall for a jump start to the Spring harvest.

  • Some root crops, such as beets and carrots, taste distinctively different when planted in the fall.
    Photo by iStock
  • Depending on regional climates, certain fruits and veggies can be planted in the fall and harvested the following spring.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • In the South and West, Onions should be planted in the fall, and harvested in late spring.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • Some gardeners have had success planting winter squash late in the season.
    Photo by iStock

It’s time to stop thinking of autumn as the time to wrap up the garden—a handful of vegetables can be planted now and will grow slowly through winter in mild climates or go dormant until the following early spring in colder climates. Come spring, they will start growing and be ready to harvest for a delicious superearly crop.

Besides kick-starting the spring harvest season by many weeks, fall-planted vegetables offer other advantages. Fewer pests are around in winter to attack these vegetables, and winter soil is usually consistently moist, allowing for good seed germination.

Regional Considerations

The key to fall planting success is to choose the right vegetables and protect them through the winter in cold areas. How you go about this depends on where you live. In any climate, preparing the soil well by adding compost before planting will ensure growing vegetables have adequate nutrition.

Pacific Northwest and West Coast: Moderate temperatures allow for great harvests of greens and cool weather-loving brassicas in late winter and spring. However, winter rains can cause problems with diseases and slugs, so it’s necessary to take protective steps such as growing in raised beds; protecting plants with cold frames or row covers; and controlling for slugs (learn how: Organic Slug Control Methods).

Coastal South, Gulf Coast, Desert Southwest: In these hot climates, fall planting for a winter harvest is preferred over a spring planting due to the cooler temperatures and more consistent rainfall. Vegetables that prefer cool seasons, such as broccoli, spinach and peas, can only be planted now because the spring and summer weather gets so hot so fast.

Rest of the country: Elsewhere, fall planting for a spring harvest is a bit of a gamble, because cold temperatures, snow and thawing can spell disaster for some vegetables. However, my experience—and that of other local gardeners—is that we’ve been able to grow many crops consistently by seeding them in fall and harvesting them in March and April the following year, well ahead of our neighbors. What follows are some of the vegetables you can try in a colder climate and the best ways to grow them. Using raised beds and some form of winter protection is necessary in cold climates. Floating row covers, cold frames, mulches or a consistent snow cover are the best ways to protect young plants over the winter.

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