Seasons control when certain plants can grow and thrive. As the season changes, so must a garden’s contents. Fall brings cooler temperatures, changing colors, and preparation for the winter. It may be the end of summer, but it’s the beginning of your fall vegetable garden.
Fall gardens produce rich, rustic vegetables. They are more resilient to fluctuating, cooler temperatures than summer vegetables which prefer hotter temperatures. However, it’s important gardeners know how to protect their plants from radical temperature changes. Seasonal vegetables grow well within their season’s temperature range, but temperatures are liable to slip out of those ranges. When it becomes too hot or cold, gardeners have to take additional measures to protect their plants.
The following are a few heirloom vegetable varietals perfect for a fall garden as well as some protective measures against unusually cold temperatures.
Photo Courtesy of: Arbor Day Foundation
Vegetables are generally categorized by season, but there are also regional aspects to consider. The USDA Hardiness Zones identify differentiating areas throughout the U.S. by their annual low temperatures. Zones 8-11 are more temperate lower temperatures such as the southern and western coasts.
Zones 5-7 are central to northern regions of the U.S. where low annual temperatures frequently reach below freezing. Because fall gardens grow into the winter months when the lowest temperatures are reached, you want to pick vegetables appropriate to your Hardiness Zone.
Bloomsdale Spinach, Albino Beets, Dragon Carrots, and Snowball Y Cauliflower are perfect for zones 5-7. They can withstand your more severe cold better than others and can produce a harvest within 50-70 days.
Purple Top Turnips, Summer Squash, Atlantic Broccoli, and Red Mini-Bell Peppers will thrive in zones 8-11. While not as cold hardy as the aforementioned plants, they still do well with cooler weather. They are known for their fast germination and growth periods, and some gardeners may see a harvest within 60-80 days.
To produce healthy fall plants and a bountiful harvest, begin planting fall vegetables in August to early September. As stated earlier, summer doesn’t end until mid-September, but you want your garden to be fully-transitioned by then.
Mother nature can be arbitrary and temperatures can fall lower than anticipated. During late fall specifically, the temperature will drop and be dangerous to your non-acclimated fall vegetables.
Temperatures under 50 degrees along with wind-chill have a low potential for damaging your garden. 40 degrees or lower with wind-chill flirts with higher potential for damage, and 32 degrees or lower will most likely damage your vegetables. Gardeners almost always need to insulate gardens when temperatures drop below 40 degrees.
A thick, protective layer of mulch around your plants will defend the soil and roots from cold seeping in as well as insulate the remaining warmth. The roots are the most important part to protect because future growth starts from there. Leaves and stems may wither, but warm soil protects the root ball from dying. Adding a garden watering system at soil level aides in this temperature management since you can maintain soil moisture with water that is warmer than the air.
To protect the leaves and stems as well during an erratic cold front, cover your garden with a cotton sheet or plastic tarp. While cotton won’t adversely affect your plants with direct touch, you may want to use supports and latticework to support it. Similarly plastic tarps are generally heavier, but may hold temperature better since they are less porous. Ensure you have a support structure in place to avoid adding unneeded weight on the already stressed plant.
Authors: Wiley Geren III and Bryan Traficante. Bryan is co-founder at GardenInMinutes.com, where the family run company focuses on simplifying the process of starting a quality garden. Their tool-free, cedar raised garden bed kits and their pre-assembled Garden Grid™ watering system allows gardeners to start and grow a quality garden in minutes. In addition to unique gardening solutions, Bryan and the GardenInMinutes team provide time-saving gardening insights on their blog, Facebook, and Instagram pages.