In these hot days of summer, right as your summer harvest is probably beginning to peak, it might seem strange to start thinking about a fall garden. But the truth is, this is exactly the right time to start planning–and even planting–your fall garden.
Depending on how much time your fall plants require to reach maturity, you should start planting your fall garden 6 to 10 weeks before your first frost date so that frost-sensitive plants can come to maturity before they are exposed to temperatures below the freezing mark. For those up north, your first frost date could be as early as September, while folks down south might have a little longer before they have to worry about freezing temps.
You can plant anything that has time to come to maturity in your fall garden, but there are certain plants that really love cooler temperatures and will thrive in the chilly evenings of early fall. Those plants include leafy greens, brassicas (such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage), and sugar snap peas. These are great plants to put in your fall garden and some varieties of these plants are even frost-tolerant and can handle below-freezing temps.
There’s often a race against time between the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of the fall garden. For this reason, you might want to buy yourself a little extra time by using seed starts rather than starting your plants straight from seed in the garden. You can either buy transplants from your local nursery or a local farmer, or you can start your own seeds in trays so that they get a head start before setting them out in the ground.
Because frost dates are simply estimates, it’s a good idea to plan on having some insurance against freezing temperatures that show up sooner than expected. It’s never fun to have a plant get frostbit right before it’s time to harvest. So I recommend using row covers that are rated for cooler weather. You don’t have to have a full hoop house to protect a small space against a frost. You can buy or make small hoops that go right into the ground that can support a cover. Make sure your cover is rated for cold temperatures and seal it off really well if a hard frost or freeze is anticipated. I’ve been able to keep plants going 1 to 2 months after the frosts begin with the inexpensive and easy-to-install row covers shown in this video.
As your summer crops finish up, pull them out and replace them with fall plants. Select plants that can handle the weather that’s just around the corner, and be prepared with row covers in case temps drop below what your plants can handle. Good luck with all of your fall gardening dreams!