With fall just around the corner, late summer is the perfect time to plan for the growing season ahead. To learn more about fall garden plans that can be done now, Erin Schanen, Troy-Bilt’s gardening partner, a master gardener volunteer, and creator of The Impatient Gardener blog and YouTube channel, shared expert tips, insights and how-to advice with us.
When to Start a Fall Garden
Believe it or not, you should be thinking about the fall garden during the hottest days of summer. At the height of summer is when you should be thinking about starting cool-weather crops in the vegetable garden, planting some fresh flowers from seed, or even thinking about the future of container plants.
The key date to know when starting your fall garden is your first average frost date, which will be specific to your ZIP code (there are plenty of online sources where you can find this information). From there, you can work backward to know how long it will take plants to reach maturity, meaning when they will produce fruit or flowers, and make sure you get them started in plenty of time to produce by the first frost.
Making Space for Fall Garden Plans
Fall is a fabulous time to start a garden, and mid to late summer is a great time to prepare so you’ll be ready to plant in the coming weeks. If you’re turning an area of your lawn into a new garden, then make sure to remove or kill the grass because there will still be time to solarize an area with black plastic. When the grass is dead, you can till it into the soil along with any amendments, such as compost.
When planning a fall garden, take a look around existing gardens for extra space as well. By fall, some annuals will be past their peak, and you can remove them to make way for beautiful fall accent plants. In the vegetable garden, some summer crops, such as garlic, will be harvested and will leave room for sowing vegetables that appreciate the cool weather.
In gardening terms, succession, or staggered planting, is all about making the most of every inch of garden space. By planning and timing the planting of vegetables and flowers so you have something ready to harvest at all times, you maximize every bit of growing area. For instance, you can extend the harvest of many vegetables by sowing a small number of seeds every two weeks, so you have a long period of harvest instead of a whole bunch all at once. The same goes for flowers. By succession sowing, you can have a nonstop flow of fresh blooms for bouquets or color in the garden.
Bulb or vegetable garden succession planting can be planned by again starting with your first frost date and working backward. It can also be helpful to look for varieties that reach maturity at different rates, including some with a short growing time to make the most of those last sowings. Keep your garden productive all season long. Read our guide to succession planting to achieve a bountiful harvest and make the most out of your garden.
Plants and Vegetables to Plant in the Fall
Some of the tastiest vegetables come from the fall garden. Not only will plants we associate with fall, such as kale and broccoli, do well, but you can also revisit some of those spring favorites, such as peas and lettuce. I recommend planting peas about eight weeks before your last frost date; lettuce can be planted almost weekly and will provide greens right through frost. Most mesclun-type mixes can be harvested four to five weeks after planting, so keep that succession going.
Fall Flower Planting for Spring
In many areas, you can get a great start on a gorgeous spring garden by sowing flower seeds in fall. Some people wonder when to plant fall flowers to ensure they bloom come springtime. Some plants require a cold period, and by planting them after a hard freeze, you’ll have done all the work you need to have blooms the following year. Milkweed, feverfew and penstemon are just a few flowers that will benefit from such treatment.
Annual flowers like Nigella (Love-in-a-Mist), Larkspur and Bachelor Buttons will all do well sown after a hard freeze but before the snow flies. Come spring, robust plants will emerge and provide a great show without any fussing with starting seeds indoors.
No matter what flower seeds you sow in fall, remember to mark where you plant them. The odds are good that you’ll forget what you planted where come spring when seeds germinate, and they might be mistaken for weeds. Learn how to plan for next year’s garden to get the most out of your garden.
Choosing Perennials to Plant in Fall
Fall is an excellent time to plant almost any perennial, with the exception of some ornamental grasses. The warm soil and cooler air temperatures will help fall-planted perennials (as well as shrubs and deciduous trees) establish a great root system to be ready for the next year. It’s important to water new fall perennial plantings regularly right up until the ground freezes to help them establish well.
What Tools Do I Need to Help Get the Job Done?
There are a few tools you won’t want to be without in fall. If you’re starting a new garden for fall or prepping a new bed for spring, then a tiller will come in handy to prepare the soil. For smaller areas, a cultivator can be of help to work in amendments. By doing this work now, you’ll save yourself time in spring.
The best part about fall is that a great soil amendment literally falls from above. Fallen leaves are great organic material for gardens, so don’t let them go to waste. A lawn mower with mulching and bagging capabilities is an easy way to collect all that goodness. The smaller the leaves, the quicker they break down, so if you want to take advantage of them sooner, then run over them several times before bagging. You can also use a chipper/shredder to grind up the leaves for use on garden beds, in compost, or saved and allowed to rot down into leaf mold.