Fall is an interesting time of year for gardeners. You have to sow most plants that flower or produce food during fall well in advance of the season's arrival. However, if you can't resist digging in the dirt on beautiful fall days, there are a number of things you can - or even should - plant during autumn.
Vegetables to Plant in the Fall
You can grow a lot of tasty vegetables during fall, but many of them actually have to be planted during mid to late summer. However, you can plant some frost-resistant vegetables successfully as the days grow shorter and the weather cools. When starting seeds, be sure to add a week or two to the maturity date. This accounts for the fact that the days are getting shorter rather than longer this time of year.
Garlic needs to cold stratify in the ground throughout the winter, so it needs to be planted in the fall. Depending on where you live, you can plant garlic between September and November. It's best to get it in the ground at least two weeks before the first frost of the year. Since it's not unheard of for a freeze to occur before the designated first frost date, especially in cold climate areas, it's safest to plan on planting around a month before your first frost date. It will be ready for harvest in early summer.
Fava beans, also referred to as broad beans, are a cool-weather crop that you can start in the fall if you live in USDA Zones 7 or higher. Don't start them this time of year in Zones 6 or lower; start them only in the spring in cold climates. This is the only legume that will survive winter conditions. You can expect fava beans planted during autumn, where it's appropriate to do so, to mature and fruit in early spring.
Radishes generally take a month to mature, so you can plant a batch in early fall to squeeze in a harvest before it freezes. Radishes will survive an early frost or two, but they will not make it through a freeze. With that in mind, choose a fast-maturing variety, such as cherry belle or early scarlet globe. Please note that maturity dates on seed packets are estimated based on spring growing conditions.
Loose Leaf Lettuce
Lettuce thrives in crisp autumn weather and matures quickly, two characteristics that make it ideal for fall planting. Loose leaf lettuce generally matures in less than 60 days, and you can harvest it as baby greens long before that. If you harvest lettuce properly, it will grow back. It'll continue producing through frosts and beyond. Most varieties will keep producing until temperatures are consistently below 20 degrees Fahrenheit for multiple days.
Leafy brassicas like kale, turnips, mustard greens, and collards taste best when they grow and mature in cool conditions, so early fall is a great time to plant them. If established before frost sets in, they will thrive until a hard freeze arrives. Kale is an exception; it can thrive through winter in areas that don't get temperatures colder than 10 degrees Fahrenheit. You can harvest all of these plants as baby greens shortly after they start growing or leave them to mature if there's time before it gets too cold.
Parsnips are at their sweetest when they mature during cold conditions. With that in mind, you can plant parsnips in early fall. Just keep in mind that they will grow very slowly when the days are short. Depending on the weather conditions and day length in your area, you may be able to harvest your parsnips during winter, or they may take until early spring to mature.
Flowers to Plant in the Fall
There are many interesting fall flowers. Fall is the perfect time to plant perennials for next year, either by dividing and replanting existing plants, planting bulbs, or sowing seeds that benefit from in-ground cold stratification over winter. There are also some annuals that bloom in cool fall weather, making them an ideal choice for fall planters and flower beds.
You'll be able to find chrysanthemums, commonly referred to as mums, at any garden center you visit just before and during fall. They are a very popular choice for fall flower beds and containers, largely because they start blooming just as many summer flowers stop. Mums are a great choice to add a quick pop of color to your fall garden. Treat mums planted in the fall as annuals, but they're perennial in Zones 4-9 when you put them in the ground during the spring.
Calendula, also known as pot marigolds, are a lovely option for fall planting. They thrive in fall weather and will keep blooming long after frost sets in, and even beyond a few light freezes. These cool-weather plants keep going until temperatures dip below 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on your climate, you may actually be able to grow them from spring all the way through the fall. If you have really hot summers, though, chances are that they won't survive the summer.
Strawberries are, of course, fruit, but they also produce beautiful flowers. Those flowers just happen to be followed by luscious berries. Strawberry plants produce stolons, commonly referred to as runners. These are stems that grow sideways from the original plant, then form new plants that you'll need to put in the soil. Fall is the perfect time to snip off and plant them. That way, when spring arrives, you'll have even more flowering berry plants, followed by even more berries to eat in the summer.
If you're looking for things to plant in the fall, bulbs are a great choice. You actually need to plant spring-blooming bulbs during autumn. That's because they need cold stratification. In other words, they have to spend an extended period in cold conditions before they will be able to produce flowers. Planting fall bulbs won't lead to blooms in the fall. The time they spend underground in winter will set the stage for an incredible springtime show.
If you have bulb or rhizome plants that need to be divided, such as daffodils or hostas, fall is the perfect time to take care of that task. Doing so will leave you with extra plants to transplant, which you can (and should!) do right away. Whether you're planning to keep the plants that you divide out or are going to share them with someone else, they should go back in the ground soon after being divided. Not sure how? It's surprisingly simple to transplant divided plants and flowers in the fall.
Perennial Flower Seeds
If you're planning to start spring or summer blooming perennials from seed, fall is the ideal time to sow them. They won't start growing right away, but that's okay. Echinacea, milkweed, and other perennials generally require a period of cold stratification before they will germinate. When they are in the ground over the winter, that's exactly what they'll get. If you don't plant these seeds in the fall, you'll have to cold stratify them in the freezer before planting them in the spring.
Plant Shrubs and Trees in the Fall
Most trees and shrubs can be planted in the fall. Autumn is actually the ideal time to plant shrubs and trees in the ground, within appropriate hardiness zones. Be sure to get them in the ground six weeks before the first frost is expected to give their roots time to get established before it gets too cold. This will allow them to become stronger during winter. As a result, they'll be well established and strong by the time spring arrives, and they start putting on leaves and, in some cases, preparing to bloom.
Make the Most of Your Garden in the Fall
Summer may be the peak of the gardening season, but that doesn't mean your time in the garden should end once the days get shorter and the temperatures get cooler. This year, plant some of the selections listed above, either to extend your growing season or to set the stage for an even more spectacular spring next year. Put some time into fall garden cleanup as well. That way, things will be in great shape as you go into winter and start making plans for the spring.