How to Plant an Autumn Vegetable Garden

If pretty leaves and crisp fresh air don’t lure you outside this fall, perhaps the allure of a spectacular autumn vegetable garden will do the trick.

Autumn is a wonderful time to plant a productive veggie garden—if you plan it right.

Changing seasons mean new conditions in the garden. Some factors to consider are sun exposure to soil preparation, air and soil temperature requirements, and differences in the amount of rainfall that your garden receives during the cooler months.

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Here is everything that we will know in this article:

How to Plant an Autumn Vegetable Garden

are you ready Time to Grow!

check your sunshine

In autumn, the sun shines at a lower angle in the sky. Before you get busy with your new batch of autumn plants, be sure to take a good look at your beds or rows and make sure they’ll be getting enough light. Many fall crops require full sun exposure, defined as at least 6 hours of sun a day.

A plot or raised bed that was perfect for growing food crops in summer may be less than ideal come autumn. If they are at risk of being shaded by trees, buildings, walls, or other tall structures that may block sunlight, consider planting in an alternative location that receives full sun at this time of year. .

Container gardening is another option. As long as the containers are not too heavy, or if you have a wheelbarrow or wheelbarrow to set them in, the plants can be moved to follow daylight hours as needed.

make your bed

Do you still have vegetables that are producing? If they seem happy, let them hang out. If they look rough, it’s probably time to, well, scrap them. Some, such as kale, may grow better in cooler climates.

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To prepare your soil for your new seeds or seedlings, loosen it slightly and remove any weeds.

Next do some compost work. If your soil has been busy growing plants all summer, it will need a fresh mix of organic material and nutrients to help your new plants thrive.

Plan your planting as you would for a spring or summer garden. If you receive a lot of rainfall this time of year, you may want to provide more space between plants to promote air circulation.

If your garden soil has good drainage during heavy summer rains, you should be good to go in fall. If you notice runoff or water pooling in new and unexpected places, these may not be the best places for your fall crops.

choose your crops wisely

Determining which plants to include in your autumn vegetable garden will depend in large part on your palate—but the choice will also be determined by your climate. This includes the highs and lows of your thermometer, as well as your soil temperature and day length.

If you live somewhere that gets a light frost in the fall, you’ll probably want to stick to cool-season crops that can survive, and even thrive, when temperatures are at or below freezing. It happens.

Check out our guide to when to plant fall crops to make sure you plant your vegetables with enough time for them to mature.

collect seeds and plants

You might be able to buy seedlings this time of year, but more than likely, you’ll need to start them yourself. Make sure you start your seedlings early and follow our recommended best practices for starting annuals indoors from seed.

Buy new seeds from your favorite seed vendors, or use what’s left over in your seed packets from spring or summer planting.

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In addition to cold-loving brassicas, don’t forget that you can include potatoes and alliums in your fall garden, too.

get ready to dig

Finally, you are ready to plant. If you need a quick primer on planting a vegetable garden we’ve got you covered!

Don’t forget, it’s sweater weather for your mittens too. Make sure you mulch around your plantings to keep the soil warm.

And if it’s not getting regular autumn rains where you live, be sure to water. Your garden won’t get as much water as it needs in the summer, as lower temperatures and indirect sun mean less evaporation, but it still needs the occasional watering.

If you’re not sure how much water your plants are naturally receiving, consider installing a rain gauge in your garden, and supplementing with sprinklers or a garden hose.

provide protection

Cool temperatures and occasional strong winds mean some plants will benefit from a little extra protection.

Row covers and cold frames can come in handy for extending the gardening season into fall, and if you have a greenhouse, it can be the perfect place to plant pots of tender seedlings.

With less food available at this time of year when many plants are going dormant, don’t be surprised if local deer, squirrels, birds, and other wildlife stop by for the occasional snack. Bird netting and row covers or large woven screens can come in handy here, if you want to protect your plants from hungry passers-by without shading them too much.

Book Recommendations: Dig Deeper into Your Fall Garden

After summer is gone you may want to delve deeper into the wonderful world of gardening. If so, I recommend the following books, which will surely help you master the subject and grow delicious crops well into winter.

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My first recommendation is “The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses” by Eliot Coleman, available on Amazon and from Chelsea Green Publishing.

Coleman is a “plant-positive” organic farmer and gardener who grows vegetables for the market during the cold season in Vermont. We can learn a lot from their decades of experience.

Winter Harvest Handbook

My next choice is “How to Grow Winter Vegetables” by Charles Dowding. This is a complete guide to planting autumn vegetables for a winter harvest that includes soil preparation tips, a planting calendar, recommendations for growing under cover, and of course, tips on storing your harvest.

how to grow winter vegetables

Dowding practices no-dig organic gardening in the UK, and her book is available on Amazon.

Finally, Nicky Jabor’s book “The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live” offers growing advice not only for fall, but for every season.

Year Round Vegetable Gardener

Jabor Gardens in Nova Scotia, so she knows a thing or two about growing in cold climates. You can find her book on Amazon.

your fall harvest spree

Go ahead – plant yourself a fabulous autumn vegetable garden! Just make sure you have enough sunlight, choose the right plants, prepare your beds and follow recommended best practices for planting.

What will you be planting in your autumn garden this year? Tell us and show us your pictures!

Since you’re clearly obsessed with gardening year-round — possibly! – Sweetest Season, Here are some other articles I am sure you will enjoy:

Ask the Experts, LLC. All rights reserved. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Chelsea Green Publishing, Story Publishing and Green Books. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Claire Groom and Allison Sidhu.