Add an Extra Round of Veggies, Flowers, and Herbs that Thrive in the Cooler Tempertures
Written By Lindsay Jo Crenshaw
With so much emphasis on summer gardening, many tri-state growers may be missing out on a most magical season: the fall garden! Our area sees its first frost generally around October 15 – October 31st, which means we can still sow many frost hardy edible plants and flowers well into late August. All it takes is a little extra planning during the heat of the summer to guarantee an extra homegrown bounty in the fall and winter, no special tools or equipment required.
Fall gardens are planned similarly to spring gardens, with a focus on the varieties that benefit from the shorter and colder days ahead. Bulbs like garlic and shallots are commonly grown in fall, but crops like carrots, poppies, nigella, beets, onions, and perennial flowers can also be started! Gardeners can sow these seeds in the mid-to-late summer and leave them in the soil to enter a dormancy period during the winter. This dormancy period allows the plants to rest during the freezing months and to start growing again as early as February or March of the following year.
Many gardeners have experienced the frustrating hot flashes of spring, which are known to send heat-tender plants like cauliflower, arugula, and cabbage to seed, ending their life cycle. The fall’s cool temperatures offer the respite that many home gardeners need to successfully grow brassicas again. Unlike Spring, where heat waves are inevitable, fall gardens deal with lows of freezing weather. These cooler temperatures are
actually ideal for plants like broccoli, onion, and carrots that sweeten as the soil chills.
Frost can be a gardener’s friend! Carrots, celery, and other root vegetables like parsnips experience a process where their starch is converted into sugar as a biological defense mechanism to the cold. This makes the veggies taste candied, rendering them even more enjoyable than their warm-weather counterparts. Late summer sowing root vegetables is also akin to getting a bonus harvest. They will get their start in the fall and once the spring soil temps get above 40*F, will begin putting on weight again. Imagine getting your first bounty of sweet carrots in April, with plenty of time to sow another round before the broiling days of July! It may feel counterintuitive to start seeds inside while dealing with a garden’s summertime abundance, but most gardeners aim to begin their brassica and cool flower seedlings in early to mid-July. Then, they harden them off and plant them out in late August just as the tendrils of the sunny season begin loosening their grip. The biggest struggle for most home
gardeners will be finding a place to put them, as it’s likely the tomatoes and squash are still taking over. However, proper planning will allow home growers to enjoy several more months of fresh
veggies while many have fallen back to buying from the grocery store. Though tulips are a popular fall-planted bulb, there are many other flowers that will overwinter and revive themselves again in the cool spring months. Flowers like stock, calendula, bachelor’s
buttons, icelandic or bread poppies, rudbeckia, bupleurum, larkspur, nigella “love-in-a-mist”, and snapdragons can be started indoors 8-10 weeks before last frost, and transplanted out at 6 weeks before last frost. These flowers will root themselves in the fall, die back in the freeze, and victoriously sprout back to life as soon as the longer sunny days return around April. Want to learn more about fall flowers? The book “Cool Flowers” by Lisa Mason Ziegler is a complete guide to growing and enjoying long-blooming hardy annual flowers using cool weather techniques.
Popular spring veggies like peas, lettuce, chard, kale, and collard greens can also survive light frosts, so a fall planting allows gardeners to enjoy another crop of leafy greens without using an expensive greenhouse or row cover. Need more herbs to put away for winter? Cilantro, dill, basil, parsley, and chives love the cooler temperatures! Once the freezing temperatures and snow roll in, you may lose a few crops, but your brassicas will take the chill without issue and grow slowly over the season for you to enjoy fresh from the garden! With the heat of the summer a fading memory, gardeners can also get another crop of quick-growing frost tender plants like sweet peas (50 days to harvest), zinnias (60 to 70 days to harvest) radishes (35 days to harvest), and cucumbers (50 days to harvest). These particular crops are called “frost tender” as they won’t survive temps under 35F*, but they’re well worth the risk to start again around mid-August. Direct seed these plants to your beds and keep them well watered for one final fresh harvest in the fall! While a fall garden may seem intimidating, we encourage you to experiment with a few plants this year to see if you can further your season. What is all gardening, if not a gamble against the elements? Take a chance this year with a fall planting and see what bounties you can enjoy long after most gardeners have hung up their gloves. Need more seeds, soil, grow bags, and gardening essentials for your fall garden? Shop local! Garden Dominion in Maugansville, Maryland is a great one-stop-shop for home gardeners. They carry quality gardening products year-round, unlike big box stores. Their friendly staff is available to help you find what you need, like high quality organic Fox Farms products that are very expensive to purchase online. If you’re interested in a fall garden but you’ve missed the window for starting from seed, you can search your local Facebook Marketplace or Nextdoor Neighborhood to see if a fellow gardener is selling starts. We also confirmed that these local businesses will have fall starts mid to late August: