Closeup of freshly harvested vegetables (turnips, beetroots, carrots, round marrow), top view

3 Ways to Maximize Your Fall Garden

As summer transitions to fall and daylight hours grow shorter, the appearance of your vegetable garden—and your attitudes toward it—are undoubtedly shifting. With the change in the seasons, here are three ways to get the most from your garden over the days that remain.

1. Extend the Growing Season

Do you love gardening? Are summers never long enough? Depending on your home’s growing zone, you may have time to plant another crop of cool weather vegetables.

Based on the first frost date for your area, try extending the season with crops that mature quickly.

If overnight temps dip below freezing earlier than expected, you can cover vulnerable plants with a light sheet to protect them as long as possible before harvest.

Quick crops

6-8 weeks before frost: Lettuce, radishes, and beets.

8-10 weeks before frost: Greens like collards, kale, turnip, mustard, Swiss chard, and Chinese cabbage.

10-12 weeks before frost: Broccoli, onions, celery, cabbage, and some varieties of carrots.

Frost and freeze-hardy crops
Select cold-weather vegetables that can weather a light freeze, such as turnips, spinach, parsnips, and winter leeks.

Perennial crops
Plants like garlic, asparagus, and hardy herbs (oregano, sage, thyme, chives, rosemary, etc.) can be planted now and enjoyed for years to come.

2. Enjoy Your Final Harvest

At the end of the season, you may find yourself overrun with produce and lacking the energy and enthusiasm you felt when your first vegetables appeared in the spring.

Don’t let this final bounty go to waste. Instead, take time to harvest what remains!

  • Share the wealth with family, friends, and neighbors who don’t raise a garden.
  • Can, freeze or dehydrate excess vegetables for use over the winter.
  • Save seeds from heirloom plants to grow again next year.

3. Prepare for Next Spring

Fall is also a perfect time to get your garden in prime shape for another growing season. Preparing now will improve your future gardening success!

Clear the canvas
Remove all remaining annual plants and foliage, including the vegetables you grew, root and all. This will reduce your battles against weeds, disease, and pests next spring.

Test your soil
Determine what vital nutrients to boost over the winter. Try contacting your local agricultural extension office for information on university soil-testing laboratories.

You can also use a private laboratory or a self-test kit. Check your local home improvement store, garden supply company, or search “soil test kit” online.

Basic soil tests measure the soil’s pH, the amount of organic matter, and essential nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Nitrogen, an essential nutrient, isn’t usually tested because it can rapidly vary as it moves in and out of the soil.

Boost nutrients naturally
If you spread organic compost over your garden in the fall, nutrients will leach into the soil below, improving its condition over the winter. Then, in the spring, you can work the compost into your soil two weeks before sowing your first seeds.

To add nitrogen, a cover crop may be your best bet. Cover crops are thick-growing plants that choke weeds and reduce soil erosion while enriching the soil with nitrogen.

Also called “green mulch,” excellent cover crops include clover, peas, beans (including soy), and winter wheat.