A Fall of Gardening Possibilities

Many people consider fall to be the season of slowing down on gardening activities and focusing on garden cleanup and plans for next year. However, fall is actually full of possibilities in the gardening realm.  Those experienced and novice gardeners who have enjoyed the visual and gustatory delights of vegetable gardening in spring and summer can continue well into the fall and winter with some planning and science-based techniques. What better way to distract yourself, your family, and friends from the anxiety of this stressful COVID time, get fresh air and exercise, and enjoy delicious, healthy produce!

NOW is the time to consider your options and begin your fall planting! A well-timed article on Gardening for Resilience: The Bounty of Fall Vegetables in the August 2020 issue of PMG’s monthly newsletter, The Garden Shed, will give you a head start. It covers the basics: the why, what and when, where and how, along with practical tips and online resources as you delve into the details.

The choice of vegetables to grow in Fall include beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, endive, lettuce, parsnips, potatoes and Swiss chard, all of which tolerate a light frost (30–32 degrees F). Hardy crops like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, other cabbages, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, onion, parsley, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips will tolerate a hard frost (20–30 degrees F).  There are many ways to maximize the bounty of your gardening efforts by advance planning, using intensive gardening methods, smart harvesting, preserving, and reducing food waste.

The benefits of a fall crop following your spring and summer harvest can be continued with season extenders. These can be simple or elaborate, homemade or store-bought, and range from cold frames and hot beds, to cloches, tunnels or row covers, hot caps, or even a greenhouse. After gathering the last of your fall veggies, make sure to clean up your garden in anticipation of next year’s planting. Consider planting a cover crop, like alfalfa, barley, fava beans, forage radish, oats, winter cereal rye, hairy vetch, or winter wheat. Cover crops reduce soil erosion, add organic material and nutrients to the soil, help prevent winter weeds, and improve soil structure.

Even after the fall garden is normally put to bed, gardening activities don’t have to come to an end. Herbs can be grown year-round outdoors in low tunnels or indoors in containers. Looking ahead to the next growing season, the avid gardener can continue gardening forward in January in Virginia by winter sowing seeds outdoors. This adventurous technique is useful for gardeners who don’t have space or lighting to grow seeds indoors.

Gardening, indeed, can become year-round, if so desired. When you finally put your feet up and relax after many productive months of effort and enjoying the results, you can begin the planning all over again. Or you can tuck into new reads for the Earth-loving gardener! The fall and winter gardening possibilities can be many and very rewarding.



For Vegetable Gardening

“Home Vegetable Gardening”, Virginia Cooperative Extension

“The Fall Vegetable Garden”, Rosie Lerner, Purdue Extension

“Vegetable Gardening in Containers”, Diane Relf & John Freeborn, Virginia Cooperative Extension

“Virginia’s Home Garden Vegetable Gardening Planting Guide”Alex Hessler, Director of Home Fields Farm at Virginia Tech

For Season Extenders

“Season Extenders and Growing Fall Vegetables“, Penn State Extension

“Smart Vegetable Gardening with Season Extenders” , Michigan State University Extension

For Growing Herbs

“Herbs in Containers and Growing Indoors”, University of Maryland Extension

For Winter Gardening

“Growing Food in Winter”, Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia

“Sow Your Seeds Outdoors—in Winter!”, Fairfax County Master Gardeners