Spring planting for summer vegetables may be the norm, but several crops do better in a fall garden. Extending your gardening calendar into fall allows several crops to produce a larger harvest and allows you to enjoy fresh vegetables for a longer period. Planting dates and crops vary by U.S. region.
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Tender vs. Hardy
Vegetables are classified as tender, semi-hardy or hardy. Tender vegetables are those that become damaged or killed by light frost. They include cucumber (Cucumis sativus), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), sweet corn (Zea mays var. saccharata) and pepper (Capsicum spp.). Many of those have a long growing season.
Semi-hardy vegetables are those that can tolerate light to moderate frosts. That kind includes carrot (Daucus carota), parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) and lettuce (Lactuca sativa).
The hardiest vegetables thrive in cool conditions, and some even produce better flavor when exposed to hard frost. The hardiest vegetables include the cole crops, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and kale (Brassica oleracea variations). Other hardy crops include peas (Pisum sativum), turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa) and onion (Allium cepa).
Semi-hardy and hardy vegetables are best for fall gardens throughout most of the country, although some regions may have enough frost-free weather throughout autumn for some short-season tender crops.
Understanding your climate gives you a strong basis for your fall vegetable garden. Climates in Florida, for example, vary greatly from those in Indiana and, therefore, require different planting dates for certain crops.
Planting dates depend greatly on two factors: the first average annual frost date and days to harvest. The average date of the first frost in your area gives you an idea of when tender and semi-hardy vegetables need to be harvested. The days to harvest, a number of days listed on the back of seed packets, informs you how many days it takes your crop to mature. Tender crops can be covered with blankets, plastic jugs or other items to protect them from light frosts.
In Indiana and various other parts of the Midwest, August is the ideal time for planting several fall crops, including beets (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris), lettuce, peas, bush beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) and cole crops.
In California, August is ideal for setting out transplants and seedlings of cole crops and seeds of carrot, lettuce, rutabaga (Brassica napus, Napobrassica Group*) and turnip.
During August in central Florida, you can sow seeds of short-season cucumbers, peppers, pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo var. pepo) and watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) directly into garden soil.
Although a difference of only one month, planting in September vs. August is greatly different in certain regions. In Indiana, for example, September planting is limited primarily to radish (Raphanus sativus), leaf lettuce and onion.
In the Sacramento region of California, you can set out certain cole crop transplants and sow seeds for lettuce and spinach (Spinacia oleracea).
If you are a Central Floridian, you can plant seeds for root crops, leafy greens including lettuce, and cucumbers. Set out transplants of onion and cole crops as well as the fruit plant strawberry (Fragaria ananassa) during September and October.