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In our last post, we talked about several considerations for starting a fall garden. But it doesn’t stop with soil, location, or available space. Here are 3 more things you should know to get started in successful fall gardening.
Even if you have acres of high-quality soil available for planting, your fall crops won’t grow without adequate sunlight.
Sunlight is especially important as temperatures cool, because soil with the most sunlight stays warm the longest. In addition, south- to southwest-facing slopes warm up the earliest and cool down later in the year. Consider what sunlight your fall garden will receive and when, adjusting your plans so that your plants enjoy the most sunlight possible during cooler weather.
Ironically, some fruit matures best in cooler weather. Crops like peas, spinach, lettuce, and Asian greens are actually easier to grow in the fall, because in the springtime, the increasing heat brings on bolting (seeding) too quickly. As temperatures drop during the fall, however, plant growth slows, and your fall crops won’t go to seed so quickly.
Of course, that also means you’ll need to adjust timing for your fall plantings. Usually, adding 2 more weeks will suffice, though it differs with different types of plants and from variety to variety.
Season Length & Calculating Planting Dates
Average Frost Dates & Planting Dates
Like we mentioned above, you’ll need to know your average spring and fall frost dates in order to accurately plan your garden schedule. Generally, your season length is the difference between your Last Average Spring Frost Date and your First Average Fall Frost Date.
While these are important dates, remember that the key is average frost date. Even if you find your average frost date online, it may be slightly different in your real-life garden, due to microclimates. Check with your neighbors or your local agricultural extension office for the most accurate data. In addition to your frost dates, you will need to know your zone and lead times.
Here are sample calculations for five common fall crops with a First Average Fall Frost Date (FFD) of October 15th.
• Weeks before FFD: 13
• Indoor planting date: June 25
• Plant outside x weeks before FFD: 9
• Outdoor planting date: July 23
• Weeks before FFD: 10
• Plant outside x weeks before FFD: 10
• Outdoor planting date: August 8
• Weeks before FFD: 15
• Plant outside x weeks before FFD: 15
• Outdoor planting date: July 5
• Weeks before FFD: 8
• Plant outside x weeks before FFD: 8
• Outdoor planting date: August 6
• Weeks before FFD: 9
• Plant outside x weeks before FFD: 9
• Outdoor planting date: August 12
Please note: These are the latest dates without frost protection. Frost protection could allow for later planting. Successive plantings could also be done earlier.
Fall Planting Calculator
Fall gardening requires many precise calculations, if you want to grow a successful fall garden. Does the thought of doing all that math overwhelm you? Are you worried that you might get something wrong? Do you wonder which plants need started as seedlings?
Our FREE Fall Planting Calculator allows you to input your First Average Frost Date and then calculate the following for 40 types of crops:
- For plants that need to be started as seedlings, then transplanted into the garden, the latest Indoor Start Date
- For plants that are direct seeded, the latest date to plant them outdoors
- For seedlings, the latest transplant date
- Based on the current date, it tells you whether you can still plant this crop or not
Some people are actually able to keep plants alive all winter under frost protection, while others can keep greens into December. When it gets very cold, crops might not actually grow, but if you keep them protected, they won’t freeze, either. Talk about a natural, garden-based storage and refrigeration system!
You just need to pay attention to your area. Get to know experienced neighbors, gardeners, and local farmers. Understand how microclimates (including heavily populated areas or geographical characteristics) may affect your temperatures, and plan for those adjustments. Also, consider how microclimates will effect moisture for your plants. Will it be too wet to plant anything at all?
Conclusion – Successful Fall Gardening
You now know several more tips that will help you have a successful fall gardening experience. Now that you’ve considered sunlight and temperature and calculated your planting dates using your frost dates, frost protection, and microclimates, it’s time to start planting! In our next post, we’ll discuss laying out and planting fall garden crops in your garden, so they produce the most possible harvest during this short growing season.