Nothing can compare to the fresh, just-picked flavor of home-grown vegetables harvested right outside your back door. Many gardeners naturally gear up for the traditional spring planting, but fall will extend the harvest season.
Planting vegetables from late July through early September results in the produce maturing in late September through Thanksgiving, or even later. Vegetables that mature during cool fall days are often better flavored than those that mature in the hot, dry days of summer. Also, insect pests tend to be less of an issue in late summer and fall.
When to plant
Planting dates depend on two factors: how long the crop takes to develop, and how frost/freeze tolerant the crop is. Some crops like broccoli and cauliflower take a little longer and are planted in late July or early August. Lettuce, spinach and radishes take less time to develop and planting can be done in late August through early September. Although it can be difficult to predict the exact date, the average first frost in the Kansas City area occurs around mid-October.
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What to plant
Crops that are best adapted to the fall season are mainly cool-season crops.
Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower usually produce better crops in the fall than spring. This is because we have a longer cooler period for full development of the plants and flavors. These are best planted from transplants. Beets, turnips and carrots are root crops perfect for growing in the fall. Various lettuces, spinach, kale and other greens can be planted in August through mid-September.
Some warm-season crops such as beans, cucumbers and summer squash can also be grown as fall crops.
The challenge of fall gardening is establishing the seedlings because hot, dry summer winds and sun can quickly dry out the soil. Timely watering is the key to success.
The good news is that seeds planted in the warm soils germinate more rapidly, speeding up the whole establishment process. A light layer of mulch will help shade the soil to retain moisture. Sowing the seeds a little deeper than recommended may also help with establishment.
Gardening in the fall is no different than spring and in fact can be a little easier once the plants are established. Soils are warm, which promotes good growth; weeds don’t germinate; and insects and diseases are rare with fall crops. Watering is the key, as fall can be dry in our area.
Dennis Patton is a Johnson County Extension horticulture agent. To get your gardening questions answered by him, go to kcgardens.kansascity.com.