KC Gardens

Prepare now for fall vegetable garden

Broccoli usually produces the best crops in the fall.
Broccoli usually produces the best crops in the fall. Special to The Star

Nothing compares to the fresh flavor of home-grown vegetables harvested right outside your back door. Vegetable gardening has undergone a resurgence in recent years, and while gardeners naturally gear up for spring, a fall planting will extend the harvest season.

Planting vegetables from late July through early September results in a crop in late September through Thanksgiving or later. Vegetables that mature during cool fall days often have better flavor than those that ripen in the hot, dry days of summer. Insects, disease and weeds tend to be less of an issue in fall.

▪ When to plant: Planting dates depend on two factors: how long the crop takes to develop and how frost/freeze tolerant it is.

Vegetables 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. Plant them in late August through early September.

It’s hard to predict the exact date, but the average first frost in the Kansas City area occurs around mid-October.

▪ What to plant: 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, spinaches, 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. Peas and onions are not suited for fall planting.

▪ Establishing seedlings: 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.

But 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 help establishment, as the soil will retain more moisture needed for good germination.

▪ Gardening practices: Gardening in the fall can be a little easier than in the spring 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. Fall can be dry in our area, which means timely irrigation will keep the plants growing.

Warm days promote growth, and cooler nights develop the flavors and quality of the harvest. As you munch on the bounty of fresh, home-grown produce later this year, you will be glad that you took advantage of the often overlooked fall season.

Do an internet search for the K-State Cooperative Extension publication “Kansas Garden Guide S51” for a wealth of information on fall gardening.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org or visit KCGardens.KansasCity.com.