Nothing compares to the garden-fresh flavor of homegrown vegetables harvested right outside your backdoor.
But while many gardeners gear up for the traditional spring planting, they don’t realize that fall is also an ideal time to plant.
Planting vegetables from late July through early September results in the produce maturing in late September through Thanksgiving. Vegetables that ripen during cool, fall days often taste better than those grown in the hot, dry days of summer. Insects, diseases and weeds also 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 tolerant it is to frost.
Vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower take a little longer, so plant these in late July or early August. Because lettuce, spinach and radishes take less time to develop, plant them in late August through early September.
It is difficult 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 produce better crops in the fall as we have a longer, cooler fall period for the full development of the plants and flavors. These are considered cool-season crops and best planted from transplants.
Beets, turnips and carrots are root crops perfect for growing in the fall. Plant various lettuces, spinaches, kale and other greens August through mid-September. Peas and onions are not suited for fall planting.
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 the soil. Timely watering is critical for success.
A light layer of mulch helps shade the soil to retain moisture. Sowing the seeds a little deeper than recommended may help retain moisture needed for good germination.
Gardening in the fall season is no different from spring and in fact, can be a little easier once the plants are established.
Warm soil temperatures encourage rapid growth, weeds do not germinate, and diseases are rare with fall crops. Since the fall season can be dry in our area, regular watering is key to keep the plants growing.
As you enjoy the bounty of fresh homegrown produce later this year, you will be glad you took advantage of the often overlooked fall season.
Need more assistance? Search for the K-State Research and Extension publication “Kansas Garden Guide S51.” It has a wealth of information on local vegetable 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.