How To Grow An Autumn Vegetable Garden?
It’s often said that in Southern California, fall symbolizes the beginning of the year’s second planting season. It’s true. There’s plenty of “cool-weather” vegetables that thrive in San Diego the last few months of the year, and we’re lucky to live in a region where gardening is possible year-round. Fall also represents a fantastic time to grow a garden because weeds grow slower, pests become less active, and watering can be less frequent.
So how do you grow an autumn vegetable garden?
Pick the right site
Although San Diego tends to stay relatively sunny from September through November, you still want to choose a spot in your yard that receives full sun. This is because the sun is less intense in the fall. For the best growth, choose a growing area that receives at least seven hours of sunlight a day. Only lettuces and leafy greens do well in less sunlight.
To that end, pick a spot that is away from trees and structures that cast shade. Also, keep in mind that trees’ root systems can steal your fall vegetables’ nutrients and water, so locate your plots away from large trees. Also consider using areas along fences or interplanting vegetables in flower beds exposed to full sun.
If you can’t find a suitable spot in the ground, grow vegetables in raised beds for more location flexibility. The side benefits of raised-bed planting is that your growing vegetables will be much easier to manage, and you can place plants closer together, and grow more in a smaller space. Just be sure to buy soil for that purpose.
For container gardening, buy big pots because the more soil you have, the better the plants are going to do because they’ve got more room for their roots. Two feet across is a good size. Lettuces and peas lend themselves to well to container growing, but cauliflower and cabbage tend to need more room than containers can typically provide.
Finally, when you shop for plants, note how wide and how tall the plant will grow because you want to put a plant in the appropriately-sized area.
Choose cool-season vegetables that thrive
Good “fall” vegetables to include in your garden include:
- brussels sprouts
The hardiest vegetables include onions, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, spinach, turnips, radishes, and asparagus.
Less hardy plants that are still well suited to Southern California fall gardening are: lettuce, beets, carrots, chard, parsley,
parsnips, broccoli, potatoes, and cauliflower.
“Tender” vegetables, or those impacted by the lightest frost or low temperatures even though frost does not occur include snap beans and sweet potatoes.
The most fragile vegetables that require the warmest fall soil include eggplant, squash, and pumpkin.
Prepare your plants and soil
Most of the fall vegetables you choose to plant will be planted from seeds, but others, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery and onions can be purchased as transplants at a local nursery. Using transplants typically saves six weeks of growing time.
To prepare the garden for planting, rototill or spade the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches, then break up clumps and rake the surface until it’s smooth. Organic compost and manures can be incorporated into the soil, and a fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorous and
potassium can also be mixed into the soil before planting. Mix fertilizer into the top six inches of the soil just before planting at the rate recommended on the product label. Water your garden space and let the soil settle for two days; then sow your seeds while the soil is still moist.
Plant more seeds than recommended, as some will not germinate. When the young seedlings appear and grow to a couple of inches high, thin them to the distances recommended on the seed packets. It is sometimes difficult, especially for the beginning gardener to pull up young, healthy plants, but thinning is an important process in successful gardening and must be done ruthlessly.
When transplanting vegetable plants into the garden, try to avoid making the transplant during the heat of midday. The best transplanting time is toward evening so the plants will have the cool night temperature to recover from transplant shock. Water the plants during the transplanting process.
Keep to an autumn garden timeline for planting and maintenance
According to Master Gardeners San Diego, the below timeline provides a good overview of the fall planting process:
- Start the fall vegetable garden.
- Plant carrots, radishes, beets, peas, and spinach seeds directly into the garden.
- Start seeds for cabbage, chard, onions, and scallions in flats.
- Keep beds moist.
- Continue to plant cool-season vegetables to extend harvest time.
- Fertilize the plants set out in September.
- Keep beds moist to ensure good germination.
- Pull weeds as they appear.
- Pick off insects and snails.
- Continue to plant fall/winter vegetables.
- Thin earlier plantings such as spinach and lettuce.
- Pull weeds and control pests.
- Keep plants moist.
- Feed plants that are actively growing with a balanced fertilizer. Those that have just been planted should not be fed again.
- Water unless there are substantial rains.
Additional autumn garden notes
Harvest begins in mid-November, although certain vegetables like radishes and lettuces tend to pop up earlier, while Brussels sprouts don’t mature until later in the season.
If you haven’t planted a fall garden before, start with a small area, and see evaluate how much time you have (and want) to devote to the second growing season.
Beyond planting vegetables, fall is the time to plant deciduous fruit trees, shrubs, and native California plants.
- Take a look at some of these great cookbooks and recipes for preparing (and eating) your fall garden bounty.
- Learn more about summer vegetables that yield a fall harvest.
A fall garden can actually be easier to manage than its warm-weather counterpart. Many of the crops grown in the cooler season tend to be hardier and require less maintenance than spring/summer vegetables. With the huge variety of plants that thrive when grown in the fall, why not give an autumn garden a go?
Do you garden in the fall? Do you have any tips to share?