When the days get shorter and other gardeners start abandoning their plots, don’t immediately pack in your hoe. Though most people think of fall as one long last-call for late summer crops and other warm-weather perennials, it can be plenty productive all on its own.
Just like with gardening in any other season, though, growing in fall has some special quirks.
You’ll have to select your edible and ornamental plants carefully (look for frost-resistant and quick-maturing varieties) and always keep one eye on the weather. Though most fall plants can take cooler temperatures and even a light frost in stride (especially if you take precautions like covering them at night), a serious freeze can still kill them for good. So before you start planting, know when the first frosts are expected in your region and do the math. Will your selected plants have enough time to mature?
To get you started here are a few plants and vegetables that have proven to work great in a fall garden.
Mums. It’s not really fall until you start seeing these guys popping up at garden centers and farm stands. While not all varieties of mums can withstand dropping temperatures, most marked “hardy” will stick around long enough to contribute some color (red, purple, yellow, orange, and more) to your flowerbeds.
Just make sure to keep their roots well-insulated with mulch.
Spinach (and other leafy vegetables). Spinach, cabbage, kale, and most varieties of lettuce actually prefer cooler temperatures and grow fairly fast—perfect for fall gardens. Just make sure to cover them at night if temperatures dip too low.
Carrots (and radishes, turnips, and beets). Since these root vegetables grow underground, they have a little extra time to work with. They may need to be harvested when they’re still on the small side. but they’ll still taste good.
Broccoli and cauliflower. Both vegetables are hardy, and can even grow all winter in more temperate parts of the country. Protect them from early frost, and you can have fresh broccoli well into the fall.
Ornamental grasses. These may not be as flashy as some of the flowering plants we’ve talked about so far, but grasses like blue fescue, miscanthus, and feather reed grass can add some beautiful motion to your garden. On top of being hardy, many produce pretty plumes in the autumn.
Sedum. Also known as “Autumn Joy,” this hardy plany flowers throughout late summer and fall and comes in all kinds of varieties and colors, from low-growing to tall and pink to white. It’s also generally easy to care for, though deer unfortunately love it.
Goldenrod. These plants, which bloom with clumps of fluffy yellow flowers in late summer and fall, need very little care. Because most varieties tend to be tall and fairly aggressive, you may want to keep it out of your beds, though. Try it around the outsides of your property.