Growing vegetables in fall and winter

September 07, 2010|By ANNETTE IPSAN / Extension Educator and STACEY GERARD / County Master Gardener
  • Annette Ipsan

Fall can be the most enjoyable and productive time of year for vegetable gardening. It takes less time and gets more results.

First, get your garden ready for planting. Clean up the area, removing dead plants and debris. Compost them if they were healthy; toss them if they weren't. Pull weeds, then turn the soil, working in a few inches of compost.

When should you plant? Our first frost is in early November 90 percent of the time, but it can be as late as Thanksgiving. Know your crops' frost tolerance and maturity dates and plant early enough to let them reach maturity before a killing frost.

Some summer crops -- tomatoes, bush beans, squash and cucumbers -- can grow into fall, but need to be protected from an early frost. Other vegetables such as beets, carrots, cauliflower, swiss chard, bok choi, lettuce and potato can withstand a bit of frost without protection. Many are hardy enough to withstand several hard frosts, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, onion, parsley, peas, radish, spinach and turnips.


Other vegetables do their best in the fall. Here is a quick guide:

o Late-maturing crops (90 days) -- Garlic and shallots should be started mid-October to November and left in the ground through the winter for harvest next summer. Bunching or green onions can be planted in early fall for a late fall harvest. Beets, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, chard, peas and carrots grow well in the fall. Both cabbage and kale often over winter.

o Mid-maturing crops (60 days) -- Some varieties of early carrots, leeks, turnips, kohlrabi, swiss chard, early cabbages, bok choi, mustard greens and collards can still be planted in September. Leeks often withstand a winter freeze. You can also plant perennial herbs like rosemary, oregano, sage and thyme.

o Early-maturing crops (30 days) -- Lettuce, spinach, arugula, radishes, endive and chives grow well in the fall, maturing quickly. Plant some every few weeks for a continual harvest.

No matter what fall vegetables you choose, develop a garden plan that rotates crops to boost nutrition and avoid pest and disease problems. Plant similar crops in different places each season.

Several tricks let you extend your growing season, including frost covers, raised beds, covered rows and cold frames. To protect tender plants from frost, cover with light blankets, cloth or commercial row cover or top individual plants with milk jugs or buckets.

Raised beds elevate soil temperature 8 to 12 degrees. You can build a raised bed with a permanent frame of stone, wood or brick or simply mound soil 12 to 18 inches. To create an insulating covered row, top a wire or hoop frame with a protective covering such as a commercial row cover.

Cold frames provide warmth and protection throughout the winter. A cold frame is simply an open-bottomed box taller in the back covered with a window sash. The sash is opened and closed to regulate heat. E-mail or call me for a fact sheet on cold frames.

Healthy soil grows healthy plants, so remember to feed your soil. Give any uncovered soil a nutritional boost and protection from weeds with a cover crop, compost or mulch. Add an organic mulch of straw, compost, chopped leaves, untreated grass clippings, aged manure, peat moss or shredded newspaper in October or November. Or, sow a cover crop like rye grass, alfalfa, clover or buckwheat that you can turn under in the spring.

Enjoy your fall and winter vegetable garden.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604, or by e-mail at">

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