Fall Gardening 101: What to Plant

“Organic farming appealed to me because it involved searching for and discovering nature’s pathways, as opposed to the formulaic approach of chemical farming. The appeal of organic farming is boundless; this mountain has no top, this river has no end.” Eliot Coleman

Many hobby gardeners think of gardening as a spring and summer activity, but it’s actually a four season one. You can garden in spring, summer, fall and even winter! Pretty much all vegetables can be planted in the spring and harvested late summer, but some of them actually prefer and thrive in different weather patterns. Fall is actually an ideal time to plant certain vegetables like carrots and kale. 

This means you can have at least two consecutive harvests of many of your favorite vegetables. Planting for a fall harvest sets you up with fresh vegetables for the colder months, especially if you don’t have a root cellar to store those summer crops. Think pulling sugar sweet carrots out of your garden when there is a fresh, sparkly frost on the ground, to make a hardy carrot and squash soup. Sign me up! Lengthening your growing season is a great way to stay rooted outdoors, even when there is a chill in the air. So what can you plant and when? Let’s get into it.


First things first, when you plant out your vegetables for fall will greatly depend on what zone you’re in. Check out the interactive zone map and first and last frost date finder under resources to get a feel for your area’s weather patterns. 

Root vegetables and greens tend to be what does best in the fall and early winter and most get sweeter with every frost. Let’s start with the roots!

carrots in a stainless steel bowl

Root Vegetables


Plant out your carrot seeds 8-10 weeks before your average first frost date that comes in the fall. Keep your carrot seedlings well watered and evenly moist to make sure they establish well in the heat. Carrots can be finicky to germinate and moisture is extremely important for good germination. Once the weather cools down, they will do wonderfully, but continue to keep the ground moist. 

You can extend harvest time by mulching carrots with a thick layer of straw or leaf matter to keep them safe from super cold temps which will kill the roots. You can also add a row cover or mini hoop house to keep your carrots and other veg slightly warmer and safe from frozen ground. Your carrots will live through frosts, but they will die, if unprotected once the ground freezes. Make sure to check which variety works best for you, as some carrots are better for overwintering than others, like the Napoli. Other good varieties are New Kuroda and Kyoto Red. If you don’t have a root cellar, you can store them in damp sand in a cool spot that stays below 60 degrees in your home or garage.

turnip being pulled out of ground


All of the root vegetables on this list will have many similar planting, harvesting, and storing needs. Plant your turnip seeds directly into the soil about 8-10 weeks before your average first frost. You can treat your turnips exactly the same as carrots! Keep moist, but not oversaturated. 

Harvesting your turnips is mostly up to your preference. Like carrots, they taste sweeter when a few frosts have come and gone, but need to be heavily mulched to protect them from hard frosts and freezing. Store in a container of damp sand. Layering sand and roots, while making sure the roots don’t touch. Check out this guide for winter food storage to learn more. Good cold hardy varieties include Tokinashi and Purple Top



Plant beet seeds about 6 weeks before your average first frost. Keep beets evenly moist and make sure they germinate well. You can also soak your beet seeds before planting to help them germinate quickly. Mulch, harvest, and store as you would turnips and carrots. Are you seeing a pattern here yet? Cold hardy beet varieties include Crosby Egyptian and Cylindra.


Radish is super fast growing and can reach maturity in as little as 28 days. Plant 4-6 weeks before the first frost and watch your radishes go crazy. Check out the different maturing times of varieties to choose which one looks best to you. Ones that do well in the fall are these Miyashige White Fall Radish and  Red Head (Roodkopje) Radish from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Harvest before the ground freezes and store in your fridge or in sand. 

girl planting seeds in a raised bed



Plant your lettuce out about 8 weeks days before your average first frost. Keep the soil well watered and evenly moist. Lettuce does extremely well in cool temperatures and actually requires them to germinate. That’s why most people rely on lettuces and other greens as their first harvest in their gardens. When temperatures get too hot, lettuces tend to go bitter and bolt.

 Growing lettuce in a hoop house or cold frame can help lengthen your harvest time by keeping your lettuce protected in the early winter. Varieties that do well in the fall and winter include this Winter Density Lettuce recommended by The Seasonal Homestead Blog. Butter Crunch and Romaine are also cold tolerant and do well for early winter harvesting if grown with some cover. Harvest as needed.


Kale is crazy cold tolerant. Some people even overwinter their kale completely, because it will come back in the spring. The best time to plant your kale for fall harvest is 6-8 weeks before your average first frost. Keep well watered and evenly moist, just like all the other vegetables in your fall garden. 

You can protect your kale in a cold frame or hoop house to overwinter it so that you get spring growth, but some people report not having to cover their kale at all. If you live in an area with a slightly milder winter, you may not need to protect your kale. We say give it a test and see what happens. Cover some and leave some uncovered to see what your kale can handle. Choosing varieties that are extra cold hardy like Red Russian and Winterbor will help with success. Kale is also a green that improves in flavor after a light frost or two. 

lettuce and scissors in a basket


Spinach, like kale, can be overwintered and is very cold hardy. It will do best in a cold frame or a hoop house, but can survive the winter and produce in the spring with just a little protection. Plant spinach at the same time you plant your kale, 6-8 weeks before your first frost. Keep well watered and evenly moist. 

Choose a variety like this Giant Winter Spinach to ensure you have a good cold hardy plant. Harvest as needed.

Our Tips

  • Keep in mind variety. Some varieties are bred to be cold hardy. Not all turnips will do well in the cold, but some varieties like Purple Top will. This goes for all fall vegetables. 
  • Keep everything evenly moist and well watered. 
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch. Straw is your friend. 

Gardening in the fall can seem intimidating, but it’s easy and a great way to extend having fresh vegetables in your home. Plus you have a little extra time to enjoy having your hands in the dirt. Happy planting!

*Some information gathered from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

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