Fall is my favorite time of year. Chestnut Praline Lattes. Family Time. Movies that give you the feels. More bearable weather (here in Florida) and prime time in the garden. Your best growing season will depend on where you live. But here in the south, and anywhere with a Hardiness Zone of 8 and above, fall is an amazing time for the gardener. If you’re interested in having a fall garden this year, then you may be interested in how to prepare your vegetable garden for the fall.
Why You Should Plant Vegetables in the Fall
If you’re not already trying to dig yourself out of the snow during the fall, you may find some benefits to having a garden during this time. You can plant more when the weather is mild, there are fewer insects, and it isn’t nearly as dry as it is in the spring. If you’re in a Hardiness Zone of 8 or higher, you may find it beneficial to know how to prepare your vegetable garden for the fall season.
The milder temperatures will definitely allow you to grow a wider selection of vegetables. Summers in the south can be limited because of how hot it gets. When nighttime temperatures stay above 70 degrees, there are a lot of plants that start to shut down and produce fewer blossoms. Fall can be an interesting time where both warm and cool-season crops can grow. You can have tomatoes and cucumbers growing next to cabbages and beets.
Fewer Insect Pests
For the organic gardener, and really any gardener, pests can be one of our biggest issues. During the spring all the insects come out and start having a party on our newly planted tomatoes. But after the hot summer, the insects start to become less vigorous. I find I have to use something to deter insect pests in the spring. I typically use Neem Oil Spray. (To learn more you can check out Neem Oil for Organic Gardening and Pest Control). But during the fall this is sometimes unnecessary for me to do. Fall gardens are less maintenance because there are fewer harmful insects.
I find that in the fall here in Florida, I don’t have to water my garden nearly as much as I do in the spring. Spring here can be dry. If you live somewhere that is dry during the spring, and rainy during the fall, then you may find that this is a benefit for you to have a fall garden. If you’re able to plant your garden during the rainy season, then you won’t have to spend as much time watering your garden. And rainwater is actually better for your garden than tap water because it’s free of the chemicals used in tap water.
Clean Your Garden Beds
To prepare your vegetable garden for the fall season, the first thing you’ll want to do is to clean your garden beds. If you let your garden grow a bit during the summer because of the heat, or because of summer vacation and family trips, you may find an abundance of weeds that need to be pulled. Any previous plants that you’ve grown that have gone through their lifecycle may need to be removed. And any fallen fruit will also need to be discarded.
Pull the Weeds
It’s important to get rid of any weeds that you may find in your garden. Not only are they unattractive and make it look like you’re not keeping up with your garden (even though you spent an hour last week cleaning everything!), but they also deplete your soil and plants with important nutrients. Because weeds grow quickly they can overtake what you’re trying to grow. They can absorb water faster and grow tall enough to block your plants from getting sunlight. This is especially significant when your plants are still small.
Remove Spent Plants
To prepare your vegetable garden for the fall season, you may also need to remove a few spent plants. If you have a few peppers plants that are no longer producing as much as they once did, or you have some tomato plants that have long since died in June, it’s time to remove those spent plants. By doing this you’ll make your garden look more attractive, and you’ll also create space to plant your new plants. If your plants are no longer producing food for you, then they should be removed so that they don’t complete for any nutrition that your new plants are fighting for. This will also give your soil a chance to rest before you plant something new.
Discard Any Fallen Fruit
You may not have noticed it before, but you may have some fallen, half-eaten fruit in your garden. This could have been hiding under your spent plants or among the weeds, but it’s time for it to go. If you find any, it’s important that you discard it. While you can leave fallen leaves to decompose in your beds, you’ll want to remove fruit because it can rot, create disease in your garden, and attract larger pests to your garden. And believe me, if you find insects a pain, wait until you have small rodents. The cleaner your garden is, the fewer problems you’ll run into.
Replenish Your Soil
Once you’ve tidied up your garden you can start assessing your soil. You’ll want to make sure you have high-quality soil to prepare your vegetable garden for the fall season. When you grow plants, they absorb the nutrients and minerals that are in your soil. Over time, this depletes your soil. You can add those nutrients back to your soil and make it an ideal growing environment by adding compost, checking your pH levels, and adding additional amendments as you see fit.
Before a growing season, you should add two inches of compost to your garden bed and mix it in. You can purchase it or make your own compost. Composting is one of the best ways to feed your garden and keep your garden soil healthy. By making your own you can use basic kitchen scraps that you’d throw away otherwise. If you’re interested to see if making your own compost is right for you, check out Composting for a Backyard Garden.
If you opt to purchase a bag of compost to prepare your vegetable garden for the fall, I recommend Black Kow. It’s a 50lb bag you can purchase from Lowe’s. Here is a link for you to see what it looks like, but I do NOT recommend buying this on Amazon: Black Kow. You can get it at Lowe’s for around $5. I use two of these bags for each of my 4’x8′ raised garden beds.
Check Your Soil pH Levels
Depending on where you’re at in your gardening journey, you may want to check your soil pH levels. While pH levels are important, if you’re adding compost and not planting the same vegetable in the same spot year after year you should be ok. But if your curiosity gets the best of you, or you’ve noticed a trend with your plants not being successful, you may want to try testing your soil pH levels. A soil meter can give you an idea of how acidic or alkaline your soil is. Different plants like different levels. To learn more about testing your soil pH levels and to see a list of optimal pH levels for different vegetables, check out Testing Your Soil pH Levels.
Add Additional Amendments
Once you know your soil pH levels you can add additional amendments to your soil. While composting should help quite a bit, you can add other supplements. I garden organically, so I avoid fertilizers with harmful and toxic chemicals. Some Additional amendments you can use to prepare your vegetable garden for the fall include used coffee grounds, worm castings, blood meal, and bone meal.
- Coffee Grounds: While any used coffee grounds will do, these do happen to be my favorite. Cappuccino drinker here. 🙂 Used coffee grounds are a good organic amendment to add nutrients and improve drainage. And earthworms love them! Most coffee shops will even give you their used grounds if you ask.
- Worm Castings: Speaking of earthworms, worm castings are a fantastic amendment to add to your garden. This is one of the richest fertilizers you can do. A little goes a long way – we’re talking tablespoons here. It’s rich in minerals for your plants.
- Bone Meal: This can add calcium and phosphorus to your soil to helps with root growth, flower growth, and to prevent blossom-end rot. It can also raise your soil pH level over time. To learn more, check out this Bone Meal Post.
- Blood Meal: This adds nitrogen back into your soil to help your plants become more green and lush. It comes in a black granular form that you add to your soil. Blood meal can also make your soil more acidic, which lowers the pH level of your soil. To learn more, check out this Blood Meal Post.
Plan Your Garden Bed Layout
Now that you’ve cleaned your garden beds and you’ve gotten your soil quality up to par, the final step to focus on to prepare your vegetable garden for the fall season is planning your garden bed layout. What are you going to fill your beautiful garden beds with?
Know Your Hardiness Zone
When you plant your garden depends on where you’re located. USDA Hardiness Zones break up the different regions to help gardeners know when and what to plant. This is dependent on the temperatures of the area. Gardeners who are in a Hardiness Zone of 8 and above enjoy longer growing seasons than those further up north who have long, cold winters. The heat during the summer can be a bit much for southern gardeners, so we’re limited during that time while the north is thriving. But we make up for it with what we can grow during the fall. Before you start your fall garden, it’s important to know what Hardiness Zone you’re located in. If you’re not sure, check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. The picture below is from their site. Here in Central Florida, my Hardiness Zone is 9b.
Know What Varieties to Grow
Did you know that vegetables come in different varieties? For example, there are many different varieties of tomatoes. Some can handle the cooler weather, while others can handle the warmer weather. Some can handle humidity, while others are more sensitive. And there are many different flavors – some smoky, some fruity. To know what varieties do well in your Hardiness Zone you can check with your local Extension Office. They typically offer growing guides on their sites, though you sometimes have to hunt for them. This can help a lot when you prepare your vegetable garden for the fall. Here is one that shows Florida vegetable varieties.
Know When to Plant and Where
You may have to do some digging on your Local Extension Office website, but they should have some guides on what months are the best for you to plant your vegetables. If you find yourself in Zone 9b, then the following guides should help you to know when to plant, and what varieties to plant. These were modified from my local Florida Extension Office to include a little extra information to help assist you with your gardening. But feel free to experiment. Every year there’s slightly different weather, and even if you’re located in the city vs. the country will play a factor. The most important thing is to know your first and last frost date.
- August Central Florida Planting Guide
- September Central Florida Planting Guide
- October Central Florida Planting Guide
- November Central Florida Planting Guide
Once you know what you’re growing and when you’re growing it, you can start designing your garden layout to prepare your vegetable garden for the fall. I love using my Garden Planner to sketch out my garden layout and track everything. I usually go through a few different iterations before I decide on my final plan for the season. I use square foot gardening for my garden beds and I also grow a lot in pots. Drawing out my garden layout also helps me remember what I planted, and if I want to use the same design next year.
Know if You’re Starting With Seeds or Seedlings
When starting your garden you can start from seeds or plants. I recommend seeds for a few reasons, but it depends on what you’re doing and what you want. Ultimately, your garden is your creation, and you should do what’s most true to you. That being said, I typically opt for seeds because I love to watch the whole lifecycle of my plants. Because I have multiple garden beds I plant a decent amount every year and seeds are cheaper. I have also found it is sometimes a challenge to transplant plants from local garden centers. Some don’t transplant well, like squash. If you’re interested in growing herbs, I find they transplant easily. You may even find better success growing them from plants. Not to mention you won’t have to wait to start benefiting from them.
If you decide to purchase seeds, I recommend looking at Botanical Interests. They have a wide selection of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers that you might not find at big-box stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. They also have a lot of heirloom and organic seeds. I’ve found their seeds to be very reliable when it comes to germination rates so I can’t say enough good things about them!
And that’s about it! Hopefully, you now know how to prepare your vegetable garden for the fall! Do you have any fall garden prep traditions? Comment below!
Happy Gardening! 🙂