Autumn may be one of my favorite times to garden. Our hot summers come to an end and with that pest pressure and disease lesson. It’s also a time to revisit those things we love about a spring garden. Usually by the time we start to harvest from our autumn garden, we are really tired of eating squash or anything else that was really prolific in our summer garden. I love that things also slow down in the garden. We don’t have to water as often as the soil stay moist for longer periods of time. We can thoroughly enjoy the garden without baking in the heat, which makes lounging in the garden all the more enjoyable. If you don’t make it a point to just sit in your garden without any agenda, I highly suggest you start! Sitting in the gardening without any purpose other than relaxing and enjoying all your hard work and time can bring a sense of renewal, peace and connection. The autumn garden is perfect for this at any time of day. I want to share a few tips to have a successful autumn garden. Once you start utilizing the shoulder seasons, you’ll see how much more you can get out of your garden!
Timing – When it comes to timing your autumn garden, it is highly based around your first frost date and sunlight hours. To determine your first frost date, a simple internet search will work. If your city doesn’t come up, use the closest one. Frost dates are averages and do not mean a frost is guaranteed by that date, we can have frost and cold weather before or after these dates. They just give us a clue about our seasonal weather, which is crucial to know when it comes to gardening. If you plan to start seeds and transplant them to the garden a simple way to know if you still have time is to look at days to germination (DTG), add days to maturity (DTM) and add on about two weeks to account for the loss of sunlight hours.
(DTG + DTM + 2 weeks = Approximate time to harvest before first frost.) This will let you know of you have enough time for your plants to reach harvest before a frost. Use this for warm weather crops as well as anything that isn’t frost sensitive. I also like to use this formula to make sure any frost hardy/tolerant plants are a good size by the time we reach our first frost, which usually means we are short on daylight hours and plants grow much slower. Plants will go dormant with less than 10 hours of daylight, so calculate for that too! They just won’t grow with less daylight, once we reach less than 10 hours of daylight it’s called the Persephone Period. You can do an internet search to see when your Persephone Period is. This will also clue you in to when anything you have overwintered might come out of dormancy, if temperatures are right also.
Pull Plants – This can be the hard part of starting an autumn garden. You will need to make room for your autumn plants by removing your warm weather plants. They may still be giving you harvests that have slowed down. You will have to really look at the plants and decide what needs to go. I suggest cutting plants out at the soil level and leaving the roots to feed to soil. Take out all plants that look worse for wear, are diseased, have had a rough go with pest pressure. Any annual that has served its purpose by giving you multiple harvests. You can also remove anything you are plain old done growing, the plant you are tired of eating from. You need to make room for new harvests from new plants, so the old ones whose lifecycle is coming to an end or will be killed by the frost need to go. Of course if you have room in your garden to continue your summer garden until the killing frost and plant all your autumn plants, then do that! Most of us don’t have the space for that. Focus on growing cool season plants in autumn and you’ll have fantastic results.
Amend The Soil – I recommend amending the soil before each growing season and then again at the end of the autumn season if you will not be overwintering anything. (This helps nourish your soil in the off season.) A good 2-3 inch layer of finished organic compost from a trusted source will make for nourishing and happy soil. You can also add in worm castings. Feeding the soil helps replenish what was used during the summer garden and ensures your autumn garden plants have the nutrients they need to thrive.
Prepare For Cold Weather – With autumn comes the possibility of really cold temperatures. To help protect smaller seedlings or new transplants make sure you have some sort of frost protection in case of freezing temperatures. If you are growing frost hardy plants, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. In fact a lot of plants get sweeter and better tasting with a frost. If you plan to grow anything throughout the winter, considered using cold frames or plastic covers or thick frost blankets/covers. I have hardened with and without covers and find somethings do well either way, while others may become damaged from truly freezing temperatures. I use fleece frost covers. In a pinch you can use a clear tote, sheets, etc. Some people will even put holiday lights under the covers to keep plants warm on especially cold nights. Having covers ready will make sure you are prepared for whatever the weather brings.
Harvest – When it comes to autumn harvests, know that as the daylight hours lesson and temperatures cool down plants will grow much slower. Things that were easily used as cut and come again greens may take a long time to grow new leaves. Plan ahead for this by making sure you maximize your growing space with intensive planting to have more plants to harvest from. You’ll be able to leave things longer on the plant than in a summer garden too if needed. Keep in mind things in the Brassicaceae family like kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc. become more sweet as the sugars concentrate after a frost. This makes for a delightful flavor that was’t there in the warmer months. Enjoy your harvest!
I hope these tips encourage and help you to grow an autumn garden! Let me know your favorite autumn plants to grow in the comments! If you need 1:1 help via a coaching session, book in soon as space and time are very limited! ➡️ Coaching Session