New To Fall Gardens? Learn When To Plant One In Your Zone

chard and beets in garden

Knowing when to plant your fall garden is not an exact science. It takes experience and understanding of your local climate to decide on planting dates. But if you’re new to gardening or you’ve moved to a new area, then there are two pieces of information that can provide a starting point.

With your zone and frost dates, you’ll learn when to get your fall garden going.

Fall vegetable gardens should be planted in July and August in USDA zones 7 and higher. Zone 6 or lower will need to plant out by June or July to have a steady harvest before the first fall frost. In any zone, choose cold-hardy and frost tolerant varieties for the longest harvest period.

Start by understanding how your garden zone affects your planting schedule, then use that to choose appropriate varieties.

Need more reason to start a fall garden? Listen to my argument for it in this episode of my podcast, Organic Gardening For Beginners.

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When should you plant your fall garden?

The best time to plant your fall garden will depend on which USDA garden zone you are in and the first expected fall frost. Use your zip code to easily look up both of those dates. Then, use those dates plus the days to maturity to determine the last planting for your fall crops.

You can look up your garden zone here on the USDA’s website. Then find your first expected frost date here on Farmer’s Almanac.

The graph below shows the first expected frost date by zone and the recommended planting date for a crop that needs 60 days to mature. The days to maturity apply to vegetables and flowers that will grow well in the fall, such as beets, lettuce, and calendulas.

Adjust the dates accordingly for crops that need less or more days to mature.

Please note that these dates are approximate and show the range of the A/B division in zones.

For example, zones 7a and 7b can vary by 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. This means that zone 7a will experience a frost sooner than 7b. So to get a more accurate date for your specific area, be sure to use the tools linked above.

USDA ZoneFirst frost datePlanting date
3Sept 8-14July 10-16
4Sept 18-24July 20-26
5Sept 25-Oct 8July 28-Aug 9
6Oct 10-24Aug 11-25
7Oct 30-Nov 10Aug 31-Sept 10
8Nov 7-Nov 20Sept 8-22
9Nov 20-30Sept 22-Oct 2
10+Dec 30, infrequentNov 1

To find the planting date for any fall crop, start with the first average fall frost date, then count backward the number of days the plant needs to mature. The date you land on will be the latest to plant to be sure to get a harvest.

To have a longer harvest period, count back additional days. For example, in zone 6, the first expected frost is on October 10th, so count back 60 days plus 14 days, so 74 days, for a planting date of July 29th.

For example, if you want to have a month’s worth of calendula blooms, then sowing the seeds a few weeks earlier will buy you more time. As long as you deadhead them (read about that here to learn the logic behind removing old flowers), they’ll bloom up to and possibly past the first frost.

For vegetables, decide whether you want to do one planting or multiple. A single planting works well for vegetables with a staggered harvest, such as leaf lettuce. When you cut the outer leaves, the plant continues to grow, and you can harvest again in a week.

For root crops like beets or radishes, you have to replant once you pull the plant if you want any more. Make multiple sowings in the weeks leading up to your last planting date to extend your harvest.

One last thing to remember is that growth slows down in the fall as the days shorten and get cooler. A beet may take an extra week to mature, just because it happens to be a cooler fall one year than another.

It’s all part of gardening; we gamble on what the weather will do and hope for the best!

When is it too late to plant a fall garden?

It is too late to plant a fall garden when there aren’t enough days left in the season for the plant to mature. Using your average first frost date is a reliable way to find the cut-off for planting a fall garden with vegetables or flowers.

Keep in mind, though, that some years the weather is unreliable, and factors such as excessive rain, a long summer, or an early frost can call for adjusting the dates earlier or later than expected.

A long, warm summer is reason to push the envelope and squeeze in an extra planting, even if your calculated cut-off date has already come and gone.

lettuce, kale, and chard in garden bed
Chard, kale, lettuce, and nasturtiums thrive in the fall garden.

On the other hand, if you’ve had a short summer and fall rains have returned sooner than in other years, it might not be worth wasting the seed and effort to plant out in the fall. If soil is too cold or wet, it’s unlikely the seeds will germinate, so they’ll either rot or wait dormant until spring returns and the soil warms up.

To decide if you want to make a last-ditch effort to sow seeds in the fall, check out this article, What Happens If You Plant Too Late In The Fall?

If your summer has started slow and you’re worried about a cold or rainy fall, you can buy yourself some time by starting seeds indoors to transplant out to the garden. Start the seeds at least a month, if not more, indoors so they have time to get strong enough to plant out in the garden.

You still need to give them time to get established in the garden before the weather turns too cold or the days get too short. Use the same planting date windows listed in the chart above, but you can have more confidence that a seedling planting at the end of that time frame will fare better than a seed sown at the same time.

When should vegetables be planted in the fall garden?

In general, vegetables should be planted in the garden no later than eight weeks before the first expected fall frost. This provides enough time to harvest crops before a killing frost and winter-hardy vegetables enough time to establish themselves.

Vegetables have some flexibility in their latest planting date because some varieties can survive frost and even live through the winter. For example, radishes are an easy crop to grow in the fall. They grow quickly and can be sown multiple times for more than one harvest. But they won’t survive a frost or frozen ground.

On the other hand, kale will grow during the cool fall days, but it will survive through frost and snowfall. Growth will be slow, mind you, but the plant won’t die. Leaves are harvested throughout the fall and winter, and when the weather begins to warm in spring, the kale will take off quickly with new growth.

To learn more about which vegetables will fare best in your garden, check out this list of the Top 10 Crops For The Fall Vegetable Garden. Choose one or all 10 for an extra serving of backyard harvest.

When should flowers be planted in the fall garden?

Flowers should be planted no later than 90 days before the first expected fall frost. Many fast-growing flowers bloom around 70 days after planting, so a 90-day window will provide at least a couple of weeks’ worth of blooms.

Only a handful of annual flowers can survive a fall frost, such as the hardy calendula, marigold, and pansy. Most other fall bloomers are sensitive to frost and won’t make it past those low temperatures, such as cosmos and zinnias.

To get a peek at these flowers and more, check out this post, 11 Fall Flowers That Will Bloom Beyond A Frost (With Pictures). You’ll also learn how long each one needs to mature and see some of my favorite varieties for the fall garden.

Choose which flowers to plant according to how much time you have left in your season. For best results, choose a mix of flowers that will bloom up to the first frost and those that can survive beyond a frost.

To dive deeper into growing flowers in the fall, get all the details you need in this post, Too Late To Plant A Flower Garden? A Guide To Summer Planting.

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