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Fall gardening: What plants can I grow outdoors in fall? What should I plant in fall to enjoy in spring?

Ferry-Morse Home Gardening Blog | August 2021

A gardener pulling fresh carrots out of their garden bed with the help of a small wooden-handled shovel.

A gardener up-rooting freshly grown carrots in their garden bed with the help of a shovel.

Fall can be a fine time for gardening.

Mild temperatures, dependable rainfall, and fewer garden pests make fall gardening an absolute joy! It’s the time of year when many of our favorite vegetables and herbs grow best.

And for gardeners who want to keep their landscape bright throughout the cold months, there’s plenty of colorful flowers from which to choose.

With less heat, weeds, and bugs, conditions are ideal for gardeners and fall crops alike. After all, who doesn’t enjoy spending time outside on a beautiful crisp day?

Fall temperatures also enhance the flavor of cool-season vegetables and herbs, emphasizing how wonderful this time of year is for planting.

In this piece, we’ll discuss plants you can grow outdoors in the fall and others you can plant now for results in the spring. Let’s dig a little deeper.

What are cool-season plants?

Cool-season plants are frost tolerant varieties that thrive in cooler temperatures, like the temperatures you'd see throughout the fall. A cool-season plant's ability to tolerate frost depends on its hardiness. Let’s learn a little more about plant hardiness and environmental preferences.

Hardiness

Hardiness is a way to describe the cold tolerance of a plant. Cool-season plants are classified as hardy to very hardy, meaning that they can withstand frosts and freezes, either with or without a protective covering to prevent injury.

Brussels sprouts plant covered in frost crystals.

A close-up of a brussels sprout plant speckled with frost crystals.

Environmental preferences

All cool-weather vegetables require sunny conditions and well-drained soil rich in nutrients and moisture (but not water-logged). By comparison, some herbs can tolerate part-shade conditions but still perform better in full sun, generally. And there’s a lot more leeway with flowers.

Fall crops prefer soil within a pH range of 5.5 to 7.0. And even though there’s less pressure from pests and heat, fall vegetables are still susceptible to diseases and damage from aphids, cabbage worms, thrips, and Fusarium wilt, to name a few.

Cool-weather flowers bloom throughout the fall, with some, like violas, even persisting through a dusting of snow. They brighten landscapes with a spectrum of vivid colors and tolerate a range of growing conditions—from poor soils, like hollyhock and coreopsis, to part shade like lobelia.

A viola is in bloom, with beautiful purple and yellow petals, sitting in a blanket of fresh snow.

A blooming viola flower standing tall against a blanket of snow.

Examples of fall garden plants

Cole crops are the most recognizable fall vegetables, including:

Herbs include favorites like:

Examples of flowers include:

When can I plant cool-season plants?

Start fall plantings from seed in late summer to transplant into garden beds by fall. With the right combination of soil temperature and moisture, they’ll germinate and grow. If you don't want to start your cool-season crops from seed, you can always purchase live transplants from a nursery to get your fall garden started.

You’ll want to install transplants before the first freeze to give plants enough time to establish roots. Likewise, hardiness and the number of days to maturity are other key variables.

Since planting dates are region-specific, it’s best to refer to local guides. Consider reaching out to your local agricultural extension office to request information, such as this planting guide from The University of Tennessee. It’s worth your time to check it out.

A gardener wearing a sweater to keep warm harvests some spinach from the garden.

Cool weather plant starts are lined up, these starts include lettuce and spinach.

Preparing for successful fall plantings

While waiting on the weather to cool down, clean out your garden beds to free them of leftover vegetation and weeds.

Consider getting a soil test and then using the results to apply the right amounts of fertilizer to support new plants, and enjoy taking the time to plan your garden.

Know how to identify and control pests to have an enriching fall gardening experience.

Standard containers often used during warm-season outdoor growing, such as those found in window boxes or on your patio, don’t provide enough insulation to retain the warmth and moisture needed to sustain plants during the winter. So, we don’t recommend reserving them for fall plantings.

Before purchasing plants or seeds, check the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map to know which plants can grow successfully in your geographic region. Zone information for each plant is listed on its seed packet, label, or website if buying online.

Pick up some mulch to insulate your plants for the winter. Here’s a mulch calculator to help you determine how much you’ll need. 

A gardener wearing a sweater to keep warm harvests some spinach from the garden.

A gardener wearing a sweater to keep warm harvests some spinach from the garden.

How cold is too cold for outdoor gardening?

Many cool-weather crops can survive a freeze (26 to 31°F), either intact or with some damage. However, it’s essential to know that frozen ground inhibits plant growth.

In some zones, the ground freezes during the winter. And in those where it doesn’t, temperatures can still fall low enough to cause a hard freeze. Before a freeze, water the soil around your plants (not the leaves) to help the soil retain heat, increasing your garden’s chance of survival.

The National Weather Service (NWS) is an excellent resource for helping you determine the first frost and freeze dates for your geographic area. We’ve also put together the chart below to assist.  

VegetableNumber of weeks to plant
before the first fall freeze date
Optimal range
for germination (°F)
Spinach2—1645—75
Garlic4—645—85
Parsley6—1650—85
Onion8—1050—95
Kale8—1245—75
Brussels sprouts10—1445—85
Lettuce10—1440—80
Broccoli10—1645—85
Cabbage10—1645—95
Cauliflower10—1645—85
Chard, Swiss12—1650—85

An expanded chart is available here.

What is a perennial in gardening?

Perennials live for more than two years without reseeding or replanting, and once established, many live for much longer. They are either woody or herbaceous.

 Woody perennials have tops that last through winter. By contrast, the above-ground parts of herbaceous perennials die back in the winter and reemerge under favorable spring conditions.

Some perennials, like lupines and violas, can be annuals, depending on their growing conditions

Examples of woody perennials include:

Herbaceous perennials include:

What perennial flowers can I plant in the fall?

Consider planting a mix of woody and herbaceous perennials to keep your garden looking colorful, alive, and fresh.

We recommend ordering live transplants from a nursery that will ship your plants according to the ideal planting times for your hardiness zone. Of course, you can also plant flower seeds that require a chilling period, like coneflower seeds.

Perennial flowers come in all sizes. So, it’s essential to consider their heights and spacing when laying out your fall garden. Here’s a chart to help.

FlowerMature HeightSpacing
Phlox
4—6"15–18"
Viola6"4–6"
Pansy6—8"8–10"
Snapdragons6—10"8–12"
Cosmos8—12"18"
Gaillardia8—12"12—18"
Lobelia10—30"12"
Ornamental Kale12"18–24"
Ornamental Cabbage15"24–36"
Ornamental Peppers16"6–10"
Lupine16—20"12–14"
Aster18—24"12"
Coreopsis18—24"24"
Salvia18—30"12–16"
Black-Eyed Susan24—30"12"
Coneflower24—30"18–24"
Butterfly weed24—36"10–12"
Shasta Daisy24—36"12"
Bachelor Button36"10–15"
Bee Balm36"18–24"
Hollyhock5'—6'18–24"

Make this fall your gardening success story.

Fall is a pleasurable season to be outdoors, inviting you to reap the benefits of gardening. You might be delighted to find out how well fall garden plants thrive in the chilled air and bright days of this season. Make fall your new season of abundance in gardening by ordering our fall garden plants today. 

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2 comments

  • Roy SimmonsAug 26, 2021

    Great source of helpful information

  • d arcene Aug 20, 2021

    Enjoyed reading this article very much,,,,

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