Plant a Fall Garden

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Keep your grocery bill down and enjoy a bounty of healthy, fresh vegetables by planting a fall garden this year. One of the most affordable ways to grow fall vegetables is to plant them from seed and now is the time to get started. Growing your own plants from seed also allows you to cultivate new or unusual varieties not commonly available as transplants from garden centers.

Cole Crops and Greens

Toscana Kale

Toscana Kale

Early to mid August is the time to seed long lived crops like kale, collards, and cabbage, which will remain productive throughout the winter. Seed started now in containers of potting soil will be ready to set out in the garden by mid September. If you like kale, seek out heirloom types like ‘Red Russian’ and ‘Toscano,’ both of which produce tender leaves with excellent flavor. For a different experience with cabbage, try one of the pointed head varieties, such as ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’. These cone shaped types, sometimes referred to as spring cabbage, are delicious and will be ready to harvest weeks earlier than round headed varieties.

This is also the time to seed broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, bok choy, and Chinese cabbage. If you do not want a large crop of broccoli all at once, consider growing Italian sprouting broccoli, also known as calabrese. This Italian heirloom develops a small central head followed lots of side shoots produced over an extended time – all winter in a mild year. Cauliflower, bok choy, and Chinese cabbage should be pulled from the garden after harvest since they only produce one crop (no side shoots). Seeds of these plants can be sown directly in the garden, but are usually more successful when started in containers of potting soil first and then transplanted into the garden in mid September.

lettuce plants

Loose leaf lettuce

Lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard and other salad greens will be ready for harvest later this fall, but typically do not survive the coldest months of winter unless given extra protection by a cold frame or heavy weight row cover. They can be sown directly in the garden in patches, transplanted as young plants set out in single rows, or grown in containers. Lettuce and other salad greens are easy to grow in containers because of their shallow root systems and can be planted close together, making them suitable for window boxes, pots, and bowl shaped planters.

Root Crops and More

Other vegetables grow best when their seeds are sown straight into the ground. This is especially true for root crops, which do not like to be disturbed once they begin to grow. If you would like to grow turnips, beets, parsnips, carrots, radish, or rutabaga, plant the seed directly into your garden in the next month. For something different, consider kohlrabi. This cabbage relative makes a bulb just above ground level that can be sliced and eaten raw or added to salads or stir fries.

kohlrabi plants


When sowing seed directly into the garden, first cultivate the soil and rake it level to create a smooth seed bed. Sow seed in one to two foot wide patches or single rows. Be sure to keep newly seeded areas consistently moist since young seedlings die quickly if allowed to dry out. Don’t forget to thin seedlings once they start growing. Leave enough space between plants for them to reach mature size. For example, carrots only need to be thinned so individual plants stand approximately two inches apart while cabbages would need to be thinned or planted to allow at least one foot between plants.

Other fall crops that are commonly seeded directly into the garden include mesclun mixes, arugula, turnip greens, and mustard. These can be planted anytime during the next month, as can the cool season herbs parsley, cilantro, and dill. When growing parsley from seed but sure to soak the seed in water for several hours before sowing.

Learn More

Learn more about growing fall vegetables from these past Past Gardener articles by searching the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Pender County website:

  • Growing Cole Crops (Cabbage, Broccoli, Kale, Collards, Cauliflower)
  • Cole Crop Pests
  • Growing Salad Greens

Vegetable Planting Calendar – though this guide is geared toward central NC, it is very appropriate for our area, though most crops can be started a week or two earlier in spring and a week or two later in fall than the dates listed.

Vegetable fact sheets from Clemson Extension – detailed information on how to grow each crop, including recommended varieties, common pests, and fertilization needs.

Looking for something different to grow from seed? Lots of seed companies offer free catalogs and take orders online. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Johnny’s Seed: Flowers, vegetables, herbs, cover crops and excellent information. Request a catalog or shop online
  • Burpee Seed – one of the oldest seed companies in the U.S.
  • Park Seed – located in Greenville, SC
  • Seed Savers Exchange – dedicated to preserving heirloom varieties
  • Seeds of Change – specializing in organically produced seed
  • Select Seeds – specializing in heirloom flowers
  • J.L. Hudson – No color picture but lots of interesting varieties – carries only open pollinated varieties (which means you can save your own seed and they will come true)

If you have questions about growing vegetables, contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension office:

  • If you live in Pender County, call 259-1235.
  • In New Hanover County, call 798-7660.
  • In Brunswick County call 253-2610