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Selecting the Right Crops for Fall Planting

The key to growing food throughout the autumn season, for holiday harvests and cold-weather eating, is selecting the right crops for fall planting.  In and around NW Arkansas and south, some summer plants will grow well into October, while unprotected fall crops grow until the first killing freeze -- below 26°.

Considerations for Fall Planting

When considering fall planting, you will need to look at two things:

Frost tolerance 

Seed packages or plant containers will say things like “frost tolerant” or “cold hardy” to let you know they can take some below freezing temperatures.

Days to maturity 

If you are planting in mid-September, you will need crops that are both frost-tolerant and mature in less than 50 days. If you are starting with plants instead of planting seed directly, you can select items that mature in 60-70 days. Look at the first expected frost date in your area, then count back the days to maturity to find out by what date you must plant.

Cold-Hardy Plant Options

What kinds of crops meet these requirements? More than you might think.
  • Carrots- Carrots can be planted in September and stored right there in the ground until you are ready to harvest. When a hard freeze is expected, just pile a few inches of leaves or straw to protect the roots from freezing.
  • Radishes- Maturing in about 30 days, radishes can be planted up to about a month before the first expected frost date and they will take a light frost.
  • Turnips- The greens are frost tolerant and are super tasty sauteed. Roots can be overwintered in the ground when prepped like carrots.
  • Lettuce- Lettuce is frost-tolerant and grows very quickly.
  • Cabbage- Head cabbage and Chinese cabbage will grow through the first frost, although head cabbage is more tolerant of cold than the Chinese variety.
  • Sweet peas and sugar snap peas- These plants will require a small trellis, around 3 feet tall, and grow very well on tomato cages.
  • Kale, Swiss chard, arugula and mustard greens- These varieties are very hardy and tend to do well even past the holidays.
  • Cilantro and Parsley- these herbs tolerate a frost and grow quickly.
Any of these varieties can be grown in containers, although containers will not insulate roots as well, so overwintering root veggies probably won’t be an option. Still, you can harvest the roots before the first hard frost and store them in a cool, dry area like an unheated garage. You can prolong the growing season a bit by using a floating row cover like this one from Gardener's Supply which protects crops down to 24°, perfect to protect your crops from those early cold snaps! Be sure to select the right crops for fall planting and try growing some this year.

What is your favorite cold-weather crop?

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