What to plant in autumn: the best 8 vegetables!

woman holding spinach leaf

Me with a leaf of Giant Winter spinach. The name is no joke!

During the summer season, no matter how much we love gardening, many of us start to get tired of our gardens.

Maybe it’s hot and humid and buggy where you live. Maybe you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by the big harvests coming in. (I’m looking at you zucchini, cucumber, and tomato plants…) Or maybe you went away for a vacation and came back to an out of control garden that needs a lot of work.

The summer gardening season ain’t easy, that’s for sure!

But, what if I told you that the fall gardening season is so, so, so much easier?

It is, I swear!

That’s because many of our biggest struggles in the summer are nearly non-existent in the fall: there’s little to no insect and disease pressure, weed growth slows down considerably, and some vegetables like arugula and cilantro are WAY easier to grow in the fall than in spring.

The thing that is a big challenge with fall gardening is that if you live in a cold climate like I do in Wisconsin zone 5, you have to plant your fall vegetables in the summer.

If you wait until fall it’s usually too late (unless you live in a hot climate).

And, as we just talked about, we’re tired in the summer. It’s likely you’re feeling less than enthusiastic about planting a fall garden.

I’m an avid and passionate gardener, and even I have a tough time getting myself into the garden to plant at the end of summer.

The thing that motivates me? The knowledge that cooler weather is coming, and when it does, I’ll be excited to work in my garden again.

And I know my future self, the one who really wants to eat fresh spinach salads throughout October and November, isn’t going to be happy with me if I don’t get my butt out to my garden and plant some fall garden vegetables.

That’s one of the greatest things about having a fall garden. You can extend your harvests beyond your first frost into November and possibly even December!

Can you tell I’m trying my darnedest to convince you to try planting a fall garden? It’s SO worth it!

You’ll experience the joyful pleasure of harvesting lots of food in November. It’s such an amazing feeling of accomplishment.

You’ll feel like you’ve cheated the weather somehow! Everyone else has retired their gardens for the season, but you’re still getting plenty of food each week.

So, if I’ve done my job so far, you’re getting excited about planting some vegetables for autumn. Not convinced yet, check out four reasons why growing a fall garden is SO easy.

In the remainder of this article, I’m sharing my top picks for what to plant in autumn in your vegetable garden to guarantee abundant harvests way past your first frost and into the holiday season.

arugula growing in fall garden

Arugula still going strong under cover on November 20.

What to Plant in Autumn in Your Vegetable Garden

Remember, if you live in a cold climate you can’t actually wait until fall to start planting your cold season vegetables, it’ll be too late. That’s because the days are getting shorter and plant growth slows down. If you procrastinate too long you’ll miss the window for planting.

Here in zone 5 I’m generally finished planting my autumn vegetables by the first week in September.

In my Masterclass, Harvesting Fresh Veggies in the Snow, I share the complete list of 30 vegetables you can plant for fall, which varieties are best for cold weather growing, and provide you with a calendar template so you can map out exactly when to plant each vegetable on your list. Check it out here.

arugula in fall garden

Arugula
If you’ve had trouble growing arugula in the spring, you’re not alone. The lengthening days and increasing heat make it bolt (send up seed heads) pretty quickly.

Luckily, fall arugula is a whole different experience! You’ll be pleased at how many cuttings you get and it can survive light frosts. With a little protection from a layer of row cover it can last into early winter. I’ve even had it return the next spring and start growing again if I cover it with a cold frame.

beets from autumn garden

Beets
Unlike a lot of other fall vegetables, beets have no trouble germinating in the heat of summer. And they’ll be ready for harvest as the weather cools down and you’re in the mood for roasted root vegetables.

I like to mix yellow, red and Chioggia varieties together in one garden bed. This makes harvesting extra fun!

The trick with fall beets is that you have to plant them earlier than other fall vegetables because they take longer to grow. I try to seed my last planting right after onion harvest in mid- to late July.

You can read more about how to grow an amazing crop of fall beets here.

cilantro from the fall garden

Cilantro harvest from my garden December 2.

Cilantro
Cilantro is a tricky one to grow in the heat of summer. It’s also not crazy about spring and tends to bolt (send up a flower head) with the lengthening daylight.

In fact, how to prevent cilantro bolting is one of the most common gardening questions I get each year.

Like arugula, fall cilantro flourishes in the cool days of fall and is frost hardy so you’ll continue to harvest it past your first frost. You won’t be disappointed!

You can also check out my most popular Youtube video: Tips for Growing Cilantro All Season Long.

mizuna in vegetable garden

Mizuna
If you like salads with mixed greens, try growing mizuna this fall. It’s a quick grower and you can start harvesting the baby greens after about a month. If you like braising greens like kale and chard, mizuna would make a good addition to this mix.

Pac Choi
I like to throw baby pac choi in with my spinach salads. You can also braise or saute it with other greens for a delicious side dish. Pac choi grows quickly and thrives in the colder weather.

radish harvest from autumn garden

Radishes
A bright pop of pink or purple is a joyful sight in fall as the rest of the garden is turning brown. If you have leftover radish seed from spring you can plant any of these varieties.

You can also try a unique variety like watermelon radish or a green or pink daikon radish. Both of these need to be planted  a little earlier than your standard spring salad radish. I always seed a big bed of daikon radishes at the end of July in one of the beds where I’ve cleared out my onions.

But, any radish would be an eye-catching addition to fall and winter salads.

lettuce harvest in a basket

Salad Mix
Cut and come again salad mixes are a snap to grow in the fall. You can get a harvest in about 30 days. Don’t bother paying the high prices at the grocery store for gourmet salad mixes. Grow your own!

I’ve had amazing luck with Yankee Hardy Lettuce Mix from High Mowing seeds. As an experiment over the winter of 2020/21 I covered my fall planted bed with two layers of frost cloth. The lettuce survived the Wisconsin winter and gave me a long harvest again in the spring. Amazing! 

spinach harvesting in fall garden

Spinach
Spinach is one of the only vegetables that can survive the harsh winter in Wisconsin with no protection. And, it will start to grow again in the lengthening days of the following March so you’ll get a double harvest season. It’s so hardy I’ve picked spinach from my garden on Christmas morning!

If you’re curious about fall gardening spinach is the #1 vegetable I recommend. It’s the gateway crop that got me into fall growing.

Read all about why fall spinach is the most amazing vegetable to grow.

turnips in the garden

Turnips
If you turn your nose up at turnips, I don’t blame you. I did too until I tasted a Hakurei turnip. Crisp, mild, and tender, it’s nothing like the turnips you may be used to seeing at the grocery store and market. They’re like a buttery radish, more tender and without the bite.

So, what do you think? Now that you have some options of what to plant in autumn, have I convinced you to try growing some of these easy vegetables?

I hope so!

It’s taken me several years of experimentation to figure out which varieties grow best in fall, the ideal planting times, and how to keep them going into the winter with some extra protection.

You could spend the next few years experimenting yourself, or you could save time and let me help you! Check out my free mini course and Masterclass below.

autumn vegetable harvest from garden

Additional Resources for Fall Gardening

FREE MINI-COURSE: Introduction to Extending Your Harvests with a Fall Garden. This mini-course features 5 videos and worksheets to help you:

  • Learn why growing a fall garden is SO easy!
  • Find out my recommendations for the best 5 veggies to start with
  • Get excited about what’s possible with a fall garden when I give you a tour of all of the vegetables I harvest for Thanksgiving dinner
  • Discover how to find room in your garden for fall plantings + the best varieties to grow
  • Create a sample fall planting calendar to get you started

Start watching right now!

MASTERCLASS: Harvesting Fresh Veggies in the Snow. The key to having more fresh food right outside your door for more months of the year is to extend your garden season. And if you do it right, you can be harvesting delicious veggies for up to 10 months of the year, even if you live in a northern climate!

I live in Wisconsin, zone 5a, and every year I harvest food from my garden during most months of the year -without a heated greenhouse or any other expensive additions to my garden. In 25 different videos and accompanying worksheets, checklists, and calendars, I distill my years of trial and error down to just the essentials you need to know to help you plant and harvest from a robust cold weather garden.

Join the Masterclass now.

BLOG ARTICLES: Read more about what to plant in autumn in these posts.

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