With their cooler temperatures and shorter growing seasons, fall gardens may be a little more limited than their summertime counterparts, but they actually have a lot to offer. The soil’s already warm enough for rapid seed-starting, and there are fewer insect pests with which to contend.
In fact, when it comes to herbs like cilantro, fall can provide the perfect do-over. If yours bolted early this summer, you can always reseed in the fall. What’s more, many of the roots and leafy greens you can grow right about now are real superfoods.
And, with new varieties being released every year, the fall garden doesn’t have to be boring.
Fall Garden Essentials
Diane Blazek is executive director of both All-America Selections and the National Garden Bureau. While each group highlights new garden varieties each year, All-America Selections, in particular, is a plant-trialing organization.
Blazek explains, “For edibles, we have 35 different judges all across the U.S. and Canada and we divide it out by region. The judges are sent the entry, which is anonymous, and they’re sent two comparisons.”
Judges grow the different varieties, taking note of criteria such as growing habit, productivity, yield, taste and texture. If the tested variety performs better than its comparison varieties, it merits All-America Selections recognition.
Among 2020’s All-America Selection Award winners, Blazek recommends Snak Hero Peas for fall gardeners. “It’s 65 days to maturity and it looks a little bit more like a green bean, because it’s long and slender,” she says. “But it really is a stringless, snap pea. I grew it this spring, and I was just amazed at how sweet and tender it was.”
As for the National Garden Bureau? “Our membership covers pretty much every single breeder that’s doing work in North America,” Blazek says. “They submit varieties to us that they want to feature—it’s the newest of the new.”
If you’re looking for a striking new lettuce, you might like Lettuce Marciano. Vitalis Organic Seeds developed this butterhead variety for 2020, and it’s available via Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Along with improved resistance to downy mildew, lettuce mosaic virus and lettuce leaf aphids, Marciano features a bright burgundy exterior and splashes of green on its interior leaves.
More Good ‘Greens’
Renee Shepherd, founder of Renee’s Garden, offered two new-and-notable kale varieties in 2020—Mars Landing and Purple Moon. “They’re both gorgeous,” she says. “They’re unique for their color and very, very good flavor and really pretty form.”
“The Mars Landing has a lot of mauve in it and it has these interesting ruffled tips,” she says. “And, if you look at Purple Moon, those purple colors come up really strong—especially in cool weather.”
“If you plant them in fall, they just get sweeter and sweeter,” Shepherd adds. These kale types also hold their own well in cold temperatures, and they pack an extra nutritional punch. “They have a lot of purple in them, and purple is one of the colors that is most healthy. Color means more antioxidants and flavonoids.”
Shepherd also suggests trying Five Color Rainbow Gourmet Beets rather than your usual Detroit dark reds. Similarly, there are myriad Swiss chard varieties worth your time, too. Swiss chard’s large leaves can be stuffed like grape leaves or cabbage.
“There’s a huge array out there with more colors that many people don’t grow,” she notes. “The virtue of it is the more color, the more nutrition.”
For variety, Shepherd also suggests fall gardeners consider growing stir fry greens, braising mixes and Japanese baby turnips.
Heirlooms and Hybrids
Adding new hybrids or new heirloom varieties to your fall garden is another good way to shake things up—particularly if you’re partial to just one or the other. “Some heirlooms are wonderful, and some new varieties are wonderful, too,” Shepherd says.
For example? “If you’re going to grow broccoli, you as a home gardener will do infinitely better with hybrid broccoli, because it’s a thousand times more disease-resistant, it grows more side shoots, and it’s more compact,” she says. “Heirlooms are important for some things, but not all things.”
To further boost your fall garden’s productivity, you might also want to top certain crops with floating row cover. Not only will it protect sensitive crops like broccoli from flea beetles and other pests, but it also can prolong the growing season.
“If it’s going to be colder, and you want to extend your harvest, a floating row cover will give you three to five degrees,” Shepherd says.