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Fall tips for vegetable planting

By Mark C. Carroll

Master Gardener

  • Know your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone

One of the most common questions in vegetable gardening is, what can I plant now? In fact, I ask myself that, regularly. Technically, you can plant anything any time and sometimes a plant might just surprise you. However, most of us would prefer to be rewarded by our efforts and expense, so we should first determine our USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. Plant Hardiness Zones are based mostly on historical frost dates in our area. About half (the northeastern side) of Suffolk and Isle of Wight, and a small portion of Surry are Zone 8a. Most of Surry and the remainder of Suffolk and Isle of Wight are Zone 7b. Zone 7b is likely to get frost as much as a month sooner than Zone 8a. So, knowing your Hardiness Zone, helps reduce wasted effort planting and tending to vegetables that are likely not to mature before the frost kills them.

  • Know how long the plant takes to mature

Another important consideration, is time to maturity. If you have a seed package, you likely know it shows days to germinate and days to harvest. For Zone 8a the first frost date is expected between 11/5 and 11/25, so if I plant my Swiss Chard with 30-60 days to harvest, I should be able to enjoy some before the frost kills it, right? But wait a minute, Swiss Chard can survive some really cold weather, even below 28 degrees. Which leads us to our next tip.

  • Know how your chosen vegetable, responds to frost or freezing temps

Don’t even try overwintering tomatoes or other warm summer-ripened veggies, unless you can control the temperature in the growing area. Swiss Chard is not the only plant unconcerned about a little frost, I grow arugula from now through spring uninterrupted. Other plants that generally fair well include spinach, broccoli, kale, collards, turnips, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, beets, carrots, cilantro, onions, parsnips, parsley, oregano, thyme, sage and scallions. You could simply search for “cold tolerant vegetables” and I am sure you could find many more.

  • Plant something

Even if you do not want to go out in the cold to get some veggies on a winter day, you may still want to plant something. Plants that grow through the winter and die out in the spring when the temperatures increase, can help fertilize your soil for spring flowers or veggies. Farmers do this with cover crops. Many times, if you don’t plant something, nature will.