With fall right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about a garden this season. If you’ve never planted a garden in Nebraska, it’s important to learn which vegetables grow best in each season.
Time to Plant
Gardening may be more challenging in the fall because your crops must mature before the winter frost kicks in. Ideally, everything should be planted right after the last frost date, which is around May 9, so they can be harvested before the first frost date, which is around Sept. 30.
The upside to gardening in the fall is that vegetables you planted in July and August may produce excellent harvests. This is because cool-season vegetables grow as well as — and in some cases, even better than — warm-season vegetables since they mature during cooler, shorter days. Alternatively, vegetables grown in the cool days of fall may be milder and sweeter than those grown in the hot summer weather.
Semi-Hardy and Hardy Vegetables
Semi-hardy vegetables are ones that can withstand a light frost, around 30 F to 32 F. Some of these include beets, Chinese cabbage, mustard, collards, potatoes, leaf lettuce, green onions, bibb lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and radishes. If mulched with a heavy layer of straw, semi-hardy root and tuber crops may survive a hard freeze better. The tops will die, but the edible portion in the ground may still be preserved.
As their name suggests, hardy vegetables can withstand several frosts but may die when temperatures dip near 20 F. Hardy vegetables include Brussels sprouts, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, turnips, kale, cauliflower, and rutabagas.
Other Vegetable Options
If you are looking for other options, consider tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, okra, eggplant, and New Zealand spinach. In most years, the first frost in Nebraska is followed by several weeks of good growing weather. Other heat-loving vegetables — like cucumbers, summer squash, and snap beans — are not ideal options because they are slow-producing or stop producing altogether by late summer.
Tips for Buying Seeds
For fall gardening, the University of Nebraska’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening suggests purchasing the shortest-season cultivars. Look for ones that denote “early season,” or you can also compare the number of days to harvest. Select the seeds that show the fewest days to maturity, which is usually indicated somewhere on the seed packet or in the seed catalog description.
Even though you don’t plan to plant until the fall, you can buy your seeds earlier in the year when the best quality seeds are still available. To help maintain the seed quality, just store them in a cool, dry location until you are ready to start planting.
While fall gardens may require a little extra preparation and planning versus spring gardens, there are plenty of vegetables that can thrive during the cooler months and even into the first frost of the season. Just be sure to pick up your seeds when good ones are still available and don’t be afraid to ask the store’s staff for assistance in finding what crops will work best with your space and soil.