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What to Plant in the Vegetable Garden in Autumn

The arrival of autumn doesn’t mean the vegetable garden needs to close. I garden in USDA Zone 5 and I’m still seeding and transplanting in September for vegetables that we’ll eat later in autumn as well as throughout winter. The trick is to pair cool- and cold-season crops with simple season extenders like cold frames and mini hoop tunnels. 

Leaf lettuce thrives in autumn.

Leaf lettuce thrives in autumn.

The following are five vegetables I plant in September:

1. Spinach is extremely quick to grow, especially in the cooler temperatures and increased moisture of autumn. ‘Bloomsdale’ spinach is a classic fall crop that goes from seed to harvest in just 30 days. Sow more seed every few weeks for a long supply of top-quality spinach. 

2. Kale can be planted anytime from spring to midsummer for a harvest of mature plants, or it can be sown in September for a crop of baby leaves. ‘Red Russian’ is one of the fastest kale varieties to grow; it will yield a heavy crop of frilly leaves just a month from sowing. 

3. Lettuce seed doesn’t germinate well when the weather is hot and dry. To get around this, I sow my lettuce seeds inside under grow lights and move the seedlings to the garden in early to mid-September. Leaf lettuce is the quickest type to grow, but you can also plant butterhead, romaine and iceberg lettuces for fall salads. 

4. Arugula is my go-to salad green. It should be direct seeded in garden beds or containers every few weeks for an endless supply of peppery greens. Arugula tolerates cold; if protected by a mini hoop tunnel, cold frame or greenhouse, it can be harvested all winter in Zones 4 to 8.

5. Turnips don’t get enough love, but this vegetable is both quick and easy to grow. It thrives in autumn weather and the crisp, sweet roots can be eaten raw or cooked. Plus, the leaves are delicious in salads or sautéed. ‘Hakurei’, my favorite variety, comes ready to harvest just 38 days from seeding.