Fall gardening for any space

Karl Fendelander | Improvement Center Columnist | November 8, 2013

Fresh vegetables are the best, no two ways about it. If you're already lamenting the loss of your home-grown summer veggies, read on and cheer up. There are tricks to help gardeners of all skill levels and yard sizes grow tasty fall fruits and vegetables.

Going potted without going to pot

There are a handful of places that have wonderful weather for growing all year round; magical places where you can throw seeds at the ground, ignore them, and come back later to find perfect fruits or vegetables. But given that most folks don't live in these places, gardeners have had to come up with a few tricks to stretch growing seasons. One of the best tricks for gardening in small spaces and colder climes is planting your garden in pots. This isn't possible for all veggies, but you might be surprised how many plants take to it. Here are a few quick tips for planting in pots:

  1. Drainage: Use pots with drainage holes in the bottom to keep roots from getting waterlogged. Many veggies like to dry out between soakings, making drainage vitally important.
  2. Depth: Make sure your gardening pots are at least a foot deep to let roots get a good hold. If you aren't sure about proper root depth for a given plant, do a little research online or at your local nursery.
  3. Soil: It's amazing how much time and energy goes into engineering soils for different applications. Because regular garden soil is usually too heavy (and could contain any number of diseases or larvae biding their time), it's best to use potting soil.

These potted plant tips work year round for folks in apartments and can really extend growing season for everyone.

Autumnal garden staples

Just like spring crops, your fall veggies need to be better suited to cooler weather -- especially if you're trying to sneak a garden in before it starts snowing. (As an extra bonus, these can all be potted, too!)

Some classics for your fall garden:

  • Broccoli: Great for fiber, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and a host of other things, broccoli is a wonderful addition to a fall garden. Seedlings should be planted 10 weeks before the first frost in your area and fed with a low-nitrogen fertilizer three weeks after planting. If this timeline doesn't work for your area, broccoli can be grown in pots 12 to 16 inches deep, one plant per pot.
  • Brussels sprouts: Another great source of fiber, magnesium and vitamins, Brussels sprouts taste best when allowed to mature in cooler weather, which makes them a perfect fit for a fall garden. They have a long growing period, though, and don't even start showing sprouts for three months. To get your sprouts and dodge Jack Frost's bullet, plant in 16-inch-deep pots, one plant per pot.
  • Carrots: They're good for your eyes, your health, and your salad -- and they're best when fresh. These tasty roots make a great winter harvest, allowing for planting as late as October in many areas. If you're potting carrots, you'll want either a very deep pot, shorter varieties of carrots or a combination thereof. Carrots can be harvested and eaten at any point, making them great for gardeners trying to sneak in another round before the ground freezes.
  • Kale: This super-healthy green is all the rage lately -- and for good reason. Kale is high in vitamins A and C, helps fight cancer and inflammation, and can even lower cholesterol. This leafy green is tough, too. Kale can survive a few frosts and keep on producing. For potted kale, plant one per pot and harvest early and often.
  • Spinach: This classic health food is hearty, too. Spinach greens can keep growing even when temperatures drop into the 20s. If you're looking to pot this plant, you can grow several in one pot as long as they're roughly four inches apart.

There are a great many other vegetables that can be planted inside and out for fall. Radishes, cauliflower, rutabaga, kohlrabi, cabbage, arugula, and more could be plucked from your autumnal garden and gracing your plate before you know it.