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Time to Plant Cool-Season Vegetables

Time to Plant Cool-Season Vegetables

Tomorrow, September 22, marks the first day of autumn. As I discussed in last week’s article, fall is the best time of year to plant because winter rains and cooler temperatures will help your plants get a healthy, developed root system and be ready to burst into growth in spring.

It’s also a good time to try planting vegetables if you haven’t done so before. Cool-season crops are some of the easiest to grow, and even if you live in a cold climate, you can still have a fall harvest until the first frost arrives. For those who live in warmer climates, you can plant a garden for winter harvest.

What is a cool season vegetable? Cool-season versus warm-season refers to the heat requirements needed for growth. This means that cool-season vegetables are those that do well in fall, winter, and early spring rather than summer.

Cool-season vegetables can be grown in temperatures about 10-15 degrees lower than warm-season crops. The most distinct difference is that cool-season crops are usually not grown for their fruits or seeds, but are mainly leaf or root crops (with a few exceptions like broccoli and cauliflower that are grown for their edible flowers).

Cool-season vegetables include asparagus, artichoke, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, radish, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnip. These vegetables are broken into three categories: the cole crops (broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, and cauliflower), the root crops (beet, carrot, radish, and turnips), and the leaf crops (cabbage, celery, lettuce, and spinach).

While many gardeners start their vegetable seeds in late August, these crops are easily planted from seedlings purchased at a local nursery. Cole crops are the vegetables best bought at nurseries and transplanted because they are big and slow growing.

The easiest way to start your vegetable garden is to make a list of the vegetables you really like and plant something from that list, checking to see which season it should be planted in.

No matter what you choose to plant, cool season vegetables require a minimum of six hours of sunlight each day for best growth. It’s also a good idea to try and choose a location that offers some wind protection.

Leafy greens are the easiest cool-season crops to grow. This includes all types of lettuce, especially leaf lettuces.  You might want to do successive plantings so your crop is spread out. Leaf lettuces don’t require you to wait for them to mature because you cut the leaves as you need them and most are fully grown in less than two months. That’s why they are also called cutting lettuces. One great home variety is Black-seeded Simpson lettuce, which is a tasty and old-fashioned lettuce.

While one of the advantages to planting cool-season crops is that you don’t have as many insects or diseases as in summer, cool-season vegetables are prone to slugs and snails, particularly in areas with fog and ocean moisture. You can use an organic snail bait like Sluggo, or a homemade solution to deter their entrance. Cole crops are prone to cabbageworms; use Safer Vegetable Attack, or your own pest control method, and reapply often.

Read more: Lawns & Gardens, Nature, Outdoor Activities, ,

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Judi Gerber

Judi Gerber is a University of California Master Gardener with a certificate in Horticultural Therapy. She writes about sustainable farming, local foods, and organic gardening for multiple magazines. Her book Farming in Torrance and the South Bay was released in September 2008.


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5:13AM PDT on Apr 4, 2013

Just found your question, Robert. Bt is Bacillus thurigensis---you can get it in hardware stores or online garden supply places. This is a bacteria that basically gives caterpillars fatal indigestion but doesn't hurt anything else, including humans. And it just washes off. In fact, you have to reapply it to your plants after a rain. I depend on it to have the broccoli be for us instead of for the cabbage moth caterpillars. I still use sparingly, though, and only spray on still days, not windy....I don't want it to spread to areas where there might be butterfly larvae.

5:09PM PDT on Mar 28, 2013

Thanks for sharing.

7:50AM PDT on Oct 19, 2011

Thank you

2:43AM PDT on Oct 19, 2011

Thanks for sharing.

7:59AM PDT on Oct 18, 2011

Jeanne - What is "bt?" Thanks.

1:55PM PDT on Oct 17, 2011

Thanks Judi.

3:07PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

The ground is so compacted from very little rain this early fall-so when is the right time to retill the gardens to plant beets, turnips and turnip greens, etc. and is it too late to plant brussel sprouts? This is region 5 (central mid-west)...

4:16PM PDT on Aug 5, 2010

Awww, this is sad, only one comment from an article posted LAST year? I'm sorry more people didn't find this.

I tried planting broccoli, and when they got very little direct sun, they didn't grow (and some seedlings died). So I put them onto the back porch and they got too much sun and ALL of them died.

I planted sweet bell peppers in a container in the sun and also in a Topsy Turvy; they all died.

I planted grape tomatoes in a Topsy Turvy and it's just perfectly stagnant (but I checked this morning and I THINK they might be dying too).

All of these veggies were planted in early July in Atlanta. I am so frustrated. I only eat organic, and it's really expensive, or just plain difficult to find.

$6.99 a lb for yellow or orange bell peppers at Whole Foods? I want to grow my own (red too), but they all died and I can't find organic seeds anymore.

I'll see if I can find an organic nursery and plant some chard, kale and spinach this season.

Thanks for the article.

12:43PM PDT on Sep 22, 2009

Just about every month of the year, I'm planting lettuce. (In Connecticut!) So delicious. Nov-Jan, I don't. I continuously plant so that we always have a few rows that are really giving nicely. I always let one or two rows go to seed, because I can then either collect the seeds or let the seeds fall, thereby seeding themselves into a new row. Our broccoli is still doing nicely. We plant several plants in spring, using bt diluted in water quite liberally to keep the cabbage worms at bay. Our broccoli plants will keep giving us small shoots to eat until sometime in Jan. or Feb., when an ice storm is usually what does them in. Also, in Fall, I'm planting garlic. That'll be the first thing up in the Spring. A new experiment this year is I'm going to plant a few rows of potatoes and see if they make it. If they do, we'll have new potatoes, I hope, earlier than usual.

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