Fall Gardening Tips: Late Fall Planting and Composting Leaves

Fall gardening is mostly about preparing for spring, but depending on where you live it's still possible a limited set of crops.

| November/December 1981

072 fall gardening - usda climate zones

The USDA climate zone chart can be a big help with fall gardening.


Crisp, frost-nipped leaves crunch underfoot as the fragrance of woodsmoke again fills the air. The tart sweetness of apples is captured in cider's amber brew, and the stored bounty of the garden fills the holiday table. Reflect for a grateful moment on gardens fulfilled, and then turn your thoughts to the ever beckoning promise of next year's harvest. To get you started, here are some tips for fall gardening.

Late Fall Planting

By this time of year, vegetable growers in Zones 3 and 4 are reduced to pulling an occasional parsnip or cutting some kale from the bedded-down garden. You folks can toss another log on the fire, negotiate with the cat for space on the sofa, and plan next year's crops.

In Zones 5 and 6 (where the first frosts are due October 10 and 20, respectively), growers can safely transplant two garden perennials, asparagus and rhubarb, until the third week of November (do your digging before the ground freezes solid, though). Year-old asparagus roots should be planted about a foot apart in foot-deep trenches. Cover the roots with several inches of compost-enriched soil, and gradually, as the plants grow, till in the rest of the trench.

Rhubarb roots can be spaced from two to four feet apart and set so that the crowns are two to three inches below the surface of the soil.

Don't harvest either asparagus or rhubarb at all during the first season of growth ... let the plants build up a healthy, extensive root system. A light harvest is possible in the second year, and after that you should be able to cut the stems for up to eight weeks annually.

In Zones 7 (frost by November 1) and 8 (freezing weather commencing about the 15th), only the very hardy greens like corn salad and cress stand a chance of producing at this late date in unprotected ground ... but gardeners who use clothes or cold frames can still raise a respectable crop of leaf lettuce, mustard greens, or spinach. To learn how to build an easy-to-store knockdown cold frame, see "Cold Frame Plans for the Garden" by Peter Wotowiec and Clarence Kinkelaar.

9/16/2017 2:19:11 AM

The USDA Hardiness Zone Map shown above is highly inaccurate for 2017, and should not be used. It shows all of the lower peninsula of Michigan as zone 5, which it isn't true today. I live in SE Michigan, Genesee Co. and my county is actually rated as zone 6a. If you are going to reprint an old(1981) article, then please update it first. Better yet, rewrite the article completely, using current data.

9/15/2017 9:47:06 PM

37 year old data, composting article talks about something new which they were not able to get data on. I bet that data is available now which makes the article no good any more.

11/16/2012 10:07:22 PM

Where there is a good snow cover, like up here in Eastern Canada, you don't have to do anything with the leaves but just pile them up, not too deeply, and wait for spring when you will find the most beautiful black stuff imaginable.

marty jamieson
11/16/2012 6:49:17 PM

"Compost Happens!". A couple of gardener tips include ..... You never have enough air in the pile. Don't smother the pile. And a 24" temperature probe will allow you to know when to turn the pile. @140 degrees, thermodynamic and physical breakdown will occur. After you notice the temperature fall, then it is time to turn. If you see ants in the pile, keep it wetter! Oorah!

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