Garden Collage x Epic Gardening Present: What To Plant in August
As fall approaches, most gardeners are winding down on the summer season with a hint of sadness in their green hearts. But cry no more! Fall is a wonderful time to garden — no matter what zone you’re in. With a little bit of work, you can set your fall garden up for a harvest that — while it may not match summer’s bounty — will still be absolutely plentiful.
Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea) is one of the weirder looking vegetables in the cabbage family, most often grown for its stem. Many gardeners confuse its stem for a bulb due to how bulbous it gets once it reaches maturity. While less commonly eaten, its leaves are also a great source of both vitamin C and fiber, making kohlrabi a fantastic addition to your fall garden. Chefs love growing kohlrabi microgreens due to their vibrant purple stems that pop on the plate.
If you decide to add kohlrabi to your garden, know that it requires at least six hours of sun (but prefers as much sun as it can get). Like most veggies, it thrives in well-draining soil with tons of organic matter. Aim for a pH slightly below neutral to prevent diseases from affecting its roots. As long as the above conditions are met, kohlrabi is a fairly hands-off veggie in the garden, one that also produces quickly.
- Recommended cultivar: Purple Vienna Kohlrabi
Endives (Cichorium endivia) are an often-overlooked leafy green in the garden, being left in the dust when compared to spinach, kale, and chard. But if you’re stuck for fall veggie ideas in Zone 2, the humble endive is your best friend. It grows in a tight oval shape and has a mild taste with a slightly bitter edge. They’re perfect in Zone 2 simply due to the fact that colder temperatures actually help to improve their flavor come harvest time.
If you can, buy starts from a local nursery and transplant into soil about 10” apart. Water heavily and be sure to add extra organic matter to the soil as they develop. If you want to further cut down on the bitterness of a head of endive, decrease the amount of light you give them a week before harvesting — the bitterness will be cut down significantly.
- Recommended cultivar: Belgian Endive
Zone 3 & 4
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) isn’t the most creative green to grow, but it absolutely thrives in Zones 3 & 4 during the early fall, and is also a heavy producer. Its dark-green leaves are a staple in salads and dishes of nearly every cuisine in the world, making it one of the most versatile greens you can have in the garden.
Be sure to sow your spinach seeds in soil that is rich in nitrogen. If you don’t have high nitrogen levels, you can amend with an organic fertilizer of your choosing. Spinach tends to send down a strong taproot, so use a pitchfork to loosen your soil at least 12” down before sowing seed or transplanting seedlings. After about six weeks, begin harvesting from any plant that has leaves 3-4” long, cutting from the outside in to encourage continual production.
- Recommended cultivar: Bloomsdale Spinach
Zone 5 & 6
Beets (Beta vulgaris) are a beloved root veggie in many gardens around the world, but in Zone 5 & 6 they are a staple of early fall planters. Deeply saturated in both color and nutrients, beets should be a mainstay in the garden if possible. However, they are biennial, which means that they need a year to get established before they become heavy producers in the fall.
If it’s your first season tackling beets, make sure to sow them in areas where they’ll get full sun in their first year of growth. They also require loose, friable soil down to a depth of around 10” for optimal root formation. As far as organic amendments go, be sure to add a lot of phosphorus to the soil as they are heavy feeders of this essential macronutrient.
- Recommended cultivar: Early Wonder Tall Top
Zone 7 & 8
Turnips (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa) are often thought of as a radish’s lesser sibling, but they’re actually held in high regard in southern cuisine both for their greens and roots. If you haven’t experimented with this white root veggie, this season is your chance.
Make sure you sow seeds in an area that gets a lot of sun, cleared of debris to about 15” deep (these are root veggies after all). Amend heavily with compost, adding as much as 4” of organic material into the soil before spreading seed. Sow liberally and then thin to 4”, using the thinned turnips as greens. You can harvest turnips at any point in their life cycle and you’ll get a different size, taste, and texture.
- Recommended cultivar: Purple Top White Globe
Peppers (Capsicum) might be a surprising addition to this list, but in Zone 9 you can get away with fall peppers due to the near-lack of a frost date in this hardiness zone. In fact, in some areas it is possible to grow peppers year-round, though you may want to choose your cultivars carefully based on your region.
When germinating pepper seeds, keep the temperature above 70 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal results. Plant three seeds per section to ensure germination, and then thin the weaker seedlings as they sprout. Plant them in well-draining soil and be sure to water well if you live in a hot and dry area — peppers are very sensitive to high temperatures. As soon as your peppers reach a size that you enjoy them at, harvest them. You can leave them on the plant longer if you want them to ripen and become a bit sweeter (in the case of bell peppers, at least).
- Recommended cultivar: Golden California Wonder
Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) in the fall? Are you crazy? In most zones, the answer would be a resounding “Yes”, but in Zone 10a, it’s basically summer all year long. Watermelons are a great crop to plant in fall, if only to turn heads as people walk past your garden.
It’s best to buy watermelon starts and transplant into the garden to avoid the germination stage, as watermelons take a while to reach a harvestable size. They also take up quite a bit of space, so make sure you clear an area in your garden that you can devote solely to watermelon. They like to be grown in clusters, so transplanting 8-10 plants into a ‘hill’ and spacing each hill about 4’ apart is the way to go. Contrary to their name, they don’t require a lot of watering, so only water if the soil becomes extremely dry, or the weather gets hot.
- Recommended cultivar: Seedless Big Taste Hybrid
Pumpkins (Cucurbita) are an obvious choice if you live in Zone 10b. Not only will they be harvestable by the time that Halloween rolls around, they’re wonderful additions to fall recipes, and their seeds are absolutely delicious when roasted with a bit of garlic salt.
If you are going to grow pumpkins, buy seedlings and transplant as they have a long, 75-100 day season and anything you can do to shortcut will be very helpful. Like watermelon, they require a lot of space, so either clear an area or plant them in the edges of your garden and train the vines along a fence or trellis. They require a lot of nutrition, so be sure to amend with compost multiple times throughout the growing season to ensure large, healthy pumpkins.
- Recommended cultivar: Jack Be Little
Kevin Espiritu is the man behind Epic Gardening, a gardening site dedicated to demystifying the secrets of the green thumb. When he’s not knee-deep in his garden, he’s usually skateboarding, surfing, or reading a book.