Depending on where you live you are probably at least thinking about fall gardening by mid-July. You maybe doing more than just thinking and actually planting some of your cool weather crops. Every summer while our heat index reaches 100+°F day after day, I tend to get frustrated hearing about everyone’s fall garden knowing that ours is still a few months away. Fall gardening in zone 9 will mean that, for the most part, you start later than other zones. If you aren’t in a zone 9 climate, you can scroll down to get tips for fall gardening in zones 3-8.
What is a zone 9 gardening area?
When gardeners talk about gardening zone, they are typically talking about the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones. If you don’t know what zone you live in, you can find it on this map. The cold hardiness zones tell us the average minimum temperature an area is likely to experience. That’s it. They don’t tell us anything about how many times the area might reach that temperature, they don’t tell us how soon an area will reach that temperature, and they tell us nothing about the fall, winter, or spring conditions.
The zones are divided by 10°F and subdivided into a and b by 5°F. So, if you live in zone 9a your average minimum temperature is 20°F and if you live zone 9b your average minimum temperature is 25°F. Remember, these are just averages, so some years it won’t reach that temperature and some years it will go below that temperature. If you want to know what year round gardening in zone 9 with a hot summer is like, there is a month by month post here.
When to start your zone 9 fall garden
Planning your fall garden can and should start in the summer but actually planting the zone 9 fall garden will depend on how long and hot your summer is. If you are going to direct sow the seeds or start them ahead of time and transplant them will also be a factor in when and how you start your fall garden. Lastly, day length might be a factor.
If you have temperatures above 90°F into October, you might not want to start your fall garden in August. The longer you have high temperatures the more you will have to water and tend to the tender seedlings. However, if you have time and inclination to water every day or two until the heat breaks and even give the young plants some shade, then you might want to go ahead and get an early start on your fall garden.
If you are going to start some of your seeds in trays like many people do for spring gardens, you’ll want to start those at the end of August or the beginning of September. You’ll likely need to give them some shade if you are starting outside – on a porch, for instance.
Day length might be a factor in when you start your fall garden. Plants will stop growing when they day time hours drop to 10 hours. This is why some crops can’t be grown in the Pacific Northwest and those plants can be grown in similar hardiness zones farther south. In my area day length drops below 11 hours at the beginning of November and to just above 10 hours on the winter solstice. You can check yours with this calculator. Then be sure to make a note of it in your gardening notebook.
While most of the gardening zones will use the first average frost date to decide when to plant their fall crops, if you only plant crops that are frost tolerant in zone 9 you don’t have to worry about the frost date. This year I’m going to try something new (at least to me) and instead of using the average first frost date (which is December 11 for my area) I’m going to use day length to calculate my beginning planting time.
My reasoning is this, if I want to harvest greens and cole crops all winter, I need to make sure they are big enough for harvesting by the time our day length hits 11 hours (for us November 1st). As I look over the notes I’ve taken over the last 5 years of fall gardening I noticed that the times we’ve had cooler than normal weather in September and I’ve planted fall crops we’ve had am much better harvest than the times I’ve waited until October. October is when I technically “should” put in my fall garden based on frost dates.
So, this year I will start some transplants on my front porch in the shade in mid August and transplant them into the garden before October. I’ll also direct seed some plants in September and be sure to water them every day or two. This is the plan, we’ll see how it happens in real life.
What to plant in your zone 9 fall garden
There are four main types of plants you can plant in your zone 9 fall garden; root crops, leafy greens, brassicas (or cole crops), alliums (onion family), and some herbs. All of these will overwinter well in a zone 9 garden and you won’t have to worry about covering them with frost protection very often if at all.
Root crops that do well are carrots, beets, and radishes. You could also plant turnips and parsnips but it’s been my experience that we do not get enough cold hours to produce tasty turnips or parsnips in zone 9. These crops all get sweeter (or less spicy or bitter) as the temperatures drop. The more often they drop below freezing the tastier these crops become. But definitely experiment and try to grow those things your family loves, even if someone (like me) says it’s not worth the effort. Because turnips and parsnips aren’t important to my family, it wasn’t important to me to try to find a way to grow them.
Leafy greens that do well in zone 9 are kale, swiss chard, lettuces, spinach, arugula, greens (like turnip and mustard). Like the root crops, some of these will get sweeter (or less bitter) as the temperatures drop. I’ve never been able to grow a lettuce that my family just loves, but it’s important to me so I keep trying different varieties hoping that we’ll get one we love eventually. In my opinion, kale and chard are the powerhouses of the zone 9 fall garden. Spinach does better than lettuce for me and will not usually need to be covered in case of a frost, but lettuce will need to be covered.
Brassicas (or cole crops) that do well in zone 9 are cabbage, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. For these crops I plant transplants and sow seeds as a way of succession planting so I don’t have 20 heads of cabbage ready at the same time. When I harvest a cabbage, Chinese cabbage, or cauliflower I cut the plant off at the soil and then cover the area with mulch. This helps the garden bed be ready when it’s time to plant the spring garden. Broccoli will usually continue to produce small heads after the large head has been harvested so I let those grow and even flower until I absolutely need that space for the spring garden. Also, all of these leaves are edible so don’t think you have to wait until the broccoli or cauliflower heads are ready in order to harvest. In my experience we do no get enough cold days to for brussel sprouts to produce, but by all means try them in your garden if you’ve always wanted to grow them.
You can pretty much start any alliums in the zone 9 fall garden. Garlic and storage onions can be planted in November. Once they sprout you can mulch them with a bit of straw to keep the weeds down. Repeater (or green) onions, Egyptian walking onions, perennial onions, and chives can all be planted in the fall garden.
The herbs that do well in the zone 9 fall garden are herbs that need cooler weather such as parsley and cilantro. I also sow some dill seeds in the fall and they usually come up in January. Many people try to grow cilantro in the spring in order to use it with those amazing summer tomatoes, but it will bolt super fast. So, I grow it in the fall and then preserve it to use in the summer.
Fall gardening in other zones
I reached out to some bloggers who garden in other climates for those of you who don’t live in a hardiness zone 9. Dana from Piwakawaka Valley in New Zealand has a weekly garden series for her area. She lives in cold hardiness zone 9 but her summer temperatures only reach about 86°F. So, her climate is more like those zone niners who are living along the California coast.
Isis from Family Food Garden has a great list of vegetables to overwinter in zone 5 and tips for growing them.
If you live in zone 4, particularly Alaska, you should check out these 10 tips for having a “lazy” garden in a cold climate. Even if you don’t live in a cold climate, you can glean some great ideas from the tips.
Have you ever wondered just when to harvest certain vegetables? Chris from Joybilee Farms has a great list of when to harvest these 25 vegetables.
Tanya from Lovely Greens lives on the Isle of Man and has a list of 15 vegetables you can grow in autumn in her climate. Isle of Man for those of you who don’t know, is located between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Megan from The Creative Gardener has some great ideas for harvesting spinach all winter long – even under snow.