Your Complete Guide to Fall Gardening, From Prep to Planting

Make room for fall plants by saying goodbye to summer's bounty.

Fall is one of the best times for gardening. Not only do cooler temperatures make it easier for avid gardeners to spend more time laboring over their plants, but the mild weather also provides the best environment for new growth. However, with summer vegetables still on the vine and warm weather annuals still producing blooms, getting started on your fall garden can feel daunting. To help you get the most out of your landscape this autumn, we're sharing all of our must-know fall gardening tips, including when and what you should plant.

Related: 10 Fall Container Plants That Will Fill Your Landscape With Color and Texture

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When to Plant a Fall Garden

Timing is essential when it comes to preparing a fall garden. "Begin your preparations in late summer or early September to ensure your garden is ready for the colder months ahead," says Bill Freimuth from Centurion Brands. Once your garden is ready, you can start planting as soon as the weather begins to cool down in early fall. "Planting during this time allows the necessary time for plants to establish a healthy root system before the first frost," says Linda Vater, garden lifestyle influencer and plant expert for Southern Living Plant Collection.

How to Prepare Your Garden for Fall

There are a few steps you must take in order to get your garden ready for fall planting.

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Svetlana-Cherruty / GETTY IMAGES

Harvest Summer Vegetables

Before planting for fall, you must make room by clearing out summer vegetables. "Harvesting your summer vegetables when they are ripe and ready to be picked is recommended to enjoy the best flavor and create space for fall crops," says Carrie Spoonemore, co-creator of Park Seed's From Seed to Spoon app. "Fall crops need different care than summer crops. Removing them allows you to prepare the soil and plan for fall vegetables." Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, eggplant, corn, and okra are all common crops that should be harvested at the end of summer.

Remove Weeds

One of the first things you should do to prepare your garden for fall is remove any weeds that cropped up during summer. "This is the best time to pull biennial weeds while they’re still in the more vulnerable rosette stage," says Jennifer Miller, horticulture coordinator at Denver Botanic Gardens. "Try to avoid pesticides and instead soak the ground with water, then use a hand weeder to pop out roots."

Remove Annuals

Remove any annuals from your garden that have stopped blooming for the season. This will make room for all of the fall annuals you want to plant in their place. "Try to leave some dead stems and seed pods for wildlife and winter interest," Miller says.

Tend to Perennials

Once the weather begins to cool, dig up tender bulbs to store over winter and divide perennials, like peonies and poppies. Keep in mind that some perennials don’t like being divided or moved indoors for fall. "For example, never divide or transplant warm season grasses in fall or move woody shrubs," says Miller. "Shrubs should only be dug up and moved in late winter right before the sap rises." Perennials that don’t like to be moved can be cut back instead. "Phlox, bee balm, and yarrow are fully hardy and can be trimmed back to a few inches of the ground," says Miller.

Prepare the Soil

Once your summer plants have been removed or cut down, it’s time to amend your soil, which can be done by putting down a layer of compost and mulch. “Add 1 inch of compost or manure to your garden soil in the fall to provide extra nutrients and protection,” says Rich Christakes, founder of Ship My Plants.

Related: 12 Popular Fall Perennials You'll See Everywhere This Season

How to Care for a Fall Garden

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beekeepx / GETTY IMAGES

Keep your fall plants healthy all season long by following these maintenance tips.


How much sun your plants receive ultimately comes down to what you choose to plant, but generally an area that receives about four to six hours of full sun is ideal.


Most plants like free-draining, nutrient-rich soil. "If you are unsure about your soil, most university or county extensions can provide you with guidance from a soil sample or a soil map—and ideas for amending it," says Joe Raboine, vice president of design at Oldcastle APG/Belgard.


One reason fall is the best time to plant is because Mother Nature usually provides ample rain showers to nourish the plants, says Christakes. But note that direct sown seeds and seedlings should be kept moist until established, and watered deeply once per week, if it hasn’t rained.


In most gardens, you'll need to add a nitrogen rich fertilizer that also has smaller amounts of phosphorus and potassium. "Nitrogen is used in large amounts by all plants because it helps to fuel all types of growth in the plant," says Christakes. "Nitrogen is important to help the plant grow taller and produce enough food for your use." Administer fertilizer in your fall garden in late October or early November.

Best Plants to Grow in Fall

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Svetlana Khoroshilova / GETTY IMAGES

If you're looking for ideas of what to plant in fall, consider these viable options.


  • Beets (Beta vulgaris)

  • Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis)

  • Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)

  • Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)

  • Carrots (Daucus carota)

  • Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera)

Trees and Shrubs

  • Andromedas (Pieris)

  • Cypress (Chamaecyparis)

  • Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)

  • Barberry (Berberis)

  • Crape Myrtles (Lagerstroemia)

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)

  • Camellias (Camellia spp.)


  • Coneflower (Echinacea)

  • Coral bells (Heuchera americana)

  • Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta)

  • Hellebores (Helleborus)

  • Grape Hyacinth (Muscari)

Related: 11 Perennials to Plant in the Fall for Stunning Spring Blooms

How to Plant Fall Plants

After purchasing your plants, be sure to get them in the ground at least six weeks before your first frost. Start by digging a hole according to the depth listed on the care tag. "For bulbs, a good general rule of thumb is three times the height of the bulb," says Vater. "Place your plants in their new homes, water them, and add a layer of organic mulch—a blend of dirt, compost, and pine straw—around them to conserve moisture and help prevent shock from winter freeze-thaw cycles."

Read the original article on Martha Stewart.