Leafy greens thrive in cooler weather
Sow the seeds for these 16 different vegetables in summer for bountiful autumn harvests. Includes pak choi, spinach, lettuces, radishes, and even peas
When you’re bringing in the glut of summer harvests it may slip your mind to plan for autumn. Sowing seeds now for leafy greens and other vegetables can mean fresh veggies as the year begins to wind down. For rows of greens in the garden, you’ll need to get them in now at the end of July. For container grown veg, you have a little more time since you can move the pots under cover if it cools down. Thinking ahead can mean the difference between an empty garden or fresh autumn harvests.
Many autumn vegetables sown from seed will tend to be green and leafy. Think lettuces, asian greens, and cool climate herbs and leaves. Many seed sown herbs will need a bit too much time to produce greens so another way to extend the season is to grow plug plants. Many seed companies will still be offering them now. Peas and mangetout can be grown to harvest in the autumn too. The right varieties will thrive during those cooler days and nights.
You can also encourage new growth on non-woody perennial herbs by cutting them back hard. Herbs like peppermint, lemon balm, lovage, welsh onions, and chives will grow new shoots and leaves up to the first frost. Bring them indoors if you’d like to extend the season even further.
When to sow autumn crops
If you have true winters and want to grow autumn vegetables you’ll need to plan ahead. Sow rows of beetroot and chard in late July and container greens should be sown by early August. It’s important to give them enough time to establish before it really starts cooling down.
Many people in warmer climates can grow leafy greens all winter long. Your region’s first and last frost date will dictate when you need to get sowing. The time to harvest should be clearly marked on any of your seed packets so match them up with your local frost dates. You need to give the plants some warmth early on to germinate and enough time to reach maturity before it freezes. Keep in mind that frost will kill a lot of veg and for others it slows down their growth dramatically.
Direct sowing in the garden
For your various veg (see the list below) follow the instructions on the back of the seed packet. Many leafy greens need 6-8 weeks to fully mature but other varieties can crop earlier.
You might also want to use horticultural fleece to keep your greens from being damaged by early frosts. It’s also worth protecting young plants from foraging birds and animals by using netting, fleece, or mesh tunnels.
Leafy greens grow very well in pots and containers. Place them within an easy walk from your door and you can have a steady and convenient supply of salad leaves. If you bring them under cover you can continue the harvest throughout the cooler months. This could mean popping them in a greenhouse, conservatory, or just covering them with horicultural fleece.
As it cools off, place your pots near buildings where it will be a little warmer. This can help to reduce the risk of cold and frost damage. Green and leafy veg are also very attractive to slugs and snails — some can be active even when it’s cold outside. When grown in a container it’s easier to combat these pests organically by ringing the pot with copper or using other barriers to keep them out.
Sowing Autumn veg in containers
Fill a pot or container with at least 6 inches of compost and press it down firmly. When sowing seeds in pots, make sure that the top two inches is relatively good compost. It can be new or used for a crop or two already. Change it out regularly if you’re growing veg in the same container over a prolonged season. Vegetables are heavy feeders. For my containers, I usually fill them with composted farmyard manure and that will last a full year. After I take a crop out I like to give the compost a good turn though.
Sprinkle the seeds on relatively thinly then cover with a layer of compost – the rule of thumb with seeds is to cover them with a depth of soil that is twice the thickness of the seed itself.
To keep the moisture in, mulch the top with a thin layer of fine grit or gravel (stones should be less than 10mm in diameter). Water well and every day thereafter. Even if it rains you’ll still need to check your pots to see if they’re moist enough.
16 vegetables to grow for autumn harvests
These are some of the vegetables to grow for autumn harvests. They include a lot of leafy greens like spinach, chard, and oriental veg. Mix and match them for cooler season salads or toss them into a stir fry. Some, like kale and lamb’s lettuce, can stand through frost and cold. Their growth will slow down but they’ll still give you greens during autumn and winter.
- Arugula Also known as Rocket
This peppery leaf is easy to grow and can be used in all manner of dishes ranging from salads to rice to pizza toppings. It grows long tap roots and can grow as a perennial if it isn’t killed by frost.
- Beet Greens The green tops of beetroot
Though it can take considerably longer for the actual root to develop, you can expect to have beetroot greens ready for picking in as little as a month. The leaves are similar in taste but earthier than Swiss Chard.
- Chinese Cabbage
A mild flavoured crisp vegetable that can be used both raw and cooked. Though each plant needs about a foot to mature into full size, you can grow ‘baby’ leaves in pots and containers.
- Cilantro Also known as Coriander
Cilantro is a popular herb used in both Asian and Latin American dishes including soups, salads, and ethnic savoury dishes. Though growing the leaves from seed can take up to ten weeks, you can also purchase plant plugs to shorten the growing time. This tip applies to many leafy annual herbs so have a look around your garden centre for ideas.
Thick fleshy cabbage flavoured leaves that can be used in stir fries, salads, and other dishes that call for cabbage leaves and greens. When grown in containers you must use the plants in their ‘baby’ state. In open ground they need just over a foot to mature to full size.
- Lamb’s Lettuce
This hardy green can take a long time to establish but it is perennial and grows well in containers and in the garden. Though the leaves can get a bit tough later in the winter, it can stand all the way through to spring making it a handy green to have in the garden.
I often see winter varieties recommended for Autumn sowing but it’s probably fine to use any types when sowing in late August to September. With winter varieties, harvest when in a ‘baby’ state for fresh salads. I also generally buy varieties that are marketed as Cut-and-Come again varieties but have had luck with ‘All the Year Round’ lettuce as well.
An Asian vegetable with a peppery, mustardy flavour. It’s used in stir fries but is more commonly uncooked and used in salads or as toppings for savoury dishes.
Similar to Mibuna, this Japanese green resembles Arugula (Rocket) and is used predominantly in salads and uncooked dishes.
- Mustard Greens
Hot and peppery, use Mustard Greens in salads, stir-fries, and other dishes that need a little heat. Keep in mind that while the baby leaves are tender and flavourful, more mature leaves can be bitter.
- Oriental Greens
This category is for two items – mixed Oriental/Asian greens as sold in seed packets and all the other fantastic green leafy veggies that hail from Asia. Oriental Greens are used in stir-fries, salads, savoury dishes, or simply steamed and used as a side dish. You can find dozens of varieties available both online and in your local gardening centre.
- Pak Choi
Make sure to protect these from slugs and snails. When grown in the garden, mine generally always have a few holes in the leaves when it comes time to harvest them. Though they need a bit of space to mature fully, you’ll be able to get decent sized baby Pak Choi if you give them around four inches of space. So thin the baby plants around a few to use as ‘baby’ greens then let the last ones grow on in size.
It’s possible to get a second crop of peas in the autumn. In July sow varieties that are resistant to hot weather and disease like powdery mildew. Find a lot more information on how to grow autumn peas over here.
Juicy and peppery, radishes are a relatively trouble-free vegetable that loves cooler conditions. If you grow them in the heat of summer you shouldn’t be too surprised if your radishes to go to seed and/or become woody. Autumn and Spring conditions are perfect for these tasty and colourful little root veggies.
Like Radishes, Spinach doesn’t much care for hot conditions. Turn your back on it in the summer and you can expect it to bolt. It’s a perfect vegetable for growing in Autumn though so make sure to sow loads.
- Winter Cress
Another spicy green that’s fantastic in both salads and soups, Winter Cress is a hardier cousin of Water Cress. Sow the seed in late summer and Autumn and pick leaves from November to early spring. After that, the leaves go bitter.