How to Grow Cool-Season Veggies with Ease

When the fall and winter seasons hit, green thumbs tend to go into hibernation. But if you feel that horticultural itch year round, you have options beyond the basic perennials’ upkeep: You can grow vegetables.

Veggies aren’t just for spring and summer gardens; some varieties actually thrive in cooler, crisper seasons. No experience with growing vegetables? No worries. Horticulturist, contributing editor for The American Gardener magazine and author of Homegrown Harvest Rita Pelczar offers some expert input on getting veggies to grow in cooler seasons.

What should you grow?

Choosing what to grow depends entirely on where you live. If the weather in your area is reasonably mild, spinach and lettuce are great options. In colder regions, opt for kale, turnips and mustard, which all grow well. And if you’re planning ahead for next season, broccoli, cabbage, carrots and parsnips started in late summer will last well into winter in many areas.

When should I start growing?

It’s best to get your fall/winter crops in the ground in late summer so that they get a good jump on their growth before the cold weather sets in. If the weather is still relatively mild in your area, start immediately if you’re hoping to plant for this season. The later you start, the lower the chances of survival are, but it never hurts to try!

Use floating row covers to protect your plants, both against late-season pests and against cold, windy weather. Keep your soil evenly moist and reduce temperature fluctuations by using mulch (think of it as a winter sweater for your plants). Dig root crops before the ground freezes -- store them in a sand pile for easy digging or in a root cellar.

Can I keep it indoors?

There are plenty of herbs that will grow well year round as long as they have a sunny window. If you want to grow veggies -- such as tomatoes or peppers -- you’ll need to do so in a very bright sunroom or a greenhouse. (Have room in your backyard to build one? There’s a DIY project for fall!)

Try these tips if you’re growing spinach, cabbage or carrots:

SPINACH: If you live in milder climates, in the fall, sow your seeds one month to six weeks before the first frost date and continue sowing them through the winter. For all climates, you can also sow your seeds up to two months before the last frost date in spring, then continue sowing every three weeks until just after the last frost date. Grow spinach in full sun to light shade (more shade in hotter areas), and provide consistent water without overwatering (moist but not mushy). Your spinach seeds should reach maturity in just over a month at minimum and 150 days at maximum.


CABBAGE: Cabbage is a great cool-season vegetable. To have a fall or winter crop for use in holiday cooking, you’ll want to plan ahead and plant seeds in late summer as they’ll take about 50 to 100 days to reach maturity. (Plant in full sun or partial shade if you’re in a hotter climate.)

CARROTS: If you have mild winters (at most an occasional light frost), you’ll be able to grow carrots from late summer through spring. Sow carrot seeds ideally in early spring -- sow them again in late summer if you have cold winters. They’ll take about one to two and a half months to reach maturity. Grow them in full sun and water regularly to keep them evenly moist.

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Easy Lawn Renovation Tips to Get Your Yard in Shape

Patches of grass die or thin out for a variety of reasons, but all is not lost. With a little work, some grass seed and water, your lawn will be looking lovely in no time!

Skill level: Intermediate

Tools & Materials:

Power rake (optional)
Core aerator
Grass seed

Before you get started treating your lawn, it’s helpful to have an idea of what caused a problem. A common culprit is overgrown thatch: the matted-down plant debris, such as clippings, leaf pieces or small twigs, found at the base of grass. Another culprit is having the wrong type of grass for your area. And of course, grass can also die if the lawn hasn’t been watered or fertilized properly.

Whatever the cause, taking a couple of steps will get your lawn back on track. Use the tips below to lightly break up the soil and spread the appropriate type of grass seed.


Soil can be loosened in several ways. To renovate a small section of your lawn, use hand tools. In an area where the grass is completely dead, rake up and discard all the plant debris. Simply rake deep into the soil and you’ll be ready to spread the seed. If there are bare patches, just loosen the soil.

Removing thatch from your lawn protects your grass from disease, encourages proper air circulation and allows water to penetrate into the soil. Consider renting a power rake, which is useful for vigorously lifting thatch. The process also creates areas of bare soil where new grass seed can make their start. Run the power rake over the area twice, in different directions, and remove all the debris.

Aerating your lawn can also help grass grow. Aerating equipment, like a core aerator, punches through the thatch and into the ground to extract small cores of soil, which are then deposited on top of the lawn. This process will pep up your entire lawn by improving its ability to access water, boosting airflow and creating opportunities for new grass seed to thrive.


For seeding success, use quality seed that is right for your area. Also make sure the seed makes contact with the soil and keep the area moist.

Grass seed is developed for many different purposes and regions. For areas that get more than six hours of sun a day, select a seed suitable for a sunny area. Similarly, seed developed for shady areas will perform better with less light. Choose a fast-growing variety to fill in your lawn quickly. If drought has caused your lawn to fail, try planting a more drought-tolerant variety.

When you’re ready to plant the grass, check the packaging for application rates. A spreader ensures that enough seed is planted while preventing waste. Walk the spreader through the area in two directions to seed evenly. It’s not necessary to cover the seed with soil. You can cover with a light layer of straw.

Proper watering is also crucial. Seed must stay evenly moist to germinate. Water daily for two to three weeks. In hot weather, water twice daily.

With a little attention, bare patches and thin spots will be transformed into a lush lawn.

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Photo: Corbis Images

Great Fall Gardens: How to Get the Look

Autumn brings spectacular colors to your landscape, whether it’s from the trees turning color, plants blooming in familiar fall colors of yellow and red, ornamental grasses that finish out the season with their feathery tassel-like blooms, or containers planted with frost-tolerant blooms that last well into the end of the year. You can make the most of your fall outdoor home décor with these inspirational ideas and tips.


Nothing sets the tone for fall color quite like drifts of native goldenrod (Solidago). Pair it with natural-looking bristle brush ornamental grasses punctuated with a blue-green-hued cedar tree. Plan ahead to achieve this look by planting a large area with perennial goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’, a shorter, fuller version of the wild variety) surrounding a cedar tree -- or, similarly, a blue spruce tree planted in the spring. Edge the area with a large swath of ornamental grasses.

·         Get the Look

Prepare a sunny site by amending the soil with a rich layer of compost, tilling it in to the existing topsoil to a depth of about 8 to 12 inches. Plant the tree first, then give it a skirt of the goldenrod. Plant an area of at least 10 to 20 feet around the tree with plants closely spaced to about a foot apart for a lush, full look. Plant a large area with the Pennisetum sataceum “Rubrum” grasses nearby, perhaps in groups on either side or behind the goldenrod.

Water well during dry weather and stand back. By early fall, the goldenrod will start sprouting yellow buds, then burst forth with a wash of blooms as the grasses send up their bristle blooms. Leave the plants in place and they’ll reward you year after year with their spectacular display.




Create a mixed border of small trees such as crab apples, Japanese maples or dogwoods, shrubs such as Berberis and boxwoods, plus perennials such as hardy yuccas, catmint and Heuchera. All of these will lend their colorful fall leaves and textures to the autumn display. Fall-blooming Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida) sends up its tall stalks topped with creamy white blooms punctuated with bright yellow centers. If conditions are right, the cool fall air will encourage many perennials to send out a second wave of bloom that lasts well into the fall.

·         Get the Look

Select a sunny location in your yard, perhaps backed by a wooded area, a stand of taller evergreens or a fence. In the spring, till in lots of rich compost to the area to a depth of about 12 inches. Plant the trees first, giving them plenty of space to grow. Next, plant the shrubs in groups of three or five (odd numbers of plants will give the area a more natural look). Finally, fill in the spaces with odd numbers of perennials in groups, repeating as you go along the length of the border.

Be sure to include plants that drape, stand upright or can be trimmed into globe shapes for architectural interest. Give the plants plenty of water the first year or two until they are established. As the weather cools, the plants will delight with their changing hues.




Colorful pots in autumnal hues filled with frost-tolerant plants will add pops of color to your deck or patio. Scour garden centers in the fall for blooming plants such as asters, Montauk daisies, ornamental kale and chrysanthemums that you can plant now for instant blasts of color. Or pull out annuals that have finished blooming at the end of summer and replace them with plants that can take the cooler weather and still provide colorful interest. Create vignettes using pumpkins and squashes readily available at farm stands and garden centers. Group several pots together, then place the fall bounty nearby for a seasonal display.

·         Get the Look

For this seasonal look, hollow out a large pumpkin that can hold a six- or eight-inch plastic pot. Punch some half-inch wide holes in the bottom of the pumpkin to provide drainage for the plant. Fill the plastic pot with potting soil and plant with frost-tolerant Cool Wave White pansies (

Water well and let it drain, then place the pot inside the pumpkin with the top of the pot meeting the top of the pumpkin. You might need to place a brick or some rocks in the bottom of the pumpkin to raise up the pot. Place in a sunny location and keep the pot watered but not wet. Plant yellow pansies in a planter nearby. In the spring, plant the pansies near the edge of your garden beds.

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10 Steps to a Beautiful Fall Garden

Now that fall has arrived, you might be tempted to put away your garden tools and head inside until spring. But if you do, you’ll be missing out on the wonders of the fall garden.

Cooler weather coupled with increased rainfall actually reinvigorates plants and trees in your landscape and produces vibrant color before winter sets in. Lawns green up, trees put on their best color displays, and many blooming plants send out a last stunning flower show before cold weather comes.

Fall is the perfect time to assess what worked and what didn’t in your landscape, so take the time to walk around your yard and take notes for improvements you want to do now and next spring to make your garden the best one ever next summer.

Step One: Remove Fallen Leaves

Don’t just go inside when the weather turns cool. Cleaning up fallen leaves on the lawn, patio, deck and in your flower and shrub beds can keep your outdoors looking nice. Rake or blow leaves into piles and put them in a remote corner of your yard to create a leaf compost pile. If it looks too messy for your taste, create a bin with a circle of wire fencing and fill it up. By next year, the leaves will have broken down and you will have nutrient rich compost you can use to layer on the soil around your plants.

Step Two: Seed Bare Spots in the Grass

To repair bare patches, scratch the surface of the soil with a metal rake and sprinkle a healthy dose of perennial grass seed on the area. Tamp it down and cover with a few handfuls of soil or finely ground mulch. Keep it moist, not wet, and in a few weeks new grass shoots will emerge to fill in the bare spots. While you’re at it, top dress the lawn with a light coating of topsoil and apply pelletized lime and fertilizer with a spreader. Your lawn will green up in a few days and look lush for months.

“Fall is the perfect time for lawn renovation,” says Dean Rossman, horticulturist and owner of Greene Street Garden Inc., a Long Island, New York-based garden design firm. “Fall typically means cooler temperatures and more rainfall and lawns love it.”

Step Three: Freshen Up Your Garden

Pull up spent annuals that have withered or stopped blooming, put them on your compost pile and replace with cool-weather plants such as chrysanthemums, ornamental kale and cabbages, or pansies and violas. These colorful plants thrive in cool weather and add a burst of color to flower beds and shrub borders. Visit public gardens and shop plant nurseries to see what’s blooming in the fall and to gather ideas.

Step Four: Add New Plants

Replace any plants in your containers that have finished blooming. For pots, mix ornamental grasses with colorful leaves and tassels available at many garden centers, including perennials such as coral bells (huechera) that have autumnal-hued leaves and trailing vines such as Boston ivy. In window boxes, remove spent annuals and replace them with tiny boxwoods, junipers, dwarf Alberta spruces and hollies. Fill the spaces in between with small pumpkins, squashes and gourds.

Step Five: Clean Out Existing Plants

Keep removing spent flower heads from plants such as black-eyed Susans, marigolds, geraniums and shrub roses. Many of these will delight you with a second wave of bloom that lasts well into fall.

Step Six: Look to the Greenery

Cut out any deadwood from trees and shrubs and give privets, boxwoods, yews and junipers a last light trimming to keep them looking neat through the winter. Just “don’t take off more than 20 percent of the plant,” says Roby Hastey Whitlock, landscape designer and owner of RWH Designs, a designer in New York City and the Hudson Valley. You don’t want to confuse the plants into thinking it’s spring again and sending out tender shoots that might be killed by an early frost, she adds.

Step Seven: Liven Things Up with Herbs

Add scent to your containers and flavor to your favorite dishes at the same time by planting herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme. Herbs love the cool weather of fall and are generally available at garden centers. Look for variegated leaved varieties to add a splash of color to containers on your porch, patio or deck.

Step Eight: Revive Garden Beds

Keep weeding the garden beds to get a jump on next spring. Also spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of pine bark, pine needles or cedar mulch on the soil to hold in moisture and warmth. Keep the mulch about three inches away from the trunks of trees and shrubs to help prevent pests (such as moles) that burrow under mulch in winter from feasting on the bark or roots of your plants.

Step Nine: Tend to Your Grasses

Cut back any perennial stalks that are dried and brown unless they have interesting seed heads that look good and will provide food for migrating songbirds. Leave your ornamental grasses standing at least until late winter when they flop over or shatter from the strong winds.

Step Ten: Don’t Stop Entertaining

Create a welcoming spot in your yard to enjoy the season. Buy a chimennea or fire pit, surround it with chairs accented with comfy cushions and throws to ward off the autumn chill, and build a fire. Invite friends over for a hot cocoa and S’mores party so they can enjoy your beautiful fall yard, too.

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