How to Grow a Fall Container Garden + Easy Vegetables to Grow

Image of parsley growing in a container with a banner that reads plant a fall container garden.

July and August are the best time to start seeds and plants to grow vegetables for a fall container garden.

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This post is all about how to plant a fall container garden.

If you live in a small place or you don’t have a lot of space for a garden, container gardening is one way to nourish your green thumb by growing plants in a small space.

For the most part, all that you need is a place to put plant pots or planters. Either a small patio or section of the yard is a great place to get started. You may also be able to grow plants in containers at a community garden.

You can also grow plants indoors using a hydroponics system. Small plants like lettuce, kale, spinach, mizuna, herbs, and mini tomatoes are great for growing in these systems.

Many of these plants also happen to be great plants to grow in a fall garden.

Container Gardening in the Fall

There are a few things to know about container gardening in the fall. First, the “fall” season starts around midsummer in most gardens, because you need time to let plants grow to a sufficient size before temperatures start to cool down and days get shorter.

Shorter day lengths mean that most plants grow more slowly in the fall. Growth slows way down during the Persephone period, when the number of hours of sunlight drops below 10 hours a day.

This often happens in January, when it is likely to cold to grow anything outside unless you have a greenhouse. You should plan to allow plenty of time for your plants to mature before the days get too short or cold for them to grow.

When to Sow Seeds for a Fall Garden

July to mid-August is a good time to sow seeds for cool weather-loving plants to grow in a fall garden. These include vegetables like beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, mustard, spinach, and turnips.

After the summer solstice occurs, days gradually become shorter, meaning there are less hours of sunlight in each day for the rest of the year.

You’ll want to find out the first expected frost date in your area, and use that to figure out how many weeks you need to allow seeds to sprout and grow. Most plants need 4 to 6 weeks to grow big enough to withstand the challenges of being placed in a garden.

Young plants are called seedlings, and seedlings are what you transplant into a container garden. But first, the seedlings are grown indoors for a number of weeks until they are strong enough to survive in the garden.

Since day length becomes shorter as we progress toward fall, it can be a good idea to add at least 2 extra weeks of growth time for plants that you grow during fall. Therefore, a seedling that would normally be ready to plant in the garden in 6 weeks, should instead be allowed to grow for at least 8 weeks indoors before being planted in the garden, depending on the planting time.

Some of the easiest and fastest-growing plants to grow from seed include beets, bok choy, carrots, lettuce, kale, mizuna, and radish.

Root vegetables like beets, carrots, parsnips, and turnips should be sown in place in the outdoor container, because they don’t like being transplanted. Beans also fall into this category, so if you plan to grow fall beans, sow the seeds in place.

Plants that grow above ground, like bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and lettuce may benefit from being sown indoors and allowed to grow for 6 to 8 weeks before being planted outside in the garden.

Using a heat mat and grow light—to help seeds emerge and have enough light to grow, can help improve your chances of success when starting seeds and growing seedlings indoors.

Buying Plants for an Instant Garden

One of the easiest ways to start a fall vegetable garden is to buy plant seedlings online or at a local garden center or nursery. This is a great way grow, when you need to start a garden quickly.

Depending on where you live, you should start looking for fall garden plants in mid- to late July or August. Common plants to find include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and spinach.

Hardy herbs like curly parsley, garden sage, and winter thyme may also be grown during fall and winter. While less hardy, cool weather-loving cilantro and dill can also be grown during mild fall weather. These plants can all be grown in pots, so long as the pot is big enough for each plant.

Plants that you purchase in a garden center, greenhouse, or plant nursery should be ready to plant in the garden right away, although they may benefit from being hardened off outside for a few days if they weren’t hardened off at the place where you bought them.

Hardening Off Plants

“Hardening off” helps to prepare young plants and seedlings for life outdoors. It can be a good idea to harden off both plants that you start from seed, and those that you buy from a local greenhouse or nursery, before planting them outside.

To harden off, set the plants outdoors in a somewhat protected area for a few hours each day, lengthening the time that you leave them outside as the days progress. You’ll want to expose the plants to a little bit of the elements like wind, rain, and sun—but not so much that it damages them. This is so that the plants get to know what it’s like to live outdoors.

Hardening off helps plants adjust to being in an outdoor environment, rather than a more protected environment like an apartment, house, or greenhouse. It helps to prevent plants from suffering transplant shock, which can stunt a plant’s growth or even kill the plant before it has had time to produce a delicious bounty.

Once the plants are hardened off, you can plant them in your container garden full-time. Placing mulch around the plants can help protect their roots from cold weather.

Fall-Planted Bulbs

Fall is also a good time to sow bulbs for flowers that bloom in spring. These bulbs can be planted in pots or planters, where they overwinter before blooming in the spring.

Fall-planted bulbs include those for plants like bearded iris, crocus, daffodils, hyacinth, lilies, and tulips.

In the spring, the flowers bloom and produce a brilliant, colorful display for the front porch or patio.

Easy Plants to Grow in a Fall Container Garden

Here is a list of easy to grow plants that you can grow in pots this fall as the weather cools down.

Something to keep in mind is that some plants can develop deeper colors and flavors if they survive a frost. Thus, the color of your Japanese Giant Red mustard may become more vibrant, and the taste of your Georgia Southern (Creole) collards might become sweeter.

Colorful Vegetables to Grow During Fall

Here is a list of unusual and colorful vegetables to grow during fall. These plants make your garden look beautiful, and they can be fun to grow with your kids.

  • Baby Milk bok choy
  • Purple Lady bok choy
  • Dragon Tongue bush bean
  • Golden Butterwax bush bean
  • Purple Peacock broccoli
  • Nero di Toscana cabbage (a.k.a. Dinosaur kale)
  • Red Express cabbage
  • Violaceo di Verona cabbage
  • Amarillo carrots
  • Longue Rouge Sang carrots
  • Lunar White carrots
  • Purple Dragon carrots
  • Uzbek Golden carrots
  • Green Macerata cauliflower
  • Chinese Pink celery
  • Forellenschluss lettuce
  • Little Gem lettuce
  • Lola Rossa lettuce
  • Lunix lettuce
  • Merlot lettuce
  • Merveille des Quatre Saisons lettuce
  • Rouge d’Hiver lettuce
  • Beni Houshi mizuna
  • Japanese Pink mizuna
  • Japanese Giant Red mustard
  • Five-Color Silverbeet Swiss chard
  • Oriole Orange Swiss chard
  • Vulcan Swiss chard

Growing Herbs

Herbs are great to grow in a container garden, because they don’t take up much space and most require little care other than water or sunshine.

You can also grow herbs indoors in a sunny windowsill or on a sunny table, using plant pots with saucers to help protect surfaces if water and soil leaches from the pot.

Great herbs to grow include basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Buying starter plants online or at a local nursery is the easiest way to get started.

Protecting Plants During Fall and Winter

Vegetable plants remain vulnerable to pests, like aphids, cabbage worms, and mealy bugs. Organic BT spray or other insecticides can be used to help control worms. Covering plants with insect netting can be a way to help control insects without spraying.

Fall and winter frosts can bring cold temperatures and weather conditions that can kill plants in the garden. Providing plants with protection, like frost blankets, can help them survive.

Moving plants to sheltered locations, like an unheated greenhouse or covered patio, may also help them to survive during cold snaps. Mulching around plants can help to protect their roots from frost.

This post was all about how to plant a fall container garden.

  • Photo by Greta Hoffman / Pexels
  • Photos used for illustrative purposes only.

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