Summer may be gone, but that doesn’t mean gardening season is over. Even in the coldest zones, October is still prime time to get several crops in the ground. While many warm-weather crops are headed to sleep for the season, cool-weather plants are eagerly gearing up. Some crops even require the chilly October nights to germinate and yield properly.
From overwintering veggies and bulbs to berries to native plants, here are 11 crops you can still plant in October based on your growing zone.
What Can You Plant in October?
In October, seize the opportunity to plant various cool-weather crops and perennials, ensuring a bountiful spring harvest.
No matter what zone you garden in, October is perfect for planting cool-weather crops like garlic, winter greens, beets, parsley, cilantro, fava beans, brassicas, and many perennial plants.
Some of these plants, like hardneck garlic and blueberry bushes, require a period of chilling through the fall and winter to yield in abundance come spring. If your frosts come early, October still offers a window of opportunity for baby greens like mache, roots like radishes, and winter-hardy herbs like parsley.
11 Crops to Plant in October
Don’t hang up your garden tools yet! Those autumn leaves and cool nights are perfect for establishing crops that will yield in abundance this fall, winter, and next spring.
Garlic’s sensitivity to planting time and growing zone can be attributed to a phenomenon known as vernalization.
This essential kitchen ingredient undeniably requires some patience; 180 to 200 days of patience, in fact. Garlic operates on an opposite schedule of most crops: you plant during fall and harvest in summer!
But the biggest mistake you can make is planting garlic at the wrong time. The cloves need enough time to anchor their roots into the soil before cold weather, but they should not be planted so early that they grow a lot of foliage.
Early autumn shoots can predispose the plant to frost damage and reduced yields the following year. Moreover, planting too early in southern zones means the garlic is exposed to excessively warm temperatures, which reduces yields.
Order your seed garlic early and be sure to plant at the right time:
- Colder Zones (4-8): 4-6 weeks before your first frost, mulch with 3″ of mulch to protect the bulbs from hard freezes
- Warmer Zones (9-11): October/November, provide 3″ of mulch overtop to keep the soil temperatures cool
A phenomenon called vernalization is why garlic is so finicky about planting time and growing zone. Vernalization is when a seed or plant stock requires cold temperatures for a time to speed up its growth and development in the spring. This is why fall is so perfect for garlic; it needs the cold!
For most hardneck garlic, soil temps between 40-45 degrees are needed for at least a month during the winter. It can be longer than that, but prevent the soil from a hard freeze if possible to prevent damage to the underground cloves.
Be sure to select the right type of garlic for your growing zone:
- Hardneck: Stiff-neck garlic has larger cloves and easy-to-peel wrappers and requires a winter chill period. It’s best for zones 4 to 8 and produces scapes (flowering stalks) in summer that you’ll need to remove. As a hack, southern gardeners can put hardneck seed garlic in their refrigerators to mimic winter’s cold exposure period. Hardnecks have the most flavor and store for about 4-6 months.
- Softneck: The pliable soft necks of this garlic are popular for garlic braids. The cloves are smaller, harder to peel, and do not need chilling. Softneck garlic is great for zones 9-11 and will not produce a scape. It has the longest storage capacity of up to 9 months.
We are now offering seed garlic in many different varieties in our store!
Generally, the warmer the climate, the more you should grow softneck varieties. In Kevin’s garden in San Diego, he grows ‘Inchelium Red’ among others; this variety is a softneck that’s a great producer for warmer climates. However, you’re not uniformly limited to only softnecks if you live in zones 10-11. Consider hardneck varieties like ‘Creole Red’ or ‘Ajo Rojo,’ Creole-style garlic varieties known to perform in warmer climates.
In colder climates, softneck varieties may revert to a hardneck habit. An excellent example of this is ‘Silver White,’ which is a softneck in most warmer regions but can revert to hardneck habits and develop a scape in colder areas.
Once you’ve mastered timing and varietal selection, planting the garlic is super simple:
- Prepare a loamy compost-rich bed.
- Break up the cloves.
- Presoak the cloves in water with a tablespoon of baking soda or kelp.
- Plant 4” deep, pointy side up.
- Space 4-8” apart, depending on variety.
- Add 1-2” of mulch.
- Water and wait!
2. Mache (Corn Salad)
Mache is a cold-hardy green that has been a winter staple in Europe for centuries.
This green is fairly rare in America, but it’s been a staple winter green in Europe for centuries. Mache, also called corn salad, is a cold-hardy green that will yield tender, delicious salads throughout fall and winter. It has a mild, succulent flavor with slightly nutty tones, perfect for salads and light blanching throughout the cold months. In Vancouver (growing zone 8B), you can direct seed mache any time in October.
No major soil prep is required for this easygoing crop. Clear your bed and sow mache seeds about ¼ to ½” deep. Broadcast about 1” apart to create a nice dense layer of greens that dual-functions as a soil-protective cover crop.
Like garlic, patience is required, as these seeds can require up to 3 weeks to germinate. This stout green is also well-adapted to containers because it is so compact. This plant will be happy, provided the mache has a moist, cool spot with partial to full sunlight.
Most mache varieties take about 60 days until they’re ready to harvest. You can harvest leaf-by-leaf or cut the entire rosette from the base. The plant loses its tender, light flavor after spring, so it’s best to replace the crop once it starts tasting tough or soapy.
You can initiate the growth of beets through two methods: direct seeding or transplanting.
The humble beetroot is underappreciated because many people don’t realize how versatile and delicious it is. Cooler months yield sweeter, more tender roots that make a delicious addition to roasts, soups, and even mashed beetroot red velvet brownies!
However, if you can’t stand the flavor of beets, it’s not your fault. Like cilantro, some people have a gene that makes beets taste horrible. The beet compound geosmin tastes like iron or dirt to those individuals.
Fortunately, golden beets like ‘Golden Boy,’ ‘Touchstone,’ or ‘Badger Flame’ have far less of the geosmin compound and much more sweetness. These roots are phenomenal for autumn sowing because they become even sweeter when exposed to cold temperatures and yield a free bunch of greens, much like chard on the top.
If you’re into fermenting and preserving, ‘Robin’ is a great fast-growing beet perfect for pickling because it yields nice golf-ball-sized roots that don’t require much prep work.
Beets can be direct-seeded or transplanted. Sow seeds ½” deep about 2” apart in rows 12” apart. If you want to start your beets in trays, do so in early October and only plant one seed per cell. Beet seeds are actually multi-seed clusters that germinate into 2-4 seedlings. You don’t need to thin them if you don’t want to.
I like to leave the clusters intact so the beets can grow in nice bunches of 2-3 small beets rather than one giant one. Generally, smaller beets are more tender, easier to cut, and more mildly flavored. If you let beets get too large, they can turn woody and unenjoyable. Luckily, October planting typically yields ultra-sweet roots ready to harvest by December. They tolerate light frosts but require row cover protection in colder zones.
4. Cool Weather Flowers
Companion planting with these flowers can be a straightforward process.
Floral displays are just beautiful for humans and provide essential resources for overwintering and early spring pollinators emerging from hibernation. If you plant flowers in autumn, you can attract more bees, butterflies, and beneficial predatory insects to your garden next season. Hopefully, this means less pest problems for you!
In warmer zones 9-12, October is great for direct seeding cool-season flowers such as:
Companion planting with these flowers does not need to be complicated. Direct-sow some seeds in different corners of your bed throughout the garden and keep them moist until the fall rains take over.
If you want to spruce up your ornamental beds before spring, bulbs are naturally adapted to fall planting. Read below for spring bulbs that can withstand cold winters.
Preparing the soil is key when planting these low-growing berry shrubs.
In zones 5-12, October is perfect for planting blueberry bushes. These hardy shrubs may not yield their delicious nutrient-dense berries until spring, but they prefer to settle in their new home in advance. Planting berries in the fall allows your plants to establish strong root systems and prepare for their upcoming winter dormancy.
You can grow blueberries almost anywhere in the United States, whether in the ground or containers. When choosing a variety, consider the “chill hour requirement.” This describes the number of hours that the temperature drops below 45°F. For example, ‘Blueberry Buckle’ requires 350 chill hours, making it suited to zones 6-10 and ideal for October planting.
However, frigid zones 4 and below should be wary not to plant too late. If you miss the early to mid-October planting window, it’s best to wait until spring when severe frost danger has passed. Your local nursery will have the proper blueberry varieties suited to your area.
Planting these low-growing berry shrubs is a breeze if you properly prep the soil. Blueberries prefer acidic soil with a pH between 4.5 to 5.0. It’s easy to blend together organic potting soil and compost, then add a dusting of Espoma Soil Acidifier to reduce the pH. Then, you can transplant your berry shrubs about 2-4 feet apart. Cover the soil with a straw mulch to insulate the roots through the winter.
6. Native Plants
Fall is an excellent season to create a pollinator patch in your garden, benefiting pest control and local wildlife.
Fall is a great time to plant native species and establish a pollinator patch to help with pest control and support local wildlife. Many native wildflowers naturally follow this natural pattern by producing seedheads in late summer and dropping those seeds to the ground in the fall. Be sure to select a blend native to your area, like this ‘California Color’ mix.
When sowing a mix of different flowers, thoroughly blend the seed packet before pouring them into your hand. Then, push any mulch to the side and scrape your fingers over the soil to loosen it up and create rough edges for the seeds to dig in.
Sprinkle the wildflower seeds over the soil, spreading them out reasonably but not being too particular about spacing. Remember, in the wild, these plants just willy-nilly scatter their seeds into the wind. However, you don’t want your precious natives to blow away, so lightly tamp them down with your hand to add seed-to-soil contact.
Most wildflowers don’t need to be buried in soil. Instead, you can add a nice layer of straw mulch to prevent the birds from eating them. Finally, water the seeds in and allow October rains to handle the rest. By spring, you should have a thriving native wildflower patch to provide beauty and ecological benefits to your garden.
Pro Tip: To avoid accidentally weeding out your native wildflowers, you need a way to recognize the seedlings. Jacques devised a genius idea of sowing a sprinkle of the native wildflower blend into a 4” pot of soil mix as a “sample batch.” The seeds in this separate pot will germinate simultaneously and give you clues as to what the native species look like once planted.
Cilantro thrives in cooler weather, particularly during autumn.
Most of us think of cilantro as a summer salsa ingredient alongside tomatoes, but this crop prefers cool weather. Cilantro thrives in autumn and is easy to sow directly into your garden. It perfectly complements your last fresh summer pice de gallo and sauces, soups, chimichurris, and garnishes.
You can succession plant cilantro seeds every two weeks throughout the season for a year-round supply. No need to worry if the plant bolts (goes to flower) in warm weather! The bolted cilantro plants serve as amazing insectary and even produce lovely edible seedheads of fresh coriander. Many chefs revere fresh coriander flowers and seeds as a culinary ingredient! Better yet, the little white cilantro flowers are magnets for ladybugs and other beneficials.
8. Fava Beans
Planting fava beans in October gives you an early spring harvest start.
Unlike summer green bean varieties, fava beans prefer the cooler weather of fall and winter. When you plant in October, you get a headstart on spring harvests and can enjoy delicious broad beans early next year. The green leaves and flowering tops are also edible and make a refreshing treat in the early spring months when other greens may not be ready yet.
These plants are quite cold-hardy and overwinter very well in zones 7-10. There are many varieties of fava beans, some bred as cover crops and some better suited to eating. If you want to harvest and cook your favas, try a variety like ‘Windsor.’ These larger-seeded types should be seeded 2” deep and about 6” apart. They are harvest-ready in spring from a fall sowing and have large pods for easy peeling and flavorful cooking.
If you prefer to use favas, a nitrogen-fixing cover crop, to protect and nourish your soil through winter, try this ‘Fava Bean Cover Crop’ seed packet. The seeds are much smaller and should only be sown about 1” deep. When the plants begin flowering in early spring, you should chop them down but leave the roots in place so they decompose and add their nitrogen caches to your soil. The cover crop fava greens and flowers are technically still edible but not as tasty.
9. Flower Bulbs
These bulbous flowers use the milder fall climate to establish their root systems.
If you want a gorgeous rainbow of colors in your early spring garden, many biennial and perennial flower bulbs should be planted in the fall. These bulbous flowers operate similarly to garlic because they use the mild fall weather to anchor their roots.
They hibernate through the winter as they undergo vernalization. Remember, this is the chill period they need to stimulate growth. Fall-planted bulbs will burst forth in spring with a vibrant, colorful show.
In colder zones 4-8, fall-planted bulb flowers include:
If you have heavy soil, Angela from @GrowingintheGarden devised a special hack using a Power Planter Guru Auger drill. All you need is the twirling attachment to install in your drill and create planting holes at the proper depth. Every flower bulb variety is a little different, so check the planting depth before drilling into the soil.
Loosen up the hole and add a couple of handfuls of compost or potting soil mix. Place the bulb in the hole at the right depth with the pointed (sprout) side up. Backfill the soil and add a layer of mulch to keep the bulbs cozy in winter.
You can group bulbs in clusters around ornamental beds or even toss random bulbs in the corners of your raised beds for a diverse floral display. After a long winter of no flowers, the first daffodil will bring so much joy to your soul! Your future spring self will be glad you planted these bulbs now!
To give your plants an excellent start, use a nice loamy bed and cover them with row covers.
This autumn brassica can take some time to get used to, but it is incredibly rewarding once you find the sweet spot of variety, planting time, and pest control in your specific region. In a warm climate, Kevin’s biggest secret for successful giant cabbages is to plant in mid or late October, allowing them to grow through the coldest portion of the southern growing region.
Southern fall planting works best for cabbage because:
- Brassicas love cool temperatures and tolerate mild frost, which makes them sweeter.
- You can avoid the worst cabbage pest, the cabbage loopers. These little caterpillars are laid by white cabbage butterflies, which are far less active during winter.
If cabbage worms are still a problem in your area, you can use a tight row cover over the cabbage to prevent the adult white butterflies from laying their eggs on your crop.
Cabbage comes in 3 main types:
You can start the seeds indoors in late summer or directly sow in the fall. For colder zones, 6-8 weeks before your first frost is ideal. A nice loamy bed and a layer of row cover will help the plants get off to an excellent start without the pressures of pests or excessive cold early on in their growth cycle.
The plants are somewhat hardy, but young seedlings need protection to become “hardened” and resilient to cold weather. Most cabbages should be planted 12-18” apart and remain above 25°F throughout the winter.
11. Japanese Turnips
These Japanese turnips are tender, sweet, and so crisp that you can enjoy them as you would eat an apple.
The sound of turnips may wrinkle up your nose, but stick with me here! This autumn delicacy will change your mind about Grandma’s classic turnips. ‘Hakurei’ Japanese turnips are the trendy modern cousins of purple-top turnips. They’re tender, sweet, and so crisp you can eat them like an apple. They grow fairly quickly (about 30-50 days) and require almost the same conditions as radishes.
If you want a quick and rewarding fall crop, direct seed Japanese turnips at 1-2” apart, ¼” to ½” deep, in rows 12-18” apart. They enjoy loamy, well-drained soil and don’t require any special prep work. The cool weather sweetens the roots, and the greens have a nice, mildly peppery taste. One of my favorite things about Hakureis is how great they taste straight from the garden. They don’t have the intense spice of a radish or mustard!
If you seed now, you’ll have delectably juicy turnips before frosts arrive. These little snowball turnips are perfect for fresh snacking, roasts, dip platters, or soups.
Most of these October garden plants fall into one of two categories:
- Crops like mache, beets, and turnips will yield fast harvests in late fall and early winter.
- Overwintering plants like garlic, flower bulbs, blueberries, cabbage, and native flowers will yield in abundance next spring.
The key to success with fall planting is choosing suitable varieties for your region and adequately preparing the soil. Mulch benefits nearly every plant, as it will insulate the roots from winter’s cold nights.