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Starting a Fall Garden

Thinking about starting a fall garden? The harvests don’t have to end because the summer does. Take advantage of an additional growing season and start a fall garden! Fill the harvest basket with spinach, carrots, kale, broccoli and more. 

Starting a fall garden in warm places like Arizona, means even more variety in the garden

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5 Tips for Starting a Fall Garden

5 Tips for Starting a Fall Garden - How to start a fall garden - What to plant in a fall garden #fallgarden #gardening

1. Choose the location before starting a fall garden

A winter and fall garden needs sun. Pay attention to how much sun your garden is getting in the fall. Cooler and shorter days and the changing angle of the sun mean areas that once were in full sun may not receive as much. 

Make sure the area you are starting a fall garden in gets 6-8 hours of sun per day for the greatest chance of success. Less sun will mean slower growth in winter crops. South-facing walls provide an ideal location for starting a fall garden. 

When starting a fall garden in Arizona consider the location carefully, an area that gets “too much sun” or that needed you to provide shade for in the summer may be the perfect spot for your fall and winter garden. 

Garden in bloom

2. Get soil ready before starting a fall garden

Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. The soil level probably has gone down in your raised beds and garden area. Why? Organic matter decomposes and needs to be replaced. Before starting a fall garden, refresh the organic matter by adding compost.

Add lots of compost to fill the beds back up. Add the compost on top of the existing soil. If you don’t make your own compost, purchase several different types of compost to add to the beds. 

Existing plants are often stressed after a long hot summer in places like Arizona and adding compost helps the plants recover. 

5 Tips 5 Tips for Starting a Fall Garden - How to start a fall garden - What to plant in a fall garden #fallgarden #gardening for a Successful Square Foot Garden #gardening #squarefootgarden #gardentips

It’s important to have your soil tested at least once a year. A soil test can determine the health of your soil. This is the soil test kit I use. It is very simple to use. 

Follow the test recommendations and add organic fertilizer to the soil. Natural organic fertilizer has had minimal processing, and the microorganisms in the soil will continue to decompose the fertilizer as it adds nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to the soil as well as other micronutrients and organic matter. Over time, organic fertilizer will improve soil structure and moisture-holding capacity. Organic fertilizer encourages worms and other beneficial soil organisms. 

Synthetic or chemical fertilizers are man-made and contain no organic elements. The are highly concentrated and can burn roots, and are used up quickly. Choose organic fertilizer if you can.

3. Decide what to plant when starting a fall garden

Find and use a reliable planting guide meant for your area. The local extension office is a great place to begin your search for a planting guide. When starting a fall garden in Arizona, for Maricopa County, I recommend this Arizona Vegetable Planting Guide.  

This is the guide I follow for my fall garden in Arizona. Follow the planting guide’s recommendations of what and when to plant. Use it as a guide, and if it is unseasonably warm or cold, adjust accordingly.

Vegetable Planting Guide: A Visual Planting Guide for Low Desert Vegetables

Two types of plants to consider before starting a fall garden - crops that (1) mature quickly, and (2) can tolerate light frost.

Fall Garden – Seed to harvest in less than 40 days:

5 Tips for Starting a Fall Garden - How to start a fall garden - What to plant in a fall garden #fallgarden #gardening

Fall Garden – Crops that tolerate a light frost:

Tips for planting seeds in the fall garden

  • Best grown from seeds: beans, peas and root vegetables like carrots and beets.
  • When planting seeds, look for short-season varieties if possible. The seed packet will list a “days to harvest”. When you have a choice, choose the seeds with the fewest “days to harvest”. This is especially true if you are planning on succession planting – staggaring planting throughout the season to maximize plantings.
  • As seeds come up, thin seedlings with scissors rather than pulling out the root. This allows the stronger plant to grow with its roots undisturbed.
  • Seeds may need more frequent watering to germinate if the days are still warm. Once planted, do not let seeds dry out. A dry seed is a dead seed.
  • If you live in a hot summer climate like Arizona, start seeds a little deeper than normal as the soil is typically cooler (and more moist) a little deeper down.
5 Tips for a Successful Square Foot Garden #gardening #squarefootgarden #gardentips

Tips for planting seedlings in the fall garden

  • Best grown from transplants: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and celery.
  • With transplants, bigger doesn’t always mean better. The plant size of the transplant should not be larger than the pot or package; roots may be rootbound. It’s best to transplant small seedlings so they can become accustomed to the growing conditions in your garden.
  • For hot summer climates (like Arizona), start seeds of cool season crops indoors, then transplant them outside when it’s time to plant.
  • Give transplants a day or so to adjust by keeping them in the shade; make sure they are watered.
  • If it is still hot during the day, plant the seedlings at night to let them settle in overnight.
  • If it is getting cold at night, plant them in the morning to give them the day to settle in before having to adjust to the cooler temperatures.

4. Be on the lookout for pests in the fall garden

Aphids and other pests thrive in cooler weather of a fall garden and love the tender new growth of young plants. Pests are attracted to sickly or diseased plants. Keeping your plants healthy is the best defense. For more about preventing pests in the garden organically, read this post. For more information about organic pest control options that really work read this post. 

Aphids: These tiny insects cluster on members of the cabbage family and annual flowers, often leaving a sticky residue and cause yellowing and wilting. Treat severe infestations with a soapy water solution, spraying off afterwards.

Whiteflies: They come in the late summer and early fall. If the infestation is severe, spray off with soapy water especially concentrating on the undersides of leaves. Be sure to rinse plant off afterwards. Treat often until the problem subsides. Whiteflies are also attracted to yellow sticky traps; they are attracted to the yellow but then stick and can’t fly away.

Cabbage worms: Use row covers to protect young plants from moths landing and laying eggs that develop into cabbage worms. If you see holes in the leaves, check undersides of leaves and pick off worms by hand. Consider using BT (Bacillus ThuricideBT effectively inhibits growth of worms, borers. The bacteria infects their ability to utilize food. 

5 Tips for Starting a Fall Garden - How to start a fall garden - What to plant in a fall garden #fallgarden #gardening

5. Mulch and water new plants well

As plants emerge and begin growing, mulch plants with additional compost, shredded leaves or wood chips. Mulching your fall garden prevents weed growth, insulates the soil, helps soil retain moisture, and attracts worms. As the mulch decomposes it will add organic matter to your soil. This article shares information about mulching. 

Mulch is important in the Arizona vegetable garden during the summer

Higher temperatures in places like Arizona may mean you need to water your fall garden more often until temperatures fall. Newly-planted seeds must be kept moist. An automatic system for watering is best. 

A watering system can be as simple as a battery-operated timer with drip line or going to the garden. For more tips on watering your plants, see my Summer Gardening Guide.

I love this system from Garden in Minutes. It waters well and provides a grid for square foot gardening.

What do you want to learn about next?

5 Tips for Starting a Fall Garden - How to start a fall garden - What to plant in a fall garden #fallgarden #gardening
5 Tips for Starting a Fall Garden - How to start a fall garden - What to plant in a fall garden #fallgarden #gardening

Want more information about gardening in Arizona? This blog post shares 7 tips for  how to grow a vegetable garden in Arizona

Cerri L Strano

Saturday 28th of August 2021

Can you recommend a good book for raised bed gardening. I thought you referenced one somewhere but cant find it. I love in Phoenix and would like to start with flowers in beds instead of native soil.

Angela Judd

Saturday 28th of August 2021

I love the Square Foot Gardening book Flowers love raised beds for sure!


Friday 30th of July 2021

Wow! Thank you for sharing so many tips and hacks in gardening. Really helpful, all the information and preparedness methods are on point. Keep sharing more articles like this.

Steve Miller

Tuesday 8th of September 2020

I've been searching for information specific to transplanting Jojoba trees. I sprouted several in pots and they are now around 12 inches tall. When is the right time in the fall to put them in a permanent site?

Angela Judd

Wednesday 9th of September 2020

Looks like they are hardy to 18 degrees. I think the fall would be a great time to plant them here in Arizona.

Janis Sutton

Monday 17th of June 2019

I currently live in Maricopa County, but I am moving to Pima County very soon, Can I still use the tips you use for our area? I am relearning how to garden here as I was raised in California and NOTHING from Ca works here.

Angela Judd

Monday 17th of June 2019

Pima County is considered high desert and Maricopa County is considered low desert. Many things are similar but lucky for you it is a little cooler there. The basic guidelines I share are similar but your planting dates might vary a bit from ours. Check with your local extension office for a planting guide. The Pima County Master Gardeners will also be a great resource. The gardening community in Tucson is very active. Native Seed Search ( is also located in Tucson and is a great resource.