All posts by Jordan Charbonneau

Cover Crops for Beginners

We’ve mentioned cover crops in many articles on the blog before. These humble plants are an integral part of organic farming with many benefits for gardens, big and small. Today, we’ll take a deeper look into cover crops and how to use them for beginners.

Why Should I Grow Cover Crops?

There are many different types of cover crops which are all grown for specific reasons. Cover crops prevent erosion, decrease weed pressure, add organic matter to the soil, add nitrogen, and retain soil moisture. They also help provide food and habitat for beneficial insects and microorganisms. 

Choosing Cover Crops

As I mentioned above, there are many different cover crops. Generally, we can divide them into a few different categories by the primary purpose they serve in your crop planning.

Nitrogen Fixers

Nitrogen fixers are plants with a symbiotic relationship with bacteria known as Rhizobium. These bacteria colonize the nodules on the plants’ roots and allow the plant to take nitrogen from the air and use it. When these plants die or are cut back and added to the soil, they add nitrogen. Some nitrogen fixers include:

  • Red Clover
  • Crimson Clover
  • White Dutch Clover
  • Sunn Hemp
  • Hairy Vetch
  • Austrian Winter Peas
  • Iron and Clay Southern Peas
  • Alfalfa

All of the clovers are excellent for attracting bees to your garden. Perennial white dutch clover is a great choice for permanent garden pathways and can be mowed and used as mulch around plants. 

Austrian winter peas are a great winter option in zone 6 and up. Their shoots are edible and make excellent additions to winter salads. On the other hand, massive sunn hemp plants are day-length sensitive and do best as a summer cover crop. It thrives even during drought and is excellent for suppressing nematodes. 

Deep Rooted Cover Crops

Cover crops with large or deep roots are essential in areas with heavy clay or compacted soils. These large rooted crops help break up hard pans, add pockets for air and water, and add organic matter. A couple of our favorites are:

  • Deep-Till Radishes
  • Alfalfa

Deep-Till radishes produce large, fast-growing roots for aeration and breaking up compacted soils. They also have biofumigant properties, which are excellent for suppressing diseases and pests. They winter-kill in areas where temperatures reach below 20°F. 

Alfalfa is a nitrogen fixer with deep roots and is good at gathering water and nutrients from deep in the soil. It will add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil. Plus, it’s very cold-hardy, making it perfect for early spring or late fall plantings. 

Buckwheat (cover crops)Grasses & Mulchers

The main job of these cover crops is to produce a lot of organic matter. They form a ground cover that helps prevent soil erosion and gathers nutrients from the soil. They make excellent mulch in no-till systems and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil as they decompose. Some great options include:

  • Hulless Oats
  • Winter Rye
  • Wheat
  • Buckwheat

Rye is a good choice if you’re looking for a winter cover crop. It has an extensive root system for improving soil structure, suppressing weeds, and enhancing soil life. It’s also able to stabilize excess nitrogen from heavy manure applications. A combination of rye and vetch is a favored cover crop for no-till tomato planting. 

Buckwheat is the best choice when you want something fast, producing a green manure crop in 30 to 45 days! It’s great for out-competing weeds and providing mulch for fall crops when planted in midsummer. The little white flowers attract beneficial insects, including parasitic wasps. 

Growing Cover Crops

Cover crops can be grown year-round. It’s a good idea to plan to leave your soil bare as little as possible. Sow cover crops in beds as soon as others are finished, whether that’s the middle of summer or fall. You can also use cover crops to provide sections of your garden with a needed boost of nutrients or organic matter or to suppress pests and diseases.

Knowing when you want to plant will help you determine which cover crop is appropriate for your situation. Some cover crops like winter rye, hairy vetch, and Austrian winter peas make excellent winter cover crops when planted in the fall. Other crops like buckwheat or sunn hemp will perform much better for summer crops. 

Once you’ve decided on a variety, you should follow the seeding instructions. It’s essential to follow the recommended seeding rates. Seeding your crops too thinly won’t achieve the desired benefits. 

Terminating Cover Crops

This step may sound scary, but it just means you’re ending the cover crop’s cycle so that you can plant something else. This process is typically done by mowing, weed whacking, scything, or tilling. In a no-till system, you can often use the material as a mulch and transplant it right into it or rake some back for direct seeding.

Typically, you should terminate cover crops before they go to seed. However, sometimes you may decide to let a quick-growing crop like buckwheat go to seed and grow again. Remember that you may have to continue to weed it out for a while after this; cover crops are good at suppressing weeds because they’re a bit weedy in nature themselves!

Winter Kill 

Nature also lends a helping hand for certain fall-planted cover crops. Those crops that are sensitive to frost or cold temperatures will winter kill and begin decomposing into the soil on their own. Some no-till farmers will plant directly into this crop residue in the spring.

Growing cover crops is quite simple and has many benefits. This fall, try growing cover crops in your garden to add nutrients and organic matter, reduce erosion, and encourage beneficial insects and soil organisms. 



10 Tips for Root Crops

Root crops are a valuable part of the fall garden. They thrive in cool autumn weather and provide fresh vegetables when there’s no tomato or cucumber in sight. Although many are easy to grow vegetables, root crops can have issues like any other crop. Here are a few tips to help you succeed with root crops this fall or next spring.

Tips for All Root Crops

There’s an incredible variety of root crops, but there are still some tips that will help you have success with all of them. Whether you’re growing carrots, radishes, or rutabagas, try to follow these recommendations for the best results.

Improve your soil.

As root crops grow underground, they perform best in areas with loose, friable soil. While there certainly are some varieties, like Chatenay Red Core Carrots, that handle heavy clay soils better than others, improving your soil as much as possible will make a big difference. 

Use a garden fork or broad fork to lift and loosen the soil each time you plant. You should also add a couple of inches of finished compost, and if you have heavy clay soil, it’s advisable to work in some leaf mold or peat moss.

Keep the soil moist during germination.

Root crops seeds will germinate much better when the soil is consistently moist. Use a watering can or hose attachment with a fine spray to prevent disturbing tiny seeds. 

Thin crops as needed.

It may seem like a waste, but root crops generally perform much better when they’ve got room to grow. Avoid ending up with just the tops because you were too sentimental to pull the extras.Salsify (root crops)

Tips for Specific Root Crops

Root crops all have specific requirements. Here’s a tip or two for each type.

Use cardboard or boards for germinating carrots.

Carrots germinate best in cool, moist soil. If it’s still hot and you’re sowing carrots for fall, try using the board or cardboard trick. After planting, water in your rows and cover them with boards or cardboard. Check the carrots each day and immediately remove the boards when they begin to sprout. 

Spread wood ashes or lime before sowing beets.

Beets grow best when the soil pH is between 6.5 to 7.0. Add lime or wood ashes to your bed before planting for the best harvest.

Add radish seeds to lines of parsnips.

Parsnip seeds may take 2 to 3 weeks to germinate. To prevent soil crusting and mark the location, add a few radish seeds, which germinate quickly.

Use diatomaceous earth on your turnips.

Flea beetles and aphids can be an issue with turnip crops. If you’re noticing either of these pests, try dusting the row with diatomaceous earth (DE), an organic pesticide made from the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms called diatoms. 

Thin rutabagas within a month.

While some root crops will tolerate minor crowding when young, rutabagas won’t. Thin your rutabagas within a month of sowing, or they won’t bulb properly. 

Avoid planting fall radishes in the spring.

Not all radishes are the same. There are spring (salad) radishes like Cherry Belles and Easter Eggs and fall radishes like Black Spanish and Misato Rose. Don’t plant fall radishes in the spring because they’re day-length sensitive. 

Harvest salsify and parsnips after a frost.

Both salsify and parsnips will do just fine with a bit of frost and can be kept in the ground through winter in many areas. Both of these roots will have better flavor after the frost, so it’s best to harvest late.

Using these tips can help improve the yield of your root crops. Use these when planting your fall garden, or keep them in mind next spring. 

Fall Planting: Vegetables, Perennials, Flowers, Grain

It’s still warm outside, but the gardening season is waning. While the big summer crops, peppers, tomatoes, beans, and squashes, will be finishing up soon, there is still time to do some fall planting. Some fall planted crops you can harvest throughout the late fall and early winter, and some won’t mature until next summer or even a few years. As we head into the colder months, we’re losing light each day, but it’s a beautiful time to work in the garden. 

Fall Planting Alliums

Perennial Onions & Shallots

You can use shallots or perennial onions as onion substitutes in recipes. For those unfamiliar, shallots have a delicate, mild flavor. However, Egyptian walking onions are typically grown for their green tops. Depending on your zone, you can plant these hardy, productive perennials from September through November. 

Bulb Onions

It can be surprisingly tough to get large bulb onions! We recommend getting as early a start as possible on your onions. The hot, long days of summer signal the bulbs to stop growing and start drying down. 

Sow bulb onions indoors or in the greenhouse from mid-September to mid-March. Then they can be transplanted out in February or as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. 


There are different types of garlic hard-neck, soft-neck, and elephant.

Hard-neck Garlic

Hard-neck garlic offers fewer larger cloves, making for easy peeling. They have excellent flavor but don’t store quite as long as soft neck varieties. However, hard-neck produce flower stalks, garlic scapes which are often considered a specialty. Some hard-neck varieties will tolerate the Southeast but thrive in areas with cold winters and long cool springs.

Soft-neck Garlic

Soft-neck garlic does better with southern winters. They typically produce more and smaller cloves than hards-neck garlic. They also have excellent flavor, keep well, and can be braided. 

Elephant Garlic

As the name suggests, elephant garlic produces large bulbs, sometimes as large as a grapefruit. They’re closely related to leeks, and their flavor is mild and sweet.fall planting cabbage

Fall Planting Brassicas

Brassicas are often the backbone of cool weather gardens. They include cabbages, collards, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. It’s best to sow many of these in the middle of summer for fall planting, but you may still have time to get some in, depending on your zone. 


For fall crops, either transplant to desired spacing when plants have three true leaves or direct sow 6-12 seeds per foot at a depth of 1/4 inch and thin as needed. Maintain adequate soil moisture during germination.

  • January King Cabbage
  • Red Acre Cabbage
  • Savoy Perfection Cabbage


Tasty and high in vitamins A and C, collards have long been a must-have for southern gardens. Most varieties are winter-hardy from Virginia southward. Here are a few of the many great varieties:

  • Champion Collards
  • Variegated Collards
  • Vates Collards
  • Whaley’s Favorite Cabbage Collards


Kale is super easy to grow and frost hardy. It is often less susceptible to pests than other brassicas. 

  • Lacinato Rainbow Mix Kale 
  • Premier Kale
  • White Russian Kale


Kohlrabi is a brassica with a bulbous stem and leaves which can be eaten raw in salads or cooked.

  • Gigant Winter Kohlrabi
  • Early Purple Vienna Kohlrabi

Fall Planting Root Crops

Before the advent of modern refrigeration, root crops often made up a considerable portion of people’s winter diet. You can sow many root crops in the fall for a late fall or early winter harvest.


Carrots are an ideal fall crop for harvesting through the winter. Here in the Southeast, you can store them right in the garden by covering the tops with a thick layer of loose mulch, like straw. Some great varieties for fall include:

  • Danvers 126
  • Purple Dragon
  • Yellowstone


Plant beets in early September for winter harvests. Thin to six plants per foot for fresh beets, three plants per foot for beets used for winter storage, in rows 12 inch apart. Some great varieties for fall include:

  • Lutz Green Leaf (Winter Keeper) Beet
  • Chioggia (Dolce Di Chioggia) Beet
  • Bull’s Blood Beet (usually harvested young for salad mix)


These versatile veggies provide greens and sweet, mildly spicy roots in the winter. Among some families, it’s traditional to eat turnip greens on New Year for good luck. Some great varieties for fall include:

  • Amber Globe (Yellow Globe) Turnip
  • Seven Top (Southern Prize) Turnip Greens (used as a winter green)


Radishes are fast maturing and add a bit of spicy flavor to salads and roasted root veggies. For winter storage, radishes sow 5-10 weeks before the first fall frost. Thin to wider spacing (4-6 in. apart) than regular radishes. Harvest before temperatures drop below 20 degrees F. Trimmed roots can store for two to three months in the refrigerator or root cellar. 

  • Black Spanish Round Fall Radish
  • China Rose Fall Radish
  • Daikon, Miyashige White Fall Radish
  • Misato Rose Fall Radish


Rutabagas are a productive crop originating in Sweden from a cross between cabbages and turnips. Historically and today, rutabagas are used both as a table vegetable and as animal fodder. You can make a hearty dish from mashed potatoes and rutabagas. Rutabagas are also traditionally part of New England boiled dinners.

Plant 8-10 weeks before the first fall frost. Seed 1 inch apart in rows 12 to 16 inches apart, thinning to 8 inches apart. Thin within a month–crowded seedlings won’t bulb properly.

Fall Planting Peas

Shelling (English), snap, and snow peas are all fast-maturing, cool-weather crops that can all be fall planted. Here in zone 7a, they don’t tend to perform as well as our spring plantings. However, it may be worth trying it in your area. Some varieties to try:

  • Little Marvel Dwarf Shelling (English) Pea
  • Sugar Ann Dwarf Snap Pea
  • Oregon Giant Dwarf Snow Pea

fall planting lettuceFall Planting Greens

Several greens thrive in fall’s cool weather. You can sow lettuce, mustards, endive, cress, spinach, endive, and arugula this time of year. Here are a few of my favorites for fall:


  • Red Giant Mustard
  • Feaster Family Heirloom
  • Southern Giant Curled Mustard


  • Anuenue Batavian/ Crisphead Lettuce
  • Parris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce
  • Crawford Bibb (Butterhead) Lettuce
  • Rouge d’Hiver (Red Winter) Romaine Lettuce

Fall Planting Flowers

When we think of planting flowers, we typically think of spring. However, you can start a flower garden in the fall. 

Fall Bulbs & Crowns

Many flowers grown from bulbs do best when planted in the fall. These include tulips, crocus, daffodils, oriental lilies, and ornamental alliums. Some can be fall-planted from crowns such as peonies. 

Fall Flowers Seeds

Many of the flower seeds we carry can also be fall sown. It sounds a bit odd but think of all the flowers that will self-sow. We typically recommend sowing these flowers 4 to 6 weeks before your first frost. You can find out more about what varieties and planting recommendations in our post Spring Flowers: Fall Sowing.

fall planting ginsengWoodland Medicinals


Historically, herbalists used goldenseal to treat various ailments especially inflamed mucous membranes. It was used in gargles for sore throats, topically to treat skin irritations and infections, as an eyewash, and internally to treat UTIs, ulcers, and digestive issues.

Today, goldenseal is now believed to be one of the most at-risk medicinal plants in the United States and is believed to be at high risk of extinction in many parts of its range. Goldenseal rhizomes can be planted in the fall, helping to ensure this specie’s long-term survival. 


Like goldenseal, ginseng is disappearing from the woodlands of North America. Herbalists highly favor wild ginseng over cultivated ginseng. Interestingly, wild ginseng shows exponentially higher levels of the compound ginsenoside, which is believed to have numerous medicinal benefits.

It’s best to plant ginseng seeds or roots in the fall. It thrives on northern facing slopes of deciduous forests. Planting ginseng in your woodlands helps ensure its survival.

Fall Planting Grains

Growing your own grain is as rewarding as growing your vegetables and herbs. Whether you’re an avid baker or brewer or just want to try something new, small-scale grain production is a great option. For fall planting, try Nu East Hard Winter Wheat.

Fall Cover Crops

Sowing cover crops is an essential part of fall garden maintenance. Cover crops help provide habitat for beneficial insects, reduce erosion, and add organic matter to your soil. Please read our blog Fall Cover Crops & Their Importance for more info on fall cover crops. Some great options include:

  • Austrian Winter Peas
  • Hairy Vetch
  • Buckwheat
  • Crimson Clover
  • White Dutch Clover
  • Red Clover
  • Hulless Oats
  • Common Winter Rye

Fall Cover Crops & Their Importance

Fall Planting Fruit Trees & Shrubs

If you’re dreaming of a home orchard, now is a great time to start! Many fruit trees and shrubs can be planted in the fall. Cooler and shorter days may actually help trees become established in hot areas. You can plant apples, plums, peaches, and others in the autumn.

Fall is a wonderful time to work in the garden, enjoying the cooler weather and lower humidity. Depending on your location and garden, you may be able to add some crops or perennials to your plot this time of year.