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GROW IN ABUNDANCE: Fall - Perfect Time to Prepare Cool Season Gardens

Photo credit: Sommer Cartier.

By Sommer Cartier.

In San Diego, we are fortunate to have a temperate Mediterranean climate that allows for growing vegetables all year long. As we transition to the fall, with shorter days and cooler temperatures, it becomes the ideal time to turn our garden beds and prepare for cool season crops. In fact, there are several advantages to planting veggies now.  Fall and winter gardens generally require less care, experience fewer challenges with pests, and often get some irrigation assistance by way of winter showers. Below are some tips to help you prepare your soil for your cool season garden, select the appropriate plants and decide if you will start from seed or transplants. 

Prepping your Soil

A productive garden largely relies on the quality of soil that supports its plants. The soil acts like a storehouse for key ingredients such as nutrients, organic matter, air, and water. When properly prepared and cared for, you can experience an incredible bounty of food from your garden. Before planting, rake the soil, clean and level it. Remove all sticks, rocks and other debris. Finally amend the soil with plenty of organic matter. This will help build and maintain the health of the soil. If organic material is added before planting a fall garden, it should be well-rotted, such as compost.

Cool Season Crops

September is a great time to plant many of your cool season crops. These crops consist of vegetables grown for their leaves, stems, roots and immature flowers. Peas and fava beans, which are the exception to this classification, also prefer cooler temperatures and can be cultivated during this time. The following veggies are examples of cool season crops you might consider for your cool season garden.

Leafy greens – kale, swiss chard, lettuce, collards, spinach, cabbage and arugula

Stems – Kohlrabi and potatoes

Roots – beets, carrots, radish, turnip and parsnip

Immature flowers – cauliflower, broccoli and artichoke

Photo credit: Sommer Cartier.

Winter Tomatoes:

After spending the summer months biting into home grown vine ripened juicy tomatoes, the thought of turning to flavorless store-bought tomatoes is almost unbearable.  Fortunately for gardeners, there’s another option – winter tomatoes.  Winter tomatoes grow incredibly well in cooler temperatures with shorter days. These varieties of tomatoes produce a crop well into the winter months, extending the tomato growing season in San Diego. These special varieties of tomatoes were developed for cooler northern climates and generally have a determinate growth habit, producing shorter bushier plants that yield a finite number of fruit over a shorter period of time.  Common varieties that are easy to find in San Diego are Oregon Spring, Glacier, Stupice, and Siberian tomatoes. 

September is the optimal month for starting winter tomatoes. For best results use nutrient rich well-draining soil and tie the vines to stakes or secure them along a trellis. This will help prevent ripened fruit from rotting on the ground or becoming a meal for pests who take refuge in the soil. If gardening in a cooler region of San Diego, or expecting a cooler winter, increase your chances of success by growing winter tomatoes in containers. Soil in container has a much better chance of warming up under the winter sun as opposed to in the ground beds.

Seed or Transplant:

Root crops grow best when seeds are sown directly into the soil. Make sure the soil is loose and all rocks and stones are removed before planting.  Bunching onions, leeks, peas and lettuce are also easy to grow from seed. By starting from seed, you will know exactly where your food comes from, you will save money, and you will have a greater variety to choose from.

If you are impatient, getting a late start, or growing veggies that take longer to germinate, transplants can be especially helpful. Nursery grown transplants take less effort to start, mature more quickly, and experience fewer environmental or cultural issues such as dampening off and other fungal diseases.

Photo credit: Sommer Cartier.

With a little planning and care, San Diego gardeners can enjoy a cool season garden that rewards them with plenty of fresh produce during the cooler months and perhaps, bring a little ray of sunshine to our neighbors and friends with whom we will share our bounty this winter.


Photo credit: Sommer Cartier.
Sommer Cartier.

Sommer Cartier is a certified Master Gardener with a Master of Arts in International Development and Social Change. Her specialty is working with local food systems and using gardens as a tool for community engagement.


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