A DASH of Gardening: Fall Container Gardening

Kale seedlings germinating

Fall Vegetable and Porch Décor Container Gardening

This past spring, I completely missed out on the whole vegetable gardening experience.  I have a garden plot in the yard which is usually full of lettuces, kales, tomatoes, and other usual summer garden fare.  However, this year I was so overwhelmed with the pandemic and adjusting to working remotely that taking on clearing and planting the garden bed was too much.  It is likely that if I tried, it would have fallen by the wayside anyways because of the number of health issues that also arose during the spring and summer that frequently had me less than mobile.  So in August when I was starting to feel like I was getting my health back under control, I decided that this year would be the year when I would finally plant a fall garden.

Fall orange mums

Vegetable gardening in the fall and winter might seem odd to some people, I know I didn’t understand for a really long time that it was feasible to grow much during these colder months.  The first time I heard about it was from Martha Stewart.  She was describing in a book my mother had how she was pulling Brussel sprouts off the stalks to eat in January and I thought that was an odd thing to do – wouldn’t they have died and rotted by then?  But no, they actually love the cold and taste better after a frost or two!  Same thing with most kales and collard greens.  The more I researched, the more vegetables I discovered grew as well if not better in the cooler weather of fall and winter than during the spring and summer.  Growing a fall vegetable garden can provide a significant amount of produce, especially if you have some type of cover or protection that you can provide to certain varieties during the coldest days. 

purple decorative cabbage kale

I was excited about this prospect of having another chance to grow my favorite vegetables.  Generally it seemed like a good idea, but as I considered my mobility issues this past year and getting all the way up to the front of my yard consistently enough between meetings and other commitments, especially in the continuing dwindling light….it just didn’t seem like I was really set up for success at the moment given those conditions.  I was however, already spending a lot of time on the deck, regardless of how I was feeling. As far as accessibility went, it really could not be beat.  Seemed obvious to me that a potential answer to my problem was to create a container garden on the deck.  Pursuing container gardening would also align with my need to revamp our porch planters with some more season appropriate florals and foliage.  Now I just needed to come up with a strategy for planting each type of container garden.

Planning a Container Garden

Fall perennial herbs in galvanized tub

Selecting Plants

When it came down to it, there were 5 questions that I had to answer in order to determine what I was going to plant:

Question 1: What grows well in the cold weather? 

Lettuce Seedlings transplanting

As I mentioned, I already knew that Brussel Sprouts would grow well in cold weather.  In The Backyard Homestead, other vegetables with varieties that grow well in cold weather include but are not limited to:

  • Arugula/Rocket
  • Kale
  • Collard Greens
  • Swiss Chard
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli & related varieties
  • Cauliflower
  • Lettuces, other microgreens
  • Garlic
  • Radishes
  • Beets
  • Cabbages
  • Broad Beans (Fava Beans)
  • Hardy Herb Varieties (such as thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary)

Question 2: Of the vegetables that grow well in cold weather, which do I like to eat?

kale seedling in coconut husk pot

Well, I personally like most of the items on the list so that honestly did not do much to narrow down what I could plant.  But this is a good question to ask yourself so you aren’t wasting time trying to grow something that you aren’t actually interested in eating.

Question 3: What plants have I had success with before?

pallet of kale seedlings

This question is really about your comfort level with trying to grow something in a container versus planted in the ground. Also has a lot to do with what conditions are like in your area. Such as, I know that I don’t get enough sun for beans. So even though I’ve tried growing them, I don’t usually get a great harvest. I have also not had a lot of experience with root vegetables, for example, so those were not high on my list to plant this season. Otherwise, pretty much everything leafy and green or cruciferous on that list I have grown with good success. 

If you have not grown anything before, do you know what vegetables your neighbors have grown successfully? Did they have similar sunlight as your home? If your neighbors are successful at growing certain types of veggies in similar conditions as your home, they will likely also work well for you.

Question 4: What other plants am I interested in trying to grow?

hardneck garlic bulb

Herbs are something I frequently need and buy fresh from the store for certain recipes and would love to be able to grow more of at home. Also, garlic is supposedly insanely easy to grow, same with radishes, so perhaps both would be good for a first-time container vegetable garden. What are you interested in growing? Or eating more of?

For the front porch, I really wanted to incorporate some ornamental kales and a corn plant!  I wasn’t super interested in getting huge stalks of corn, but thought that a corn plant could help bring a similar vibe to the front porch for the season. I also wanted to incorporate some grasses into my containers to help bring in more flaxen and red tones. Hopefully some of these will come back in the spring!

Question 5: What can I realistically support care for?

Kale seedlings with cat

I already had 3 planters to re-pot for the front porch.  I also already owned the small green house on my back deck and several other pots on the deck.  Though I would buy and plant every single plant on the cold tolerant vegetable list if I could, every pot is one more plant I have to keep an eye on.  Another thing is that pots and containers can be really expensive unless you are okay with the cheap plastic ones or terra cotta.  Terra cotta are not as cold weather resilient either as I found out a couple years ago during an unusual Seattle snowy winter.

Other Things to Consider

Gardening Zones and Planting Timing

baby lettuce plants in a greenhouse

Do you know what garden zone you are in?  Or your local first frost dates?  Either piece of information will be really helpful in guiding decisions on when you need to get your plants in the ground by. Your gardening zone will help confirm that the plants you are evaluating can tolerate your local temperature extremes, which can help guide selection as well as how much protective cover you may need to provide to the plants over the winter. Your frost dates will guide when you need to start your seeds in order to fully establish the plant before the frost comes. Or how long you have to raise more tender plants. They need to be under cover if they are not more established by the first frost of the year.  Or if you are planting bulbs, it’s best to get them in before the first frost of the year.

Based on my resources at home, I assessed that I should target September to get my more frost sensitive plants in the ground and start my kales.  I had until the end of October to get my garlics, radishes, and other fall vegetables in the ground.

You can look up this same information for your home at the following links:

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

First and Last Frost Dates by Location

Selecting Containers

Vegetable planter cart

So for this one, I had to refer to The Veggetable Gardener’s Container Bible.  There is a lot of information about different containers, but there is a really wonderful guide for each plant and what depth of container you need to provide to it to accommodate the plants’ root systems.  Here’s how it broke down the plants I listed above:

6” of soil depth – Arugula, lettuces, chard, radishes, garlic, and herbs

8-10” of soil depth – Kale, cabbages, collards, spinach, peas, beans, broccoli, and cauliflower

10-12” of soil depth – Beets, parsnips, brussel sprouts, other vegetables with longer tap roots

Assessing Color for Porch Decorating

I really wanted to decorate for Halloween this year.  I feel like I need to continue the traditions of celebrating the holidays (no matter how silly) and maintain the rituals of the passing seasons with the pandemic continuing to disrupt all other parts of our lives.  So coming up with a cute planting scheme that I could also incorporate some pumpkins into was critical. 

Front porch fall galvanized planter tub with kale and mums

A big issue in decorating at my house is my very bright front door.  Many folks have brightly painted front doors, so consider the color of your door and your house when you think about how you might decorate your front porch.  I also like to look to my plantings for color inspiration.  The hydrangea next to my door is a distinct burgundy color at this time of year, which I absolutely love and want to accentuate. I like to pull my color inspiration from these existing sources so that there is consistency and unity in the composition.

If you have a neutral colored home, you have a lot more flexibility in color selection. I would try to pick 3 colors for any floral or berry element and 2 greens or browns for any grasses or foliage. This gives you plenty of color to play with on the lovely background of your home.

My Home Garden Progress

So I had selected my plants, containers, and colors.  Now it was time to get planting.  One thing I think a lot of people think about gardening is that they need to get all their plants in the ground at the same time and it becomes really overwhelming.  This is completely not true and you can totally enjoy breaking things up as I did over the course of several weeks if you plan accordingly.  Here’s how my first round of gardening broke down over the course of September and October.


Starting around Labor Day weekend, I started shopping for mums, kale, and grasses from the garden stores in the colors that I wanted to use in the containers on my front porch.  I also picked up some herb starts, seeds, soil, and a couple extra containers so I could get my container garden set up on the deck.  Over the course of a couple weekends, I worked to replant my front containers with my new plants as well as get seeds germinating for the fall vegetable garden. 

Front porch fall galvanized planter tub with kale and mums and pumpkins

For the front porch, I decided to let the door and the pumpkins be the main bright colors of the arrangement.  To accent the rest of my house and garden, I selected burgundy, purple, and yellow-oranges for my new plant components.  To keep the look more appropriate to the entire season of Autumn and not just Halloween, I incorporated heirloom pumpkin varieties like the Cinderella Pumpkins or the white pumpkins into the mix with the traditional big orange guys.  Oh, and I had to get one of those warty guys.  It is so neat seeing all the different types of pumpkins available!

Front porch planter with purple kale and mums

One of my favorite additions to my deck is my galvanized tub herb garden.  I sprinkled more herb seeds among the herb starts to really increase the density and potential production of this container.  The herbs include thyme, sage, parsley, oregano, and tarragon. 

Galvanized tub planted with parsley sage thyme tarragon oregano and basil

I was really pleased with how quickly the seeds germinated and I had densely planted containers of sprouts.   However, it was during this month that we had our first major fall rain and it overwhelmed the containers the seedlings were planted in and I had to hold an emergency rescue operation to transfer the biggest seedlings to a longer term housing situation.  I had a stash of peat pots and pellets that I was able to rehome the sprouts into.  Timing was fine as the containers were due to be thinned anyways.


I started the month by planting the radishes and garlic in the wood planters that I had purchased.  I also set up a garden cart or table and filled it with soil.  This I started some broccoli-raab, collards, and spinach in.

planting radishes in wooden container

Within a week the radishes had sprouted and were quickly filling up the planter.  I did a quick thinning and moved the kale and lettuce starts into the greenhouse for protection from an inbound storm.

radish seed germination

A significant storm hit and left tons of debris all over the yard and deck.  The radishes got a lot of extra water during the storm and went nuts!  I had to do a quick second thinning to address their sudden growth spurt.

radish seedlings

Towards the end of this month, we’ve had a couple of nights where temperatures have dropped below freezing already.  This is surprising for Seattle since we usually don’t start getting nights this cold until early to mid-November.  I had to invent some cloches to cover the plants with during these cold nights.  I accomplished this by covering my plants that could not be put into the greenhouse with plastic grocery bags that I tied or weighed down.  I then quickly purchased some hoops to allow me to better cover the garden cart as temperatures continue to drop.

Greenhouse full of lettuce arugula and mesclun greens

Some creature has discovered my radish planter and has made a snack of a third of my sprouts.  Looks like I will be covering my plants on a more regular basis from now on until said creature learns that this is not a place for a late night snack.

radish sprouts after rat eating

Gardening in November

November is generally not my favorite month.  There are daylight savings time adjustments, elections, the start of holiday season, and lots and lots of the worst kinds of rain you can have.  I know that sounds weird, but if you are from Seattle, you know that November is just a month of like the grossest rain ever.  November and January are the worst rain months. 

baby kale plants in planter cart

Anyways, I’m trying to be optimistic about this November considering this has been a year unlike any other and perhaps November will surprise me.  Who knows what November 2020 will hold.  But my garden plans are fortunately fairly straight forward.  In November, I’m looking to:

  • Get my fall planted bulbs in the ground ASAP!
  • Continue to clean up leaves and other debris from fall storms from my yard and bushes
  • Keep an eye on the weather and when freezing temps are rolling in to ensure that I have my plants covered and protected until they are bigger.
  • Monitor continued radish growth…and potential rodent infiltration
  • Continue thinning the broccoli-raab and spinach sprouts as more established plants grow
  • Weed, compost, and mulch the other garden beds around the house.  Targeting to get this done by mid-November.
  • Cut back/dead head remaining perennials and bushes for the winter

Hopefully I will have good things to report back to everyone next month on my garden progress!

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