Fall Vegetable Container Gardening

Growing cold-hardy greens and vegetables in pots — so they are easy to take care of and close at hand — extends the home-grown harvest into the crisp days of fall, and even beyond.

“In fall, I plant things with real short maturity dates,” says Colleen Golden, horticulturist at the Atlanta Botanic Garden. In her mild-winter climate, she can grow broccoli, kale, Swiss chard, beets, and lettuce of all kinds in pots around the garden’s outdoor kitchen. The big pots are designed to be both decorative and delicious.

Golden sometimes plants snow peas in pots where tomatoes grew all summer, so the peas clamber up the tomato trellis. A couple of big leafy kale plants fill in, and she might plant curly parsley or cilantro in the same container. All of these tolerate cool temperatures and look pretty through the fall, she says. Golden uses a liquid organic fertilizer when she plants, and waters her pots well, but she is careful about overwatering in fall, which can be a wet season in Atlanta.

“Honestly, a lot of times fall crops in pots go beyond Thanksgiving for us — into December,” she says. Italian Lacinato kale, sometimes called dinosaur kale, has deeply quilted, dark blue-green leaves that stand straight up, like lances, and Golden depends on it for dramatic effect in her fall pots. She plants it with white or orange chrysanthemums or with hardy ornamental cabbages. She fills pots with red-leaf mustard for its rich color, and uses broccoli plants as centerpieces, with herbs and lettuces around the edges.

Lettuce and greens of all kinds flourish in the short, cool days of fall. Kale actually tastes sweeter after a frost. To add a pop of seasonal color, Golden plants lots of violas among the vegetables in her fall containers. “They bounce back from a frost and keep blooming,” she says.

Bull’s blood beets are another of her favorite fall crops for a pot. The small, deep red leaves are beautiful and delicious in salads, “and they hold for a long time in the garden,” she says. Leave an inch or two of the stubby tops when you snip leaves for salads, and the foliage will grow back. After about seven weeks, you can harvest the beets.

Just a few pots outside the back door, or even on the front steps, will provide a healthy harvest for a long time. “It’s a great way to still get a fix of gardening without going out in nasty temperatures,” she says. “You can go outside and harvest easily, and you can be inspired by what’s in your pots.”