Planting a selection of overwintering vegetables in September will reward you with a bountiful harvest come springtime.
As soon as the cold snap sets in from November onwards, you can kiss goodbye to any growth in your vegetable patch. That doesn’t mean you should shut up shop after summer, however; taking the time to seed overwintering vegetables in September will give them a good window to establish themselves before winter begins, meaning they’re well-placed to flourish when the mercury starts to rise once more.
Ironically, many vegetables that are considered “winter” varieties – like brussels sprouts, leeks and parsnips – require planting earlier in the calendar, which catches out a clutch of novice gardeners every year. If that sounds familiar, don’t worry – there are still plenty more overwintering options to choose from that will reward your autumn diligence with a delicious bounty come the following spring. Indeed, September is not too late to reap the benefits of a late harvest in the same year if you opt for faster-growing varieties among your selection.
As well as salvaging the last growth of the current year and getting a jump on the coming one, planting winter vegetables is also a great way to provide protection and nutritional benefits to the soil in December, January and February.
Even if you don’t end up opting for vegetables, it’s an idea to cover bare areas with green manures like crimson clover or Italian ryegrass, which will improve the soil’s texture and enrich its nitrogen content.
However, the same job can be done by vegetables while simultaneously providing a supply of food for your household, so we’d personally favour going the latter route every time.
Here’s a handful of suggestions to get your autumn planting odyssey underway, along with a few pointers on how to handle them in order to produce the best results possible.
Eight veggies for September
1) Broad beans
Depending upon the variety of bean you go for, you can either plant these tasty treats in the autumn or the following spring. However, we prefer opting for an overwintering strain such as Aquadulce Claudia and getting your hands dirty in September (or even as late as November). This will help to provide coverage and protection to a soil that would otherwise be at the mercy of the elements through the most extreme parts of the year.
Broad bean seeds should be sown at a depth of around 5cm, with spacing of approximately 15cm between plants and 45cm between rows. You should also provide support for your beans in the shape of stakes and twine, since the buffeting blasts of wintry winds can overwhelm them.
Since garlic cloves require around six weeks of cold (below 10°C) temperatures to multiply into a bulb, they’re the perfect vegetable to plant in autumn. In fact, it’s possible to plant them at any point between September and spring, though you’re likely to receive a better yield if you get them in the ground sooner rather than later.
Resilient and resourceful, garlic is among the easiest overwintering vegetables you’ll come across. Simply stick a clove in the soil and a bulb will take its place with minimal input from your side. Child’s play! The biggest potential obstacle to a hearty harvest come springtime is waterlogged soil, so if your home is in a particularly wet part of the UK, it might be an idea to plant the garlic in raised beds so as to allow plenty of opportunity for the moisture to run off.
Kale is one of the more under-appreciated members of the vegetable kingdom. Its extreme hardiness makes it incredibly simple to grow, requiring next to no maintenance and brushing off the inclemency of the British winter with ease.
Larger varieties of kale will even produce edible yields all the way through the calendar year, with a single plant providing enough weekly sustenance for one person. However, it’s when springtime rolls around that this leafy green vegetable really comes into its own, with leaves the size of sheaves and vibrant foliage that’s really quite aesthetically pleasing.
Onions are such versatile ever-presents in the kitchen that esteemed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda famously penned a poem about them. According to the South American wordsmith, there’s no point in cooking a meal if you don’t include an onion in the recipe, so it’s advisable to ensure your allotment is plotted and your pantry is stocked with plenty of these bulbous wonders.
While most onion sets are normally planted in springtime, there are many varieties (like Radar or Senshyu Yellow) which lend themselves well to seeding later in the year. For best results, plant them in modules with up to 10 seeds per module, spacing them at a distance of 25cm between each other and 30cm between rows. When it comes to harvesting in May, simply rip the whole lot up by their foliage and trim their ends to roughly the same length. Hey presto! Homegrown onions made easy.
For those gardeners who want to squeeze one last harvest from the year before winter begins in earnest, a September seeding will see you feasting on radishes before October is over. Most varieties of this rapid-growing little specimen will go from seedling to sprouting to finished article in under a month, meaning it’s a great option if you prioritise a quick turnaround time on your produce.
Radishes are also very versatile and can be incorporated into salads, roasts or even solo as a standalone snack. Their peppery punch and crispy crunch make them a favourite among culinary enthusiasts, while their laid-back, low-maintenance growing demands ensure they’re equally popular among the horticultural community. Plant them at 2.5cm intervals and with 1cm depth of soil and you’ll be snacking on these tasty autumn vegetables in next to no time.
Despite what Popeye’s propaganda machine might tell us, spinach is a slightly more delicate flower than its cousin kale. That’s because the plant is susceptible to germination issues whichever season its planted in, but opting for an autumn seeding could enhance your chances. When planting in September, you should expect one mini-harvest at the end of October or beginning of November, before the plant goes into virtual hibernation for the colder months.
When the temperatures do plummet, spinach will also require a little more in the way of protection than some other options on this list. Ensure it’s not ravaged by the worst of the frost by using fleecing from October onwards or, better yet, use a polytunnel to protect it from the elements. But with a little bit of TLC and some good-quality soil, your spinach plant will produce impressive yields when spring rolls around once more.
First thing’s first: it’s important to clarify that when we talk about planting turnips in September, we’re referring to the white variety (as opposed to swedes). Pick a fast-growing Japanese strain like Tokyo Cross and get it in the ground early enough in the month and you’ll be able to take advantage of a final bumper yield before the nights draw in and the temperatures drop too low.
As a quick and easy crop to cultivate, turnips are the ideal option to replace a spring or summer plant that has recently been harvested. Create 2cm-deep well and drop a single seed in each, leaving a 10cm interval between them. Alternatively, you can sow them in seed trays and transplant them into the Earth once they’ve begun to take root – but just ensure you leave more space for them to develop if taking this route.
8) Winter lettuce
Lettuce has always been a favourite in British gardening circles, but what newbies might not realise is that this leafy salad crop can be cultivated right through the winter, as well. In fact, growing certain strains of lettuce is even easier later in the year, since the worst of the summer heat and drought will have passed. To take advantage, plant winter varieties of lettuce all the way up until October, then reap the rewards even in the depths of winter.
Seeds should be dropped into drills with a depth of just 1cm, while spacing should be between 15cm and 30cm depending upon the particular strain you settle upon. The job will become even easier if you use a polytunnel or something similar to provide some insulation through the colder months, but it’s not necessary if you don’t have one to hand. Cloches and fleeces will do the same job just as well.
Jonny is an avid writer with a background in tourism, film and literature, but has a penchant for penning articles on all kinds of topics. He's always considered himself an environmentalist to some degree, but in recent times he has found himself shining a greater spotlight on his daily lifestyle choices and how the tiny changes he can make to his routine can have a cumulatively significant impact on the planet.