Long, warm falls may tempt Tennessee gardeners to extend the vegetable growing season into winter. Winter vegetable gardening is more challenging than spring gardening for several reasons. Temperatures remain high through much of the fall, making seed germination difficult. Fall signals the dry season for Tennessee gardens, so providing additional water to growing plants is especially important. Additionally, weeds, insects and diseases that weren't present in the spring now have a foothold, requiring extra vigilance. With a little know-how, though, you can grow vegetables through November or December in Tennessee.
Planting the Winter Vegetable Garden
Consult a local extension office for good fall seed varieties. Many varieties that do well in the spring need cool temperatures for seed germination followed by warm temperatures for good growth. Fall weather usually provides the opposite conditions.
Consult a local county extension office to determine the last expected frost in your area. This date varies widely in Tennessee. Northern and high-altitude regions, such as Allardt and Gatlinburg receive frost by mid-September, while Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville don't get frost until late October or November.
Determine when to plant your seeds. Plant warm-season crops, such as beans and tomatoes so they'll mature three weeks before the last expected frost. Plant cool-season vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach and carrots, so they'll mature three weeks after the last expected frost. Inspect the seed packet for estimated time to mature and count back to determine planting time.
Irrigate the soil until it is evenly moist, but not soggy.
Plant winter vegetable seeds 1/4 inch deeper than the depth recommended on seed packets. This practice helps plants maintain moisture during Tennessee's hot fall temperatures.
Caring for Winter Vegetables
Water weekly as needed to keep soil evenly moist. Don't allow seedlings to dry out.
Pull weeds and inspect your plants weekly for pests and diseases. Consult a local extension office to identify and treat severe pest or disease outbreaks.
Fertilize your winter vegetable garden with vegetable fertilizer three weeks after planting, and every four to six weeks thereafter.
Install shade covers over germinating seeds to protect them from the heat.
Install row covers over cool-season vegetables to extend their harvest into December or January.