Here’s my autumn planting guide for warm-temperate based vegetable patches (such as Melbourne). With the onset of autumn, your planting options change. I actually prefer growing vegetables over winter to growing during summer. Winter veggies require less care and attention. With the cool, wet Melbourne climate, winter vegetables practically grow themselves.
What to plant in March, April & May
Autumn planting of winter brassica vegetables
Traditionally winter veggie seedlings (and sweet peas) are planted out on or around St Patrick’s Day (17th March). There should be plenty to choose from at your local nursery including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale.
Brussels sprouts take a long time to grow, so long in fact, that commercial growers usually start sowing them in November. For suburban gardeners, the rewards are not always worth the effort you put into growing Brussels sprouts. If you’re new to gardening, this autumn, I’d recommend that you focus on planting broccoli, kale and maybe some mini-cauliflowers. These are far easier to grow successfully.
Green or purple sprouting varieties of broccoli are great, because they can produce a crop of side shoots after the main head has been harvested. This extends your harvesting season.
When buying your seedlings, choose small, young plants. Avoid plants with tough looking stems that have been sitting around unsold for some time. These old seedlings tend to struggle to grow and then bolt (set seed) around July. Planting them is a waste of time, it is one of the top ten mistakes that I often see gardeners make!
Brassica crops will tolerate partially shady conditions, but will grow more strongly and quickly if planted in full sun. All brassicas need soil enriched with organic matter and decomposed, animal manure. They need lots of nitrogen, so if you are able to source some chook manure or worm castings, add it (or poultry manure pellets) to your brassica patch. Adding some good quality compost will also help them thrive. Check out this guide to transplanting seedlings for more information.
Brassica seedlings are prone to snail and slug attacks. Cabbage butterfly caterpillars can also wreak havoc with young plants. If planting them in March or April you will need to protect them from white cabbage butterfly with some insect netting. This prevents the butterflies from laying eggs on the seedlings.
If you are pressed for garden space, then I wouldn’t bother with growing onions. They take a long time to grow and can usually be purchased fairly cheaply from farmers markets or the green grocer. However if you have the space, then they are a fairly easy crop to grow.
Onions can be transplanted from punnets, but grow best from seed. Scatter the seed in furrows a few millimetres deep and water in well.
A few weeks after germination, thin the seedlings to 10 cm apart. Keep onion patches well weeded as they hate competition. Plan ahead and make sure you avoid planting in areas you wish to plant your next summer crops, as onions take a long time to mature. Usually you won’t be harvesting them until well into January.
Garlic is so easy to grow. With only a small space, you can grow enough garlic to supply yourself for most of the year. Garlic bulbs should be planted in early autumn.
To grow garlic, you can use garlic purchased from the supermarket. However, we recommend that you source yours from a plant nursery to ensure that you’re getting a variety that is disease and chemical free. Carefully break the garlic head into individual cloves and plant them pointy end up. The cloves should be buried about 5 cm deep, and spaced about 20 cm apart.
Then all you need to do is ensure that they are watered regularly and keep the weeds at bay until harvest. It’s important to remember that just like onions, garlic takes a long time to reach maturity, and is not harvested until well into summer. So avoid planting it in a space you’ve earmarked for planting out in spring, or you’ll find your patch ends up double booked.
Looking to make the most of your small spaces? Peas are a great crop for autumn and winter. They’ll grow up a trellis and are great fun for the kids to pick and shell. What’s more, they are legumes, so they’ll fix nitrogen in the soil and help rejuvenate it.
Plant the pea seeds about 3-5 cm deep and water in well. Hold off any further watering until the seeds have germinated. Make sure you choose the right variety of peas for your garden. Dwarf and bush peas only grow to 60cm high, but telephone peas can reach 150cm high or more!
I recommend the variety ‘Melbourne Market’ (also known as Massey Gem) because it is a proven variety for Melbourne conditions and only grows to 50cm high. Sugar Snap peas are also a tasty choice.
Check out this guide to sowing seeds for more information
Broad beans are up there with radishes, as one of the easiest plants to grow in your veggie patch.
March until early May is the ideal time to plant out broad beans in Melbourne. The great thing about broad beans is that they are ready for harvest in spring. This is a time when not much else is being harvested in the garden.
Sow broad bean seeds about 3cm below the surface and about 10-15 cm apart. They do not like wind and will benefit from protection. Consider tying some string between stakes to help support them as they grow.
I recommend growing the variety Coles Dwarf as they are hardy, and are one of the best varieties for handling strong winds. They’re also fairly resistant to rust, a fungal disease.
It’s always a good idea to let a few of the last pods to dry on the plant. Then you can collect bean seeds for sowing next year’s crop!
Lettuce, mustard greens, spinach and rainbow chard (silverbeet) will all grow well in autumn and into winter (albeit far slower than in summer). An economical option is to grow from seed. If you’re keen to get harvesting for salads earlier, then transplant as seedlings. Within about 8 weeks from sowing (less if planted from seedlings) you can start to harvest leaves from the outside of the plant. Read more on why I recommend that growers focus on planting leafy greens.
You can start a herb garden at most times of the year, including autumn. Annual herbs such as parsley and coriander will grow well over the winter. You’ll now have to wait until spring to plant basil.
Like to know more?
The Vegetable Patch from Scratch series is popular with both novice and seasoned gardeners alike. It covers everything you might want to know about growing vegetables.
It might save you a bit of time and frustration by steering you away from preventable crop failures.
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