Gardening can be an all-year-round hobby if you know what to grow during colder months. One of the keys to a bountiful winter harvest is to grow the right winter vegetables and combine them with season extenders. No matter where you live, there are winter veggies that can withstand frost, cooler temps, and even snow. With a bit of preparation and planning, you can grow vegetables into the winter months.
The best cool-season vegetables include asparagus, spinach, peas, beets, garlic, onions, and carrots. The majority of winter vegetables will produce crops earlier than spring plantings.
Extend your growing and harvest season with this handy guide below:
What to Consider When Growing Vegetables in Winter?
When selecting your vegetables, opt for plant tags and seed packets that reference “cold season” or “cool” in the description. These vegetables grow and thrive when the temperature drops as they prefer much colder weather over warmer temperatures.
Protecting winter crops is essential for successful harvesting. There are also many other things to consider when growing veggies in winter.
Successful winter gardening depends on where you live and your climate. If you live in a region with a very cold climate, consider using a greenhouse, hoop house, or cold frame. A cold frame collects warm air during the day, protecting your veggies from the harsh winter winds and cold nighttime temperatures. A greenhouse is a structure that ensures a frost-free climate, allowing you to grow veggies all year long. Apart from the cold-weather vegetables, some warm-weather veggies like beans, cucumber, summer squash, and cantaloupe can be grown in a greenhouse too.
Growing winter vegetables might be tricky in a location further south. When veggies succumb because of rapid temperature changes, they can rot either in the soil or above it so fast. In order to even out the difference in air temperatures and the soil, consider using a row cover.
If you’re looking to harvest in cold weather, make sure you’ve protected the soil around your root vegetables to ensure that the frost doesn’t go to deep ground. Place a thick layer of leaves or straw over your gardening beds, keeping the frost from impacting the plants.
You can plant seedlings and seeds for your winter garden between 6 to 8 weeks before an average first frost date. Find out the average first frost date to know an exact planting date.
10 Best Winter Vegetables to Grow
Although growing your own vegetables in winter feels like a tricky task, it’s a rewarding experience and an excellent way to eat healthier foods. See what you can grow in your winter garden below:
Planting a permanent asparagus bed in the fall is a surefire way to enjoy it each winter. Opt for the colorful variety of asparagus like ‘Pacific Purple’ or an autumn variety like Asparagus ‘Mondeo.’
While asparagus beds take a few years to thrive, every asparagus crown tends to produce over 25 spears annually and can keep cropping for about 25 years. Don’t expect to harvest asparagus fast. It might take 2 years before you can harvest homegrown asparagus spears for the first time.
Although summer beets and fall beets are amazingly sweet, the overwintered ones remain the candy of the veggie garden. The seedlings of beets are established better under slightly cold, moist conditions, albeit they grow well during warm weather.
While beets can tolerate frost, it grows best in mild-winter regions. If you plant beets late in the fall and let them mature through winter, they will get incredibly sweet as the roots store sugars during colder weather.
Plant beets more densely than the plant tag or seed packet suggests. You can protect this veggie with mulch and harvest beet greens and small beets all winter long.
Austrian peas, also known as winter field peas, are frost tolerant and easy to grow. Even though these peas can tolerate heavy frost, they can stop growing when temperatures drop below 0 to -10F (-17 to -23C). Sowing rounded varieties like Pea ‘Meteor’ and Pea ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ in the late fall will allow you to harvest delicious peas a month earlier than usual.
If you want to enjoy baby carrots in winter, it’s recommended to plant them before the end of July. If you sow later, you can enjoy slightly tender baby carrots through January-February. Smaller carrot plants are more tolerant to frost than larger ones.
Since carrot seeds are extremely tiny, it’s hard to have them evenly spaced. Thinning is critical here, but you can do it gradually by harvesting all winter long. This way, the remaining seedlings will have more space to grow by spring.
When growing carrots in winter, ensure there’s a fluffy layer of mulch to protect your carrots. A floating row cover or cloche can become a double protector in super cold regions.
Kale can grow without any protection all winter long regardless of frost. Like other veggies, kale gets a lot sweeter in winter than in spring or summer. With proper care, you can harvest leaves throughout the winter and even early spring. As soon as the weather warms up, kale can start flowering. The leaves become bitter and tough at this point. Kale’s leaves may also die back during the winter with its root system remaining alive.
Can you imagine eating fresh radishes for Christmas without spending a dime? These vibrant veggies can go from seed to your salad bowl in a few weeks. It’s recommended to sow a succession of radish plantings biweekly for a continuous harvest. Plant a couple of extra rows in early September if you’re looking for a steady harvest all winter.
Unlike radishes grown in summer, winter radishes are crisp, mild, and less spicy. To protect your radishes, mulch them with straw or leaves in the fall. You can also use a floating row cover over the bed for extra protection.
With tons of varieties of garlic, growing this vegetable in winter requires little effort. Depending on the variety, garlic has a long growing season and the harvest season can begin only in summer. The Hardneck Garlic and Softneck Garlic are considered to be the best for growing in freezing winter weather, though Softneck Garlic is perfect for warmer winters.
Plant garlic bulbs at 4 inches deep – preferably, when the soil temperature is around 50°F. Garlic requires a fertile, well-drained soil mixed with a bit of compost. Garlic is frost tolerant, but it thrives better when it’s covered with 2 to 3 inches of mulch.
Spinach grows slower through the winter than in summer, yet it always bounces back in spring. You can plant spinach in open garden beds or cold frames in mid to late September. Cover the beds with polyethylene topped mini hoop tunnels during the winter to protect the leaves.
‘Winter Bloomsdale,’ ‘Melody,’ ‘Tyee,’ and ’Giant Winter’ are the verities of garlic that you can grow in 2021 and later on. Perpetual spinach produces huge yields of delicious leaves. If you harvest spinach regularly, it can grow till spring.
9. Broad beans
Also called Fava beans, broad beans are among the best cool-season vegetables to grow in 2021. It can successfully thrive in regions where temperatures drop to 40°F and tolerate frost. Broad Bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ is a variety that establishes fast and is ideal for sowings in the fall.
Broad beans thrive in well-drained, loose soil and full sun. Avoid over-watering broad beans. Water only before the soil starts drying out. Broad beans can be harvested in around 85 days or before the pods get tough.
One of the most popular varieties of cabbage, Winter Cabbage is frost-tolerate and easy to grow at home. Winter Cabbage can’t survive any hard freezes, though. If growing cabbage from seeds, it will germinate in temperatures at 40°F. Don’t over-water it; in winter cabbage needs less water than in summer. Depending on where you live, you’ll harvest cabbage in early winter. Your cabbage may split as soon as temperatures plunge.
How to Start a Winter Vegetable Garden
As soon as you decide on what to grow in your winter vegetable garden, you can start your planting process. Here are a few important steps to follow:
1. Plant seeds in trays
Careful timing is the key to successful gardening. Planting the seeds in trays will speed up the growing process. Once a bed is vacant in your vegetable garden, transplant a healthy seedling into the ground.
2. Consider a raised garden bed
Raised beds are perfect for cold temperatures. They provide great drainage while raising your garden soil above the soggy ground. Moreover, raised beds can warm faster, protecting your vegetables from frost.
3. Plant in a sheltered area
It’s important to plant your vegetables in a sheltered area, protecting them from snow, wind, and frost. Using row covers or polytunnels for wind can also help you save your plants. You can also use a cover crop on your dormant beds. A cover crop aids in restoring soil nutrients and keeping erosion and weeds under control. Once you harvest a bed, opt for a cover crop instead of leaving soil absolutely bare until early spring.
4. Determine your planting date
Your winter garden is a continuation of your fall garden, which is why you should start planting late in the fall. It’s recommended to plant seedlings and seeds for a winter garden 6 to 8 weeks before an average first frost date of the region you live in. Find out the average first frost date to determine your planting date and get to work.
Winter Vegetable Garden FAQs
Do veggies grow slow in winter?
Due to cold soil, sap flow in plants is restricted. The roots take up little nutrients and moisture and thus the growth of winter vegetables tends to slow down.
Why won’t veggies grow in the winter?
Winter has little to no sunlight for plants to use. Moreover, the water gets insufficient with the ground frozen, preventing plants from collecting enough water to survive the winter months.
Can you grow vegetables in the winter in a greenhouse?
There are lots of vegetables to grow in a greenhouse in winter. Although these vegetables don’t grow as quickly as they would during the summer months, they’ll successfully grow with a bit of protection and care.
How often should you water your garden in winter?
Winter veggies flourish when watered at least 3 times a week. If the plants are seedlings, consider watering twice a day.
Can frost affect growing vegetables in winter?
Frost typically sweetens winter vegetables, improving their flavor. But, even the winter vegetable seeds require some water to germinate. The majority of winter vegetables require protection from extreme wind and frost.
How much sun does a winter garden need?
The winter garden needs 6 hours of direct sunlight. The soil absorbs heat and the sun shines and shows that warmth to the veggies once the sun is down. The soil should provide an ideal balance of moisture drainage and retention.
Are there any good winter gardening books?
The answer is yes! Consider reading Eliot Coleman’s book named The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses. The home gardener shares his best tips on how to grow a variety of veggies at home.
The Final Word
Learning the best winter vegetables to grow from late November through early April begins with a little understanding of winter harvesting. Winter vegetable gardening is always better to start with only a couple of crops to see what works in your region’s climate. Ask a local, I am sure they will have the best options for you.
The aforementioned winter veggies tend to grow in any region. There’s no need to supervise the progress as thoroughly as you would in spring and summer. Give winter gardening a try and enjoy a bowl of fresh salad in the middle of winter.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.