Many gardeners don’t bother with growing vegetables during the winter, especially if they live in cold, freezing climates. However, there are a variety of vegetables that thrive in cooler temperatures. Some vegetables are semi-hardy, which means they can withstand light frost with temperatures 28 – 32°F. Suited for regions with mild winters, they include beets, lettuce, salad greens, parsnips, and arugula. Others are cold-hardy, which means they can tolerate hard frosts with temperatures 25 – 28°F without experiencing damage. These include kale, spinach, English peas, and leeks.
Growing vegetables in the winter offers advantages including lower water needs and less pests. Some even benefit from a light frost, which improves their flavor by converting starches into sugar. Before planting, make sure to check out the plant requirements and their corresponding hardiness zones. Once you know which ones are appropriate for your climate, choose vegetables that you will enjoy eating.
If you live in a cooler climate, you can consider protecting your vegetables using cold frames, hoop tunnels, poly tunnels or row covers, which will help your vegetables survive cold and snowy temperatures. Specialized equipment such as forks, trowels, and thermal gardening gloves are useful to help you dig through hard, compacted soil. Below is a list of vegetables that you can try to grow during the fall and winter to extend your harvest.
Often grown in spring or fall, lettuce can also be grown in the winter without a cover in warmer climates. In zones 5 or cooler, it will grow consistently in a polytunnel, cold frame, or greenhouse. Select frost-tolerant varieties like Winter Density, Red Salad Bowl, and Winter Marvel, and pair with a cold frame. Lettuce is annual, which means it will not re-grow each season. If you eat a lot of salads or are looking for ways to eat healthier, you can save money by growing them in raised garden beds or containers in greenhouses. In addition to being used for salads, they can be used in lettuce wraps, sandwiches, and burgers.
Peas are an underrated plant that is easy to grow and produces a refreshing flavor. It can be a fun experience harvesting the peas and eating them out of their pea pods. You can grow both the shelling variety and snap peas. With some protection, peas can overwinter and begin growing during the spring. You can get a good harvest of peas if you grow them in a raised garden bed with a trellis, which gives them plenty of space to flourish. Due to their pleasant taste and health benefits, peas are a good way to introduce children to gardening and getting them to eat vegetables.
Potatoes are a great crop that can be planted in the ground in rows or mounds, in raised beds or containers, and in potato bags. It can be a satisfying and educational process for kids to harvest the tubers. Although they are very sturdy and can thrive in a wide range of conditions, we recommend raised garden beds for a plentiful yield.
If you are a picky eater or do not like vegetables, potatoes are a good choice due to their high versatility in recipes – mashed potatoes, fries, potato pancakes, and potato dumplings. Potatoes can be planted during the winter when temperatures reach at least 40°F. A good source of fiber, potatoes can improve digestion and reduce cholesterol levels. Do not use potatoes from the grocery, which are not certified disease free, and purchase certified seed potatoes instead.
Carrots are cold-hardy and can tolerate low temperatures in the ground if left protected. They also gain an improved flavor due to the cold changing the starches into sugars. In addition to the standard orange, they come in a variety of colors, such as purple, yellow, and white. It is important that you use fluffy, loose soil that drains well with sand; otherwise, their growth can be stunted, leading them to become misshapen and knobby. As with radishes, you need to thin out your carrots to prevent them from overcrowding each other.
Kale is a popular addition to salads, or as a substitute for spinach in omelets and casseroles. Although it can be grown year-round, it is a cool season crop and can be planted during the winter without cover for most of the winter. Offering a variety of health benefits, kale contains many minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and powerful plant compounds. It will survive freezing temperatures that fall below 0°F.
Garlic, one of the easiest crops to grow, requires little effort and is a natural pest detergent. They are a versatile addition to many recipes, adding a wonderful flavor to foods such as garlic bread, pasta, and sauces. In addition, it contains powerful health benefits including lowering cholesterol, supporting immune system functioning, and providing antioxidants. Garlic is a cool weather crop that is often planted during the fall. They require at least 40 days when the temperature is below 40 °F to form bulbs. After planting, add a layer of mulch of straw, grass clippings, or chopped leaves to suppress weeds and retain moisture.
Known for their globular, jewel-colored roots, beets can be grown 6 – 8 weeks before your first expected frost. They derive their color from anthocyanins, which are red, blue and purple pigments that can help boost the immune system, maintain health, and prevent disease. In addition, they also contain iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, and nitrates that help lower blood pressure and improve athletic performance. In most locations, beets can stay in the ground during winter if mulched properly.
Cabbage is a cool-season crop that can be grown during the winter. When grown in hot weather, it can encounter problems such as not forming heads or starting to produce flowers. While most varieties can tolerate a light frost, some types are particularly hardy. For best results, select a late season-cultivar, which is also known as ‘storage variety’ or ‘overwintering’ cabbage. Cabbage can be grown in raised garden beds, which allow more space for it to produce larger heads. You can grow multiple cabbage plants in one container.
Winter herbs like oregano, rosemary, thyme, and mint, can be grown during the winter in zones 6 or warmer. Consider adding herbs to your containers to maximize space. Regardless of location, all herbs can be grown indoors on window sills, which insulates them from the cold. This is an alternative to those that do not want to put up cold frames, which can seem daunting, or live in frigid environments. Growing herbs during the winter is a fulfilling task that will add freshness and flavor to your cooking.
Leeks are a member of the allium genus, which includes garlic, chives, shallots, and onions. Sweeter and milder than onions and garlic, can be used in a similar manner to onions, although it is important to avoid overcooking them. Like a few other vegetables on this list, its flavor also improves due to the conversion of its starch content into sugars. There are several winter leek varieties that can survive the winter in zone 4 under snow cover or a thick layer of mulch. Some varieties you can try include Alaska, Lancelot, Northern Lights, and Overwinter. In warmer climates of zone 7 and above, you can harvest winter leeks during the winter.