In our supermarket society, you may be forgiven for thinking that you can grow just about any vegetables in winter. Unfortunately, some won’t thrive every month of the year. But there are a lot of vegetables to grow in the cold weather months of winter.
While winter vegetable gardening varies from region to region, there are certain crops that thrive. Most root crops, as well as onions and leeks, taste sweeter when grown in winter. The brassicas, including kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage also do better in the cooler season. Some leafy greens include lettuce, spinach, and chard, as do legumes like peas and broad beans.
How do you grow vegetables for the winter?
Growing vegetables in winter require the same basics vegetables need any time of the year. You need good soil and just enough sun and water for whatever it is you are growing.
There is no reason for you not to grow vegetables well into the winter months, although in very cold regions it’s tough without cold frames or tunnels. But if you live in a warmer climate, you’ll be able to grow many vegetables throughout the winter months without greenhouses or polytunnels.
Root vegetables, in particular, respond to the cold by producing extra sugars that make them sweeter than usual. If you prepare your garden before you plant, and then maintain your winter vegetables, you will be rewarded with a varied crop.
18 Vegetables You Can Grow in Winter
You might be surprised to discover just how many vegetables you can grow successfully during the cold winter months. For this reason, we have compiled a list of 18 typical winter crops for your vegetable garden.
Of course, not all of us experience the same winter conditions. Your climate will determine whether you need to consider cold frames and greenhouses or polytunnels to protect your veggies from the cold.
Seed packets and catalogs generally state when seeds should be sown, where they should be sown, when they will germinate, and how long it will take to harvest. Some provide additional information including the best location, sowing depth, row spacing, and so on.
Garden centers sell seedlings of many vegetables throughout the year. Just be sure that they will thrive during the winter months, and produce an edible crop, before you make the investment. Some of these may have been started in greenhouses, and may not do well in all winter gardens.
Kale is one of those vegetables that has become popular amongst foodies in recent years. It’s easy to grow and versatile and can be used as an ingredient in soups or winter salads, and for kale chips.
There are several varieties of kale, all of which become more flavorsome in the winter months.
Green onions aren’t nicknamed spring onions for nothing. Sow green onion seeds in the fall and your crop will be ready to harvest early in the following spring. They are hardy and develop through the winter months.
You can grow green onions in the coldest of winters, and freezing temperatures, frost, and snow won’t kill them. Wherever you live, your green onions will be ready to harvest in spring!
Brussels sprouts are another of the vegetables to grow in a winter garden. They will withstand some frost and you can harvest your sprouts until there is a hard freeze.
Unfortunately, brussels sprouts can’t withstand sustained cold weather, and it’s best to pull them out of the soil before temperatures drop below 10℉. If your winter weather is warmer than this, they will survive.
Mustard is an ideal winter crop even if you experience frequent frost. But you do need to sow mustard seeds before mid-winter, and it doesn’t survive hard freezes.
Ideally, sow your mustard seeds in the fall or early winter.
Cabbage is best grown as a winter crop in home vegetable gardens. If you sow early, mid-season, and late cultivars you will prolong the harvest season and have freshly homegrown cabbages throughout the year.
Cabbage withstands forms down to 15-20℉, but it doesn’t do well in very hot weather.
Land cress is a great companion plant for cabbage because it attracts the cabbage moth caterpillar which lays its eggs in the cress rather than in the brassicas. Other great companion plants for cabbage, which also grow in winter, are beetroot, celery, and onions.
While you can certainly grow celery in a winter garden if the temperatures are relatively mild, be aware that celery will only tolerate light frost.
Good companion plants for celery in the winter months include calendulas, marigolds, beans, broccoli, green onions, and cabbages. Parsley planted with land cress work well when planted as a border alongside celery.
If you’re a regular salad eater, don’t let winter put you off growing leafy green lettuce in winter. It’s a cool-weather vegetable that is usually ready for harvest in spring and the fall. It tends to bolt in summer when the weather is hot.
Cold frames and greenhouses or polytunnels provide the ideal solution for lettuce crops you can harvest in cold winter conditions.
Cauliflower cheese makes a delicious winter meal, so it’s good news that it survives temperatures as low as 10℉.
In fact, horticulturalists will tell you that the trick to growing cauliflower is consistently cool temperatures. High temperatures prevent the lovely white edible heads (called curds) from forming.
Cauliflowers have a long growing season, so you need to sow cauliflower seeds in good time. If you plant in the fall, set out the seedling 6-8 weeks before the first frost.
Rutabagas are ideal for winter vegetable gardening in warmer planting zones. When they are exposed to light frost, rutabagas, like other brassicas, taste sweeter.
They take 80-100 days from planting to harvest. So, count back about 90 days from the average date of the first fall frost in your area to identify the best planting date.
Rutabagas are easy to grow. If you want to extend the harvest season, add a thick layer of straw as a mulch to protect the plants from very heavy frost.
Swiss chard, although similar to spinach, is much easier to grow than true spinach. It is extremely hardy and will survive heat, drought, and bitterly cold winter winds. It will survive dips in temperature to 15℉.
Companion plants to grow with Swiss chard in winter include cabbages, beets, and celery. You will find that the Swiss chard protects and shelters these plants if you grow them next to the Swiss chard.
Like cauliflower, broccoli is a brassica that thrives in cool weather with moist conditions. It is, though, easy to grow, unlike cauliflower.
Broccoli likes daytime temperatures of 10-20℉ and the plants will bolt if the temperature gets any higher than 26℉.
It takes 16-20 weeks to be ready to harvest. Sow seeds in late fall or early winter for a spring or early summer harvest.
Turnips are a type of brassica, and, like other brassicas, they are a cold-hardy winter crop. While most gardeners grow turnips for their swollen roots, many harvest their young leaves and cook them like spinach as well.
Like carrots, turnips are also a root crop that accumulates sugar when it matures in cold weather.
Spinach does best in cooler weather, from the shorter days of fall, well into winter. It grows more slowly in cold winter conditions but always bounces back as the weather warms in spring.
It depends where you live and how cold it gets whether you sow your seed in cold frames or greenhouses or polytunnels, or open garden beds.
Another root crop that sweetens in flavor after a light frost, parsnips will tolerate temperatures as low as 0℉. They take about four months to mature.
Leeks are part of the great onion family and are very easy vegetables to grow. They are heavy feeders but tolerate very cold weather as low as 0℉.
Leeks are great companion plants to many of the winter vegetables we mention in this guide. These include cabbages, carrots, celery, leafy green lettuces, and radishes.
Winter carrots are a lot sweeter than carrots grown at other times of the year. This is because their flavor improves if there is frost during the fall.
Sow your carrot seed for winter in mid-summer and then mulch the bed where they are growing towards the end of the year. They can survive temperatures as low as 15℉.
Radishes thrive in cold weather and are one of the fastest-growing vegetables to grow in winter. They also make great companion plants for just about any other plant, deterring insects and providing a tonic to delicate, non-hardy plants.
Even though beetroot grows well in warm weather, it’s easier to establish seedlings when weather conditions are moist and cool. Like turnips, beets have deliciously edible leaves and an equally delicious root.
Winter vegetable gardening can be a challenge, particularly in very cold climates. But if you know which plants to grow, that will thrive, it can be exceptionally rewarding.
It is also exciting to discover that many of the plants that you can grow in winter make great companion plants for other winter crops.
If you are thinking about growing vegetables in winter, this garden guide is a great place to get ideas and information. Have fun and enjoy!