By Erin Marissa Russell & Matt Gibson
Just because the Fall is winding down and the cold season is approaching, doesn’t mean that it’s time to pack away all of your gardening gear and huddle up indoors with a mug of hot chocolate. Though the hot chocolate sounds quite nice, many gardeners pack up their tools too early and skip the winter gardening season.
For those of us that enjoy growing edible gardens and eating harvest to table meals made from your own freshly-grown organic produce, there are a significant amount of vegetables that love growing during the cold season. Enough to convince a good amount of gardeners not to take the winter off, you might ask? You betcha there is. The following vegetables love cold weather conditions:
Artichokes (Cynara scolymus)
Though most of the artichokes grown in the United States are cultivated in Sunny California, artichokes are actually quite cold hardy, and with a protected location and a bit of insulation in the form of mulch, artichokes can even survive mild winters in zones five and six. If well mulched, most artichoke varieties can survive winter temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Learn more about growing Artichokes in our article, How to Grow Globe Artichokes.
Arugula (Eruca vesicaria)
Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 11 can grow arugula, also known as rocket, is a cool season leafy green vegetable that is a fast producer when harvested in a cut-and-come-again fashion. Arugula prefers chilly weather, and is actually so frost hardy that it can survive winters in most areas if supplied with a cold frame. Arugula leaves have a bold, peppery, spicy, and somewhat tangy flavor. Arugula can be planted in August to September and harvested all throughout the winter and spring. Trim arugula back regularly when growing as a microgreen, or wait until the plant has matured and the leaves reach their full size and flavor to harvest it all at one time. For more information, you can read our article How to Grow Arugula.
Beets (Beta vulgaris)
Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 or warmer can plant beets any time in the fall for a wintertime harvest. Beets, or beetroot, are a popular and highly nutritious root vegetable. Beets can be planted in July and harvested all winter long. Beets can be eaten raw, but are more commonly served cooked or pickled. Beets are very high in naturally occurring nitrates, which is one of the main reasons why beets are valued for their numerous health benefits. Beets are somewhat cold hardy as well, and can survive light frosts between 28 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit. For more information, you can read our article How to Grow Beets, or learn about different growing techniques in Can You Grow Beets Year Round? or Can Beets Be Grown in Pots?. You may also be interested in the article Can You Leave Beets in the Ground Over Winter?.
Bok Choy (Brassica rapa sub. Chinensis L.)
Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 13 can grow bok choy, or pak choy, as a biennial crop. Bok choy is a type of Chinese cabbage that grows in a cluster similar to the growing habit of mustard greens. Bok choy is popular in southeast Asia and southern China, but can be found in grocery stores all around the world. Bok choy is a frost hardy cool season vegetable crop, so it will keep growing throughout the winter if allowed, and will enjoy an insect free habitat after the cold has eliminated the insect presence.
For more information, you can read our article How to Grow Bok Choy (Brassica rapa sub.chinensis L.).
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica)
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable Broccoli should be planted in June to July by gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 10. The broccoli should then be harvested throughout the fall and the first few weeks of winter. Broccoli is cultivated mainly for its flowering head, which is the common green tree-like vegetable you’ve likely eaten all your life. What looks like tiny leaves on the tiny broccoli trees are actually immature flower buds that have yet to bloom. When broccoli is allowed to bloom, the heads turn yellow, and the tightly wound buds begin to unfurl and open up their petals. Once a broccoli plant has flowered, it loses its commercial value and (most likely) its culinary appeal. Broccoli plants are somewhat cold hardy, and can survive temperatures between 26 and 31 degrees F.
Brussels Sprouts (Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera)
Brussels sprouts are green leafy vegetables from the cabbage family which actually resemble tiny heads of cabbage. Brussels sprouts get their name from the town in Belgium, where they have always been a staple of the local cuisine, frequently appearing in belgian dishes, and
Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 9 can sow Brussels sprouts in June to July for a late winter to spring harvest. Brussels sprouts are a cool season crop that prefers temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees F. Typically one of the last plants standing in the garden in winter, and can even survive the winter entirely if they are well mulched and provided with ideal growing conditions. For more information, you can read our article Growing Brussels Sprouts.
Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata)
Cabbage is a leafy green biennial vegetable that is cultivated for its dense-leaved heads. Cabbage plants are relatively cold hardy, and can survive extended frosts in temperatures between 26 and 31 degrees F, though the cold may burn the outer leaves of the cabbage head. Cabbage can even survive extremely cold temperatures between 20 and 14 degrees F, though only for brief periods of time.
Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 1 through 9 can plant cabbage in June to July for a late fall and winter harvest.
For more information, you can read our article How to Grow Cabbage: An Introduction.
Carrots (Daucus carota subsp. sativus)
Carrots are typically an orange root vegetable, though some cultivars are available which produce purple, red, white, yellow, and black carrots. Packed with fiber and free radical attacking antioxidants, carrots are a healthy addition to any diet and taste exceptional when they are freshly harvested from your own backyard. Carrot plants are hardy to temperatures as low as 18 degrees F, but carrot roots can handle even colder temperatures, especially when they are provided with a cold frame or a heavy layer of insulating mulch. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 10 can sow carrots in September to harvest all throughout the winter and the spring.
For more information, you can read our article How to Grow Carrots Successfully in Your Garden. You can also read about alternative growing techniques in the articles Grow Carrots in Containers, Can You Grow a Carrot From a Carrot?, or Can You Grow Carrots in a Bucket?.
Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis)
Cauliflower is an annual vegetable that is typically grown from seed in vegetable gardens. Typically, only the tender, nutrient-packed heads are consumed. Considered a superfood because of its nutrient-rich composition, Cauliflower is especially high in fiber, antioxidants and vitamins A, B, and C. Though Cauliflower prefers cool weather to hot weather, Cauliflower is not what you would consider a winter vegetable. Technically, cauliflower can survive temperatures as low as 26 degrees suffering only minor foliar damage in the process, extended exposure to cold temperatures will kill the plants rather swiftly. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 11 can grow cauliflower as an annual.Plant cauliflower around June for harvesting all throughout autumn.
You can find out more in our article How to Grow Cauliflower.
Celery (Apium graveolens)
Celery has been cultivated by humans since ancient times for its leafy greens and its fibrous stalks. The high fiber content of celery is especially good for your digestive system, and can also help improve cardiovascular health. If you are not a fan of celery’s flavor but you need to force yourself to eat it anyway, because of its dietary value and its fiber/nutrient content, try filling the trench-like centers of its stalks with either peanut butter, or cream cheese to help improve the taste. Celery plants are somewhat cold hardy, and can withstand light frosts with temperatures between 28 and 32 degrees F but will not survive extended exposure to winter weather except for in especially moderate regions. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 10 can plant celery in spring or summer for harvests from summer to fall. You can find out more in our article How to Grow Celery Plants.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Similar to green onions, or scallions, chives are an onion relative that can survive winters in mild weather areas. Gardeners in Zones 3 through 11 can grow chives in their herb gardens. In areas with mild winters, the plant is evergreen, but where winters get cold, chives will die back and then spend the winter in dormancy. Chives should not be chopped like other onion types, but snipped with scissors. They are typically used as an herb instead of a vegetable, but they are great for edible late-season gardens in moderate weather regions. You can find out more in our article How to Grow Chives.
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
Cilantro or Coriander, is a flavorful annual herb with a bright, citrusy flavor profile. Its stems and leaves are typically added to recipes to add a burst of fresh flavor, though the entire plant is edible, even the roots. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 8 can plant cilantro in the spring to harvest through the fall, while in Zones 9 through 11 it is planted in autumn or winter instead. Cilantro is a cool weather crop that can survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees F. You can find out more in our article Grow Your Own Cilantro.
Collard Greens (Brassica oleracea var. viridis)
Collard greens are the massive, tough, dark green leaves which are a staple part of southern cooking. Typically sauteed or boiled with ham or bacon used for flavoring, collard greens are not only a tasty southern treat, but a nutrient dense superfood that is high in vitamins A, B6, C, and K, as well as iron, magnesium, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and choline. Collards are the most cold tolerant plant in the cabbage family, and are known to stand up to temperatures as low as 5 degrees F. Cold weather exposure actually improves the flavor and increases the sweetness of collard green leaves. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 10 can grow collards with success, though there are certain varieties that are better suited to the climate up to Zone 6. Plant collard greens in July to August and harvest their large leaves throughout the winter and spring.
You can find out more in our article How to Grow Collard Greens.
Endive (Cichorium endivia)
Endive, as well as Radicchio, is a type of chicory that is cultivated for its leafy greens, which are flavorful, earthy, and slightly bitter. Endive, like all types of Chicory, has a fresh, crisp texture and a nutty, mildly bitter, and slightly sweet flavor. Endive can be served raw or cooked and is high in complex fibers which promote regularity and digestive health. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 11 can grow endive both in the spring and in the fall. Endive can withstand temperatures between 26 and 32 degrees for short periods and can usually survive withers in areas with moderate winter weather. You can learn more from the University of Florida Gardening Solutions Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences profile on endive.
Fava Beans (Vicia faba)
Fava beans don’t simply tolerate chilly weather. They actually require between two and a half and three months of cold weather in order to develop properly. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 11 can sow fava beans in September to October for late winter to spring harvests. They can even thrive in the cool, wet weather that spells disaster for many vegetables. Just make sure to be vigilant against aphids, to which fava beans are susceptible. You can also boost the growth of your fava beans by inoculating the seeds using a rhizobium bacteria inoculant. You can either purchase an inoculant specifically for fava beans or just get an all-purpose legume inoculant. You can find out more in our article How to Grow Bush Beans and Climbing Beans.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel is a tricky but beneficial garden plant. Its roots emit a substance that is detrimental to many of the plants fennel could be placed next to in a vegetable garden if the gardener didn’t know about its ill effect on neighbors. Fennel should also be kept away from dill, as the two plants can cross-pollinate, which is detrimental to the flavor of both plants. Although you shouldn’t grow fennel too near to your other veggies, don’t move it too far away, either. Fennel plants attract beneficial insects like pollinators and predators of pest species to the garden while repelling aphids and fleas. For certain pests of the vegetable garden, fennel also serves as a trap plant. That means that the pest insects prefer fennel to their alternate options in the vegetable garden, so planting fennel near vulnerable crops will result in the bugs ganging up on the fennel plant, leaving the vegetables you wish to defend untouched. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 5 can grow fennel as a biennial, or those in Zones 6 through 10 can grow it as an annual. You can find out more in our article How to Grow Fennel.
Kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica)
Kale is a cabbage relative known for its highly nutritious, heavily furled leaves and slightly bitter, earthy, citrusy flavor. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 through 9 can grow kale through the winter if the weather stays mild enough and plenty of water is provided. It can also be grown as an annual in zones 2 through 9. Kale should be planted in June to July and harvested all through the winter and spring. Not only can Kale survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees F, its sweetness is increased by exposure to the cold. Find out more in our article How to Grow Kale: Including Three Favorite Ways to Prepare Kale.
Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea Gongylodes Group)
If you haven’t yet tried kohlrabi, allow us to introduce this member of the Brassica family, a cousin of the cabbage and its many relatives. Kohlrabi is described as tasting something like a radish crossed with a cucumber, with slight sweetness and the juicy, crisp texture of most root vegetables when raw. It can also be served cooked, and you can substitute kohlrabi for broccoli or cabbage in just about any recipe. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 11 can plant kohlrabi twice per year, in spring and in the fall. Plant kohlrabi in July to August and harvest all through the winter and spring.
You can find out more in our article How to Grow Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea).
Leeks (Allium porrum/Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum)
Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 11 can grow leeks by planting in midsummer for a January harvest, and those gardening in Zones 8 through 9a can also plant an early crop 12 to 14 weeks after the spring’s final frost. Although many gardeners or home chefs don’t have experience with leeks, they’re a delightfully mellow allium that looks similar to an enormous green onion. Leek is often paired with potatoes, sometimes with cheese (as in the classic leek and potato soup).
Some leek varieties do better in cold weather than others, so make sure to read up on the varieties you’re considering before you nail down a choice. Namely, the blue-green lateseason leeks, such as American Flag, Bandit, Giant Musselburgh, Jolant, and Tadorna perform best in winter, while early-season leeks tend not to be winter hardy anywhere colder than Zone 8. As with collard greens, leeks actually taste better when they’ve been through a frost or two in the garden. You can find out more in our article How to Grow Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum).
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Lettuce is traditionally grown in the spring or early summer, but it can do quite well in cooler weather because its real sensitivity is to heat. If you grow lettuce during the chillier seasons, you won’t have to worry about lettuce bolting and becoming bitter—and it’ll be lots easier to keep the plants hydrated than during the sweltering summer, when plants are super thirsty and the water evaporates so quickly in the sun. Gardeners in USDA Growing Zones 6 through 11 can grow lettuce, with all gardeners being able to plant it as a springtime crop while those in regions with mild, temperate weather can grow it year-round. Plant lettuce in August to September and cut and come again all through the fall and winter.
Mizuna (Brassica rapa var. niposinica)
Mizuna is an Asian green with a flavor that’s closest to Swiss chard when the leaves are harvested at baby size. You may have sampled mizuna already in a bag of Asian-style salad greens. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 9 can grow mizuna as a springtime or a fall crop. This brassica is especially fast-growing and can be served raw or gently cooked. Steam or stir-fry mizuna just slightly, as you would spinach, or add it to soups and sauces near the end of your cooking time so the delicate greens don’t get overcooked. Learn more about mizuna at Specialty Produce.
Mustard Greens (Brassica juncea)
Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 11 can grow mustard greens only in the spring, but those gardening in zones 8 through 11 can also grow mustard in the chillier months of the fall. These greens can be substituted in recipes for just about any other leafy green, such as kale, collards, beet greens, Swiss chard, or turnip greens. They play an especially big role in traditional Southern cuisine, where their peppery kick and slight bitterness is paired with vinegary sauces (and often, bacon drippings) as a braised dish that goes alongside fried fish, barbecue, pork chops, and more soul food main dishes. Find out more in our article, How to Grow Mustard Greens.
Onions, Bunching (Allium fistulosum)
Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 9 can plant onions in spring to harvest starting in spring as green onions and continue through summer when onions mature. But less common is growing onions in winter, although it’s possible. Start with bunching onions, which is a term that technically refers to Allium fistulosum and not Allium cepa (bulb onions/garden onions), Allium ampeloprasum (pearl onions), or spring onions, green onions, or scallions. However, bunching onions can also be called by other common names, such as potato onions or ground onions. Bunching onions have a slightly more mellow taste than other onion varieties and grow in multiplying clusters.
Plant bunching onions from October to December, or two to three weeks before your region’s first forecasted hard freeze of the season. They can be planted in containers or direct sown. Just make sure they get full sun, plenty of water, and if possible, a layer of mulch, which is especially helpful in colder locales. The onions will start being ready to harvest in about three months, and you can keep harvesting them throughout the cold season.. Find out more in our article, How to Grow Onions.
Peas (Pisum sativum)
Everything about peas suggests springtime: their verdant color, tiny size, and delicate sweetness paired with a fresh, crisp texture. However, these little legumes aren’t only a warm-weather crop. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 9 can plant peas early in spring to harvest the same season, and in warm regions they can also be grown as a fall or winter crop. That means you can have garden-fresh peas ready to perk up the dinner plate practically all year long. Find out more in our article, How to Grow Pease.
Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum)
Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 10b can start growing potatoes in early spring for a fall harvest. What many gardeners don’t realize is that you can also plant your potatoes around the New Year for a springtime crop. In addition to being versatile when it comes to the time of year you should plant them, there are a vast array of ways to grow potatoes, so you’re sure to be able to find a setup that will work for you. You can grow potatoes in the outdoor garden in hills or mounds, of course, but you can also grow them in containers, potato bags (or plastic garbage bags), and even in potato towers. Many of the less traditional techniques for growing potatoes are real space savers, too. Find out more in our article, Growing Potatoes in the Vegetable Garden.
Radicchio (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum)
Radicchio thrives best in weather that’s either mild or on the cool side, so unlike most veggies that come to life in the summer, radicchio is at its best in spring, fall, or winter. Radicchio is a dazzling purple salad green with white veins on its leaves that resembles red cabbage but has a more delicate texture. You’ve probably encountered radicchio in a bag of spring mix salad greens. Depending on your USDA Hardiness Zone, you will either plant radicchio in spring, summer, or fall, and it will be ready for harvest 125 to 130 days later. Learn more about Radicchio and grab some interesting looking radicchio recipes from Martha Stewart’s site.
Radishes (Raphanus sativus)
Radishes are some of the easiest vegetables it’s possible to grow, and you don’t have to limit your radish planting to the mild weather of spring or the heat of summer. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 10 can plant radishes in spring four to six weeks before your area’s forecasted last frost and keep planting them every 10 to 12 days for a continuous harvest from late spring to early summer.
But for cold-season radishes, plant them between early November to the middle of November in a container filled with half well-rotted compost and half potting soil, then find a sheltered site for them to grow. If temperatures dip close to freezing, however, you’ll need to either bring the container indoors until things warm up or cover the radishes with a tent made from a clear plastic sheet. You can also cover groups of three to five seedlings with a homemade cloche made from a gallon milk jug with the bottom sliced off to enable you to grow them in the winter. Find out more in our article, How to Grow Radishes.
Rutabagas (Brassica napus)
Rutabaga is one of those vegetables that tends to fly under the radar, forgotten both at the grocery store and when planning a garden. Don’t do yourself the disservice of overlooking rutabaga as an option for your cold-weather garden, though. This cross between a turnip and a cabbage can be used just like turnips as well as alongside them, as it has a similar texture and taste, although rutabaga has a sweet element to its flavor that turnips lack. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 9 can plant rutabaga from early summer to the middle of summer for a fall and wintertime harvest. Learn more in our article How to Grow Rutabagas.
Shallots (Allium cepa, or Allium oschaninii)
If you’ve never cooked with shallots before, you’re in for a real treat. This member of the allium family tastes almost like a cross between onions and garlic. Plus, their size (about that of a large spring onion) is just right for adding the perfect amount of savory kick to salad dressings, meat marinades, roasted vegetables, pasta salad, and lots more dishes.
Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 10 can plant shallots at the beginning of fall to harvest as winter begins, or you can start with shallot sets and plant them two weeks before your region’s last forecasted frost in spring to harvest in summer. Learn more in our article, How to Grow Shallots in the Home Garden.
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
Spinach is a springtime favorite in the garden, but those who are familiar with growing it early in the season may not be aware that gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 9 can plant spinach between July and August to harvest all throughout the fall and during the first few weeks of winter. Try tucking spinach plants in between flowers or other vegetables for an attractive and space-saving setup. Find out more in our articles, How to Grow Spinach, and How to Grow Spinach in a Container.
Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris)
Swiss chard hasn’t yet caught up to kale as far as popularity in the world of leafy greens, but it has a few advantages over the trendy green. The leaves of Swiss chard are more tender than kale, collards, and the like, and some varieties also have brightly colored stems, which make Swiss card dramatic and vibrant on the dinner plate. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 11 can plant Swiss chard in spring for a summertime harvest or in early August for a fall harvest. Find out more in our article, How to Grow Swiss Chard.
Turnips (Brassica rapa)
Turnips are, for many people, an unfamiliar vegetable. That fact is a real shame, as these root vegetables are as versatile and comforting as potatoes but with a bit of the bite of a radish. Try them mashed alone or blended with mashed potatoes, diced and roasted with olive oil and fresh herbs, tucked under a Sunday pot roast or roast chicken, or cubed into a cozy winter vegetable stew. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 9 can plant turnips in July to August and harvest all winter and spring.
Find out more in our article, How to Grow Turnips.
Obviously, there’s no reason to let your vegetable garden lay bare in the cooler months. Similarly, there’s no need for your family to spend the long, cold winter missing out on adding fresh, delicious homemade produce to their meals. Whether you have just a little bit of space or acres upon acres, pick a few of your cold-weather favorites from this list and start planning your winter garden today.