In some planting zones, winters tend to drop to a deep freeze that gives you a much shorter growing season to work with each year than in other regions. There is also a lot of unpredictability with the weather, and this can lead to people seeking out winter vegetables that will survive and thrive in colder temperatures. You could have a snowstorm appear in the fall months, or a freeze could come about in the late spring months that will kill more fragile plants. Winter vegetables give you a little more flexibility when it comes to your garden and the overall crop you harvest.
On the flip side, you have to consider what happens when things unexpectedly heat up. This is slightly more simple to deal with as you can mulch, toss on a shade cloth, and water a little more regularly to keep the soil temperatures low enough. However, it’s not so easy to shield your plants from a sudden temperature drop and freeze.
Your goal is to find specific varieties of vegetables that are winter vegetables. That is, they can survive colder temperatures than the rest of them. Since the growing season can be shorter in general, you can use winter vegetables to stretch a few more weeks out of your garden. If you live in a milder climate with more temperate winters, you could even grow them all year round. If you’re curious about winter vegetables, this is for you. We’re going to outline several options you have to ensure you get delicious, fresh vegetables. No matter what the weather decides to do.
Even though many people think that lettuce is a more fragile plant, it’s actually a very hardy winter vegetable. In fact, you’ll quickly find out that growing lettuce during the hotter summer months can be extremely frustrating. This is because as soon as the temperature starts to rise and the humidity kicks in, the majority of lettuce varieties will bolt. This means that it will go to seed and send up flower stalks.
So, lettuce actually prefers cooler weather. Some types of lettuce even qualify as winter vegetables because they’re able to withstand freezing temperatures without damage. Wonder of the Four Seasons (Merveille des Quatres Saisons) is one such variety. This is a red-tinged lettuce that can withstand different temperatures while adding a splash of color to your garden. Generally speaking, leaf varieties do better in colder temperatures than non-leaf lettuce like icebergs. You do want to pay close attention to suggested planting recommendations to ensure they stay healthy.
Beets are a hardy root vegetable that will produce a sugar when the temperature drops below freezing to help ward away the effects of the freeze, and this makes them a very nice winter vegetable. If you leave them in the ground when the first frost comes along, you’ll get much sweeter beets than normal due to the higher sugar content. However, beets are not as cold-hardy as other types of root vegetables, so you don’t want them to have constant exposure to freezing temperatures. But, they’ll survive a sudden fall frost without any problems.
There are several great beet varieties that make excellent winter vegetables, and the key is to pick types that mature very quickly. You do want to plant it in an area that gets full, direct sunlight for six to eight hours a day. Sow your beets wherever you plan on allowing them to mature to prevent disturbing the roots, and make sure the soil temperature is at least 50°F before you plant them.
Collards are very popular in southern cooking in the United States, and this helps to lend to the reputation for growing directly in the heat of the summer months. This reputation also stems from the fact that collards won’t go to seed and produce flowers when heat hits them like other plants do. However, you may not know that this is actually a winter vegetable in more mild climates. While it won’t survive a freeze, it can do just fine if your temperatures fall to 5°F at the lowest.
When you plant collards, space them between 18 and 24-inches apart. The area you plant them in should be full sun, and the soil should drain well but be very fertile. The pH levels should stay between 6.5 to 6.8. You can mix in a rich supply of organic matter or several inches of compost to improve the soil, and you want to give them a consistent water supply.
You may love spinach, but chances are, you dislike how challenging it is to grow in the humidity and heat. It is a great winter vegetable that can easily overwinter without a problem in planting zones six and up. If you give it a hand and a small amount of protection, there is no reason why spinach can’t survive in more frigid temperatures. Also, overwintering can be an easier path to take rather than sowing it early in the springtime, especially if it takes a while for the ground to unfreeze. Winter Bloomsdale is one variety to try.
Spinach grows wonderfully in containers, and this also makes it very easy to transport to a protected location when the temperature bottoms out. You can get away with a traditional potting soil, and you’ll have to give your plants 1 to 1.5 inches of water every week for it to be happy. You can mulch around the plant and apply a liquid fertilizer to improve growth.
Mache is the fancy cousin of traditional salad greens. However, this is an exceptionally cold-hardy winter vegetable to grow. It’s almost impossible to grow this vegetable during the warmer summer months because this plant loves when the soil temperatures stay on the cooler side. You can sow them in the fall, and you should pick out a spot that is at least partially shaded to encourage good growth. If the soil is too warm, the seeds won’t germinate nearly as well and you’ll have a smaller crop.
If you live in a region that routinely freezes during the winter, you could give them a light amount of protection by using a cloche or cold frame. This will allow you to overwinter your mache without any damage, and you’ll get a very delicate tasting salad green. You can use any variety for your winter vegetables as all of them do best in cooler soil conditions. Keep the soil consistently moist, but make sure it drains well.
If you make the mistake of growing your turnips during the heat of the summer months, you’ll get very pungent but tiny roots when it comes time to harvest them. If you like a very strong-tasting winter vegetable, this may be fine for you. However, when you grow your turnips in the cooler weather, you’ll get a very light and delicate taste to them. You should note that turnips don’t generally overwinter well, but you’ll get a much more mellow taste if you grow them in cooler weather.
For the best results, look for turnips that have a thicker skin. They are the types of winter vegetables you want because they can fend off the cold better. They do best in areas that get at least six hours of bright sunlight a day, and they require a very loamy and light soil. Break up the top 12 to 15-inches of soil before you sow your seeds, and amend it so it drains very well or you’ll get root rot.
In some places, you can have unusual summers where you get a lot of rain. You’ll still get a lot of humidity and heat though, and you’ll have longer springs and an earlier fall. For cabbages, this is the best growing condition for this winter vegetable. They can hold on through mild fall weather right into the start of winter, especially if you plant January King cabbages. There are also several other varieties that are perfectly cold-hardy, but you do want to double-check the seed packet before you buy them.
Plant this winter vegetable in an area that gets direct sunlight for six hours a day. They can tolerate a little less, but try to get as close to six hours at a minimum as you can. You’ll plant them in well-drained but fertile soil that has a high amount of rich organic matter. To discourage clubroot disease and encourage healthy growth, keep the pH between 6.5 and 6.8 throughout the growing season.
As most varieties of carrots are cold-hardy, they make great winter vegetables. Additionally, exposure to the cold will encourage carrots to release sugar to stave it off, and this results in much sweeter vegetables when you harvest them. As long as you protect them well, the roots can easily survive a hard frost. If you don’t provide enough protection, you run the risk of the ground completely freezing and locking your carrots under the earth with no way to get them out.
The tops of your carrots won’t last as long when the cold weather hits, but if the roots have had time to mature before this happens, you can easily cut the tops off and leave the carrots in the ground to harvest later in the year. These winter vegetables aren’t that picky about soil, as long as it’s not a heavy clay-type. They do well in containers or grow bags too with consistent watering. Allow the soil to dry between watering sessions, and thin the carrots out as they grow to prevent misshapen specimens.
Leeks are very slow-growing winter vegetables, and they prefer a very sunny location. However, leeks are also a type of winter vegetable in milder climates as they enjoy slightly cooler weather. Leeks won’t respond to day lengths like some vegetables, so they can easily keep growing when the days start to get shorter in the fall and winter months. Varieties of leeks that grow dark green foliage are the ones that are the most cold hardy, and they can handle it when the temperatures fall to -4°F.
The soil for your leeks should drain well and be very fertile. Also, this winter vegetable does well in raised beds, traditional garden beds, or in tall containers. They should be at least six inches apart when you plant them, and they need consistent soil moisture. Your soil will also have to have a higher nitrogen content for this plant to thrive and grow.
Any type of parsnip makes an excellent winter vegetable. However, you should note that the seeds do take a while to germinate after you plant them. When they mature, they can easily handle colder temperatures without a problem. They taste great in soups and stews, and they taste better when you allow them to have exposure to frost. You can also leave your parsnips underground, frozen in the dirt for an entire winter and harvest them when the ground thaws in the early spring months.
This winter vegetable will tolerate partial shade without a problem, but it does prefer full sunlight for six to eight hours every day. You will have to turn up around a foot of soil before you plant parsnips, and you want to remove any rocks and lumps. This will prevent the roots from forking and splitting. The pH levels should stay between 6.0 and 6.8, and you want the soil to be rich but drain nicely between watering sessions.
Snowbelle and Icicle radishes are hardy winter vegetables, and they’re usually one of the very first spring crops you’ll grow in your garden every year. They don’t do well in hot temperatures, and they respond much more favorably to cooler soil and lower humidity levels. Radishes will get very spicy and pungent if you grow them in warm weather, even excessively so. They grow very quickly, so radishes tend to do very well planted in early fall gardens. They’ll be ready to harvest before the frost hits and the ground freezes.
You can plant this winter vegetable in the early spring or fall months when the soil is very cool. Different varieties of radish have preferred growing seasons. The soil should be very loose, not overly fertile, and packed full of rich organic material. You should water these vegetables consistently, but let the soil get slightly dry between watering sessions.
12. Swiss Chard
Although swiss chard made the list of winter vegetables, you do have to be careful with it. It’s fairly cold-hardy, but it’s not the first choice you should have in mind when you want to grow in colder temperatures. If you get a prolonged hard freeze when you grow this vegetable, you’ll lose most or all of your crop, and it does well during the summer. However, it can also survive brief cold snaps when the temperature falls below zero, as long as it doesn’t stay there for weeks on end.
The key to growing this winter vegetable is to apply a thick layer of mulch around it to help the soil retain moisture and keep the soil temperatures slightly warmer. You also want to avoid varieties that have colored stems, because they’re less cold-hardy. The soil should drain well, and they should be in an area that gets light shade to full sun. Thin them to 12-inches apart when they start to grow.
Garlic makes an excellent winter vegetable. You plant it in the early fall months and let it go over the winter into the spring. Harvest your garlic in the late summer for the best results. Garlic can easily withstand a hard, prolonged frost without damage as long as you plant hardneck varieties over softneck varieties. Most of your garlic plant’s growth will happen during the winter and spring months. If the temperatures fluctuate in the early summer, they won’t bother the garlic.
Garlic is a winter vegetable that does best when you plant it in well-drained but fertile soil that has an almost neutral pH level to it. If your soil is clay-based, make a point to rake up raised mounds or rows of garlic to ensure it drains well during winter’s clammy, cold days. Plant them four inches deep and six inches apart, and water thoroughly.
Many people mistakenly believe that broccoli is primarily a summer vegetable. This is due to the fact that most of the broccoli produced in North America comes from Mexico. However, broccoli is actually a winter vegetable that prefers colder temperatures. In hot weather, broccoli loses the mild, pleasant flavor because it tends to bolt very quickly. Quick maturing varieties like Patron or Early Green are best for cooler climates because you’ll be able to plant them later and still harvest them before the freeze sets in.
For the best results with this winter vegetable, plant your broccoli in a location that gets six to eight hours of sunlight every day. The soil should be moist, well-drained, and very fertile for the broccoli to do well. It should have a lot of organic matter mixed in. Mulching will help keep the soil moist and help it retain water. The pH should sit between 6.0 and 7.0 to ward off clubroot disease and encourage fast growth.
Rutabaga is a great fall crop and winter vegetable because any variety will do well when the cooler temperatures come through. This is an odd hybrid that many people don’t give enough credit, and it looks like a bizarre turnip. Rutabaga is actually a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. It has a very mild flavor profile to it, and it has a very soft texture if you roast it. They don’t do well in hotter or more humid weather, and they like the soil to stay cool.
This is another root winter vegetable that needs a sunny location, and it won’t tolerate partial or full shade. The soil should be rich but drain very well between watering sessions. The pH should stay very close to the neutral level, and you should amend your soil with a supply of composted manure or organic fertilizer to encourage healthy growth. The roots won’t tolerate being disturbed, so sow the seeds where you intend to let them grow.
Peas are a slightly tricker winter vegetable to grow, but you can easily grow them in traditional garden beds or in containers with support. They do like to climb, so you will need to rig up trellises or string supports for them. Any pea variety will grow in cooler weather, even if you have unpredictable spring weather. Try to sow your peas when the soil is cool in the spring, and it’s also possible to plant a second crop in the fall that will be ready to harvest before the first hard freeze hits.
Peas will produce and grow well in less than fertile soil conditions. They like to have a nice amount of organic, rich matter introduced like well-rotted manure or compost mixed into the soil if you can. They don’t like nitrogen, so you can skip the fertilizer. Add a two to four-inch layer of compost into loosened soil to give them a strong start. Ensure you want consistently to keep the soil lightly moist but not saturated.
Red Russion and Winterbor kale are great winter vegetable plant varieties that will do well when the temperatures start to fall. In fact, kale will still be going strong when most of the other vegetables die back for the dormant season in the fall months. Frost won’t necessarily kill the plants, but extreme, prolonged cold will. After the frost hits, your kale leaves will get a much sweeter taste to them due to an excess sugar production, so it makes sense to wait to harvest them.
This winter vegetable does very well in full sun to partial shade, unlike a lot of other options on the list. However, know that any plants that get less than six hours of sun each day won’t be nearly as leafy or stocky as ones that get six to eight hours. This plant likes very fertile soil, so you may have to amend it before you plant it. Water it moderately for it to grow fast and produce very tender leaves.
18. Brussels Sprouts
Although not a fan favorite of many kids, brussels sprouts are a winter vegetable that do very well when the temperatures start to drop. They produce cabbage-like heads on a very small scale, and these heads won’t start to develop properly until the soil temperatures start to cool. They do need mild weather over deep freezes, but they can also withstand shorter periods of freezing temperatures without damage. They come packed with a huge amount of nutrients, including vitamins A, B, C, and K.
This winter vegetable will thrive if you plant it in an area that gets full sunlight. The soil should drain very well each time you water it, and you should make a point to keep it consistently moist. Amend the soil with a rich compost before you plant your seeds. This plant is susceptible to a huge range of soil-borne diseases, so you want to rotate their location in your garden each season.
The final winter vegetable on the list is asparagus. You should have plenty of space in your garden for this plant, and you want to set up a permanent asparagus bed. Pick out a variety like Pacific Purple or Mondeo for cooler weather growing. This plant can take several years to establish itself, but every crown can produce up to 25 spears each year. They’ll also crop for an impressive 25 years under the right growing conditions. It’ll be two years before you can harvest anything though.
This winter vegetable requires full, bright sun for six to eight hours every day to do well. Plant them on the north or west side of the garden. This will prevent this taller plant from throwing shade over your other vegetables during the growing season. They should be 12 to 18-inches apart, and they require a very nutrient-rich but well-drained soil. Water them consistently, but don’t saturate the soil.
These 19 winter vegetables are all excellent contenders if you live in an area that has unpredictable weather or shorter growing seasons. Many of them require almost the same growing conditions, so it’s easy to plant them all in the same garden and not have to worry about catering to different watering or fertilizing schedules. Plant them, tend them, and get ready to harvest them anywhere from the late fall months into the early spring.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.