If you’re wondering what cool weather vegetables to grow in winter — or what vegetables to grow for early spring — there are many options to explore.
Of course, it depends on your growing zone, and writing a general article for all zones is necessarily generic. So for this we’re writing about cool season crops for a midrange growing zone 6-8. From there, you can adjust according to your climate and whether or not you have a greenhouse.
It’s not only wonderful to grow year round but the cool season vegetables and fruits are extra rich in nutrients. Hardy vegetables like Swiss chard, broccoli, brussels, mustard greens, and radicchio are immunity rich foods. Many cool season veggies actually taste better after a light frost or hard freeze especially the cruciferous vegetables.
Nature’s wisdom is to make available to us the foods with nutrients our bodies most need for each season. We’re growing some of the wonderful fall fruits, many of which last for months if stored properly, or even for years, if dehydrated or freeze dried.
Our fall favorites include the wonderful fuyu persimmons and pomegranates, and of course the year round staple, the amazing apple. Next comes the refreshing and super immunity boosting winter citrus crops. We also have success growing dwarf Meyer lemon trees indoors.
In our wooded yard, our available sunlight is actually much better in winter with the trees barren of leaves. With the extra sun hours plus cold frames and frost covers, we can enjoy fresh garden salad greens and veggies year round. The addition of a cattle panel greenhouse also expands our growing options.
Cold frames and frost covers make winter gardening possible in many grow zones.
Winter Gardening is Possible
Last year we had a mild winter 2019-2020 and were even in short sleeves in North Carolina, Zone 7A in February! Oh sure, we’ve had some winter cold and snow earlier on, but these mid-winter warm spells can instill false hopes and trigger buds to break and even trees to flower.
If you’re in warmer southern zones such as Florida, Texas and Arizona, “winter” is your time to enjoy gardening again after the searing, wilting heat of summer. If you’re north with harsh winters and many feet of snow, cold frames and a greenhouse may be a worthwhile investment if you want to keep growing food in winter.
Winter Gardening in Cold Zones
Speaking of relatively harsh cold, at the end of last January I spent a long weekend in Edmonton Canada. The high temp was -16 and lows down to -25, not including 20 MPH wind chills! Talk about taking one’s breath away!
Brrrr! That’s Zone 2A territory with a short growing season averaging 120 days. You folks in these coldest regions have to be a hardy breed! And yet, your fresh indoor markets offered many varieties of cool weather crops.
The day after returning home, our local high temp hit 72 degrees! We took off the covers and let our hardy vegetables bask in the warm sunshine.
But you can still grow cool season vegetables under cold frames and row covers. For your snowbirds, we recommend Eliot Coleman’s excellent book: The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
Gratitude is Always a Good Thing
Changes in latitude, changes in gratitude!
Gratitude is one of our family values, and I was grateful to be back in a warmer climate, walking the garden and checking cold frames. But also, reflecting on how fortunate we all are that winter gardening is possible, even for our northern friends.
RELATED: Download a free 30 day Gratitude Journal PDF from our sister site.
When gardener’s can’t garden, they make things!
What Cool Season Vegetables to Grow in Winter?
So, how’s the garden faring in the midst of colder weather conditions? We haven’t yet had much luck with brussel sprouts, though they’re a favorite, so we’ll try again. But our cold hardy vegetables are doing really well… just wish I’d planted more!
First let’s address which vegetables won’t survive a frost.
Vegetables NOT to Grow in Winter
Frost at 32℉/0℃ Will Kill These Vegetables:
- Potatoes, regular & sweet potatoes
Cold Weather Vegetables That Will Survive Freezing
Colder Temperatures (26-31 degrees F.) May Burn Foliage but not Kill These Vegetables:
Cold Hardy Vegetables
- Brussels sprouts
Cold Hardy Herbs to Grow in Winter
Winter garden vegetables to grow include more than the familiar root vegetables. Listed alphabetically, here’s a list of the winter garden vegetables to grow. Some of these may be listed more than once should they fall into more than one classification and/or common search terms.
Winter Garden Vegetables to Grow
This is a broad list of vegetables to plant in fall for harvesting in fall, winter or spring, and many in this list can also be sown in late winter or early spring for a spring garden. Some of these will need row covers or a greenhouse, depending on your grow zone. Others can survive and even thrive with hard freezes, some of which are broken down further into the lists that follow.
- Pacific Purple
- broad (Fava) beans
- Beets – best planted in cool weather; semi hardy down to 28℉/-2.2℃
- Bok Choy (Pak Choi)
- Broccoli – can survive below freezing in high 20’s Fahrenheit
- Brussel Sprouts – won’t survive beyond a hard freeze uncovered; prefers sunny days and light night frost
- Cabbage – survives freezing down to 15℉/-9.44℃
- Chinese cabbage – semi hardy down to 28℉/-2.2℃
- Carrot – survives freezing down to 15℉/-9.44℃
- Cauliflower – survives freezing down to 10℉/-12℃
- Celery – semi hardy down to 28℉/-2.2℃, but light frost best
- Chard – Swiss Chard – very cold hardy down to 15℉/-9.44℃-
- Perpetual Spinach – an especially productive variety
- Collards – most cold-hardy down to 5℉/-15℃; flavor improves with hard frosts
- Endive – semi hardy down to 28℉/-2.2℃
- Kale – can withstand freezing and snow. For winter garden color, grow red Russian and ornamental kale.
- Leeks – very cold-hardy; can withstand temps to 0℉/-17.78℃
- Lettuce – semi hardy down to 28℉/-2.2℃
- Mache – Corn Salad
- Microgreens (indoors)
- Mustard – Can tolerate freezing and snow
- spring onions – can withstand frost and freezing temps
- Parsley – semi hardy down to 28℉/-2.2℃
- Parsnip – sweetens with a few hard freezes; semi hardy down to 28℉/-2.2℃
- Peas – semi hardy down to 28℉/-2.2℃
- Radicchio – semi hardy down to 28℉/-2.2℃
- Radish – survives hard freezes
- Rutabaga – light freeze sweetens rutabaga; protect with straw mulch or frost cover against hard freeze
- Spinach – grows slowly in winter; can thrive in greenhouse growing
- Swiss Chard-some varieties adds bright color
- perpetual spinach (a kind of Swiss chard)
- Turnip – more cold turns turnips sweeter and less spicy
RELATED: Fall salad greens
Root Vegetables to Grow in Winter
- Carrots (try rainbow colors for a delightful variety.
- Consider growing rainbow colors of carrots
- Horseradish (harvested in fall, winter or spring)
- Parsnip – sweetens with a few hard freezes
- Radish – survives hard freezes
RELATED: Grow microgreens indoors all winter, or even year round.
10 Vegetables to Grow Outdoors All Winter (in many grow zones)
- Asparagus – produces for years after first couple; harvest tender shoots in spring
- Beans, broad – sow in autumn for early spring harvest
- Garlic – sow in autumn for late summer harvest
- Onions – sow in autumn for late summer harvest
- Perpetual spinach, (Beta vulgaris var cicla) – is actually a chard that tastes a lot like spinach
- Shallots – sow in autumn for late summer harvest
- Spring onions
Greenhouse Vegetables to Grow in Winter for Colder Climates
Winter Salads Greens for Greenhouse Growing
- Corn salad – mache’
- Lambs Lettuce
- Land Cress
- Mache (corn salad)
RELATED: What vegetables to plant in fall
During mild winters, our current winter vegetables have been more like a spring garden. Alternating days of sun and rain and 60+ degree daytime temps have made our cool season crops like the Bok Choy to flush with new vitality.
Cole Crops to Grow in Winter
Our cole crops, arugula, and Swiss chard appear to be holding their own and then some. The broccoli is heading up nicely, and the collards are looking sassy. For leafy greens, we occasionally harvest a few leaves from our broccoli plants.
Since our winter crops are doing so well, I now know to plant more earlier and more a bit later. My first year of winter gardening I didn’t plant enough. In gardening, as in life, we learn something new each season, and keep on growing and improving.
The benefits of cold-weather winter gardening include very few pests and minimal weeding or watering. Leafy vegetables can also be container grown.
Winter Gardening with Row Covers
We use the gauzy (thinner) covers as the colder temps begin. Once the lows begin to drop below freezing, we change over to heavier frost cloth covers, sometimes referred to as frost blankets. More protection comes with a price though, they cost more and reduce light exposure.
Be aware: thicker row covers mean reduced light penetration.
For a handy row cover guide for frost protection and more, this article on frost covers should help.
Let’s keep on growing!
When the going gets tough, the tough get GROWING!
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson