A Guide To Growing Vegetables In Winter 🥔

A Guide To Growing Vegetables In Winter

Reading Time: 8 minutes 🍃

Many gardeners grow a wide variety of vegetables in the spring and summer garden. Still, winter gardening is often overlooked as a viable option for adding fresh veggies to the table. While tender, warm-season crops, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, can’t be grown in the winter garden, many vegetables can.

Cold hardy vegetables can be planted in late summer or early fall and harvested during the winter. This includes root crops, like beets, carrots, turnips, and some leafy greens like endive, chard, and kale. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower can also be grown in a winter garden.

When choosing vegetables for your winter garden, look for labels like cold hardy or cool/cold season in the description. These veggies perform best in cool weather and are not damaged by freezing temperatures.

What vegetables can you grow in a winter garden?

Cold or cool-season vegetables can be grown in a winter garden. These vegetables are cold, hardy, and can survive in low temperatures. A freeze does not damage cold season vegetables unless they are exposed to freezing temperatures for extended periods.

Warm-season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and cucumbers cannot be grown in the winter because they are too tender and will freeze in cold weather.

The vegetables you can grow in your winter garden depend on how cold it gets in your location and the amount of protection you provide for them. The following list is a good starting point for choosing vegetables for your winter garden.

  • Lettuce
  • Salad Greens
  • Swiss Chard
  • Endive
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Collard Greens
  • Beets
  • Turnips and Rutabaga
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • English Peas
  • Leeks

When should you plant the winter garden?

A winter garden should be planted in the late summer or early fall, generally between the middle of August and into September. Because the vegetables need time to mature before winter arrives, you need to allow enough time between planting and the onset of cold weather in your area.

Vegetables in a winter garden (unless you live in an area with very mild winters and long hours of sunlight) do not actually continue to grow all winter. The mature plants stay alive, allowing you to harvest them throughout the winter. When daylight decreases to under 10 hours a day, most plants stop growing or show very little growth. Some root vegetables (like beets) may produce new leafy tops during the winter.

Can you plant new vegetables in the middle of winter?

Plants in your winter garden should be given adequate time to mature before winter arrives. Because plants need at least 10 hours of daylight to grow, new seedlings (or seeds) will not grow if you plant them in the middle of the winter.

Plan your winter garden in the summer and get the seeds or seedlings planted early so they will have time to mature before the coldest and darkest days of winter arrive.

Why aren’t my vegetables in the winter garden getting any bigger?

Vegetables in the winter garden will stay alive and provide you with fresh greens (or roots), but they do not grow in the midst of winter, even if they have proper protection. Plants stop growing when the daylight hours decrease to less than 10 hours a day.

Vegetables in the winter garden will resume growth as spring approaches and the hours of sunlight increase.

How do you protect the winter garden from freezing temperatures?

How you protect your vegetables in the winter garden depends on the severity of your winters. In areas with mild winters, floating row covers may be sufficient to protect the vegetables from winter weather. In northern climates with harsh winters, you will need to provide protection against ice and snow.

You can grow a winter garden right in your garden bed, but many prefer to plant winter gardens in more protected areas. A small greenhouse, covered raised beds, row covers, and polytunnels are good choices.

  • Row Covers — These may be sold as floating row covers or frost protectors. They are used to cover a row of vegetables to protect them from cold temperatures. They may be effective in your winter garden if you live in a southern climate.
  • Cold Frame — Cold frames can be made from a simple wooden box with a glass cover. They offer good protection from the elements and can be opened for ventilation or temperature control if temperatures rise above normal in the winter.
  • Greenhouse — A greenhouse can be as elaborate or simple as your budget allows. You can build a simple lean-to greenhouse for a winter garden, purchase a small hobby greenhouse, or go all out and purchase (or build) a large greenhouse.
  • Covered Raised Beds — This option works well if you already use raised beds for your summer garden. Simply build (or purchase) a cover for the raised bed to protect your plants. You can use 6 mils clear plastic, glass, or polycarbonate panels as covers for your raised beds.
  • Straw or Hay — Straw or hay can be used to cover plants for added protection against the elements. You can add straw to the raised bed or cold frame, use it in the greenhouse, or simply cover plants in the garden with it if you have mild winters.

How to Prepare Your Winter Garden

The time to plan and prepare your winter garden is in the late summer or early fall. In northern climates, you may need to begin planting the winter garden in August. Southern climates can wait a bit longer. Always check the days to maturity of the plants you are growing to determine the proper planting time. Here’s what you need to do.

  1. Prepare the soil. If you are growing your winter garden in your regular garden spot, remove all weeds and plant debris from the area and till the soil. If you are using raised beds or containers in a cold frame or greenhouse, fill them with fresh soil.
  2. Amend the soil as necessary. A light application of balanced fertilizer may be needed if you are growing your winter garden in your regular garden, as the summer crop has likely used most of the nutrients. Otherwise, apply fertilizer and other soil amendments as recommended for containers or raised beds.
  3. Start seedlings for vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower at least six weeks before planting time to give them time to mature before winter arrives. Plant seeds for veggies like leafy greens, carrots, beets, and turnip in mid-August or early September.
  4. Plan for protection for your plants. What you need for protection depends on your location, but it is always a good idea to have a plan in place long before protection is needed. Build cold frames, erect polytunnels, or build covers for your raised beds ahead of time, so they are ready to go when they are needed.
  5. Water the soil to moisten it. You will need to continue to water your plants or seedlings until the weather cools and the need for water decreases. Check the soil often and water your winter garden when the soil feels dry to the touch 2 inches below the surface.
  6. Purchase hay or straw bales for emergency plant protection if temperatures drop below normal. Hay and straw can be used as extra insulation and can even be used to cover the plants entirely during cold snaps in the winter.

Can you grow a winter garden in northern climates?

Winter gardening in northern climates is more challenging because the winters are long and cold, but it can be done. Winter gardens in cold climates require more protection against the elements. Many northern gardeners erect small greenhouse or cold frames for winter gardening. Polytunnels and covered raised beds also work well.

Don’t expect to grow a winter garden in the regular garden spot using row covers or straw, as this is not enough protection from ice and snow in northern gardens.

Providing adequate protection from ice and snow and growing cold hardy vegetables is the key to success in growing a winter garden in northern climates.

How much daylight do vegetables in winter gardens need?

Plants typically need ten or more hours of sunlight a day to grow. When day length drops below 10 hours in the winter, plant growth stops or slows. But that doesn’t mean the plants will die. Leafy greens and root vegetables can still be harvested throughout the winter.

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower can be harvested even if the plant has stopped active growth. Likewise, root vegetables, like beets, turnips, and carrots, will remain firm and fresh under the soil. Both Brussels sprouts and root vegetables develop a sweeter flavor in cold weather.

How do you harvest vegetables in winter?

Harvesting vegetables from the winter garden may require uncovering or opening the covers to your garden, but it really isn’t any different from harvesting veggies from the garden. Simply remove what you will eat right away and put the winter protection back in place to keep your winter veggies fresh.

Related Questions:

Can you grow warm-season vegetables in a winter garden?

Warm-season vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and cucumbers cannot tolerate cold weather and survive in a winter garden. These tender veggies freeze quickly and sustain damage to the plant when temperatures go below freezing. Save yourself the trouble and wait until the danger of frost has passed in the spring before planting warm-season vegetables.

Only cool or cold season vegetables can be grown safely in a winter garden.

Do you need to water a winter garden?

You need to provide your winter garden with enough water to nourish the plants, but watering is less demanding in winter than it is in the summer. Your winter garden may go weeks without needing to be watered but watch out for sudden warm spells in the winter that can dry out the soil.

Check the soil frequently to determine if your winter garden needs watering.

Can you grow herbs in a winter garden?

Fresh herbs in the winter add zest to your recipes. Although tender herbs, like basil, cannot be grown in the winter garden, many can be. Try these herbs in your winter garden.

  • Chervil
  • Parsley
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary (zone 6 or higher)
  • Thyme
  • Chives

Why do people grow a winter garden?

Growing a winter garden is an excellent way to provide nutritious veggies for the family all winter long. Although there are limitations to the types of veggies you can grow, many salad greens will grow in a winter garden giving you the makings for fresh salads. Root veggies, like carrots, turnips, and beets, make wonderful roasted veggies in the middle of winter or can be used in winter soups and stews. Other greens, like beet greens, chard, and spinach, can be cooked and served with meats or poultry or added to casseroles or soups to boost nutrition.

People grow winter gardens to supplement their diet with fresh veggies, extend the use of their garden, and sometimes, just because it is fun.

Your winter garden won’t likely produce the abundance of fresh vegetables your spring and summer garden does, but it is a great way to add nutrient-rich veggies to your family’s diet in the winter. By choosing cold-hardy vegetables and providing them with protection from the harsh winter weather, you can grow and harvest an assortment of vegetables all winter long in your winter garden.


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