Grow winter garden vegetables and extend your season while you feed your soil and protect it from erosion over winter. Growing your own delectable veggies and bringing them from garden to table is a fulfilling and enriching experience.
Winter gardens don’t demand as much toil from gardeners, as they don’t need as much water or sunlight. This results in smaller yields but a continual harvest. However, a successful winter vegetable garden does require a little extra know-how.
Check out our robust list of winter garden vegetables to grow, tips on how to protect plants from the cold, and how cover crops can bolster your garden soil for spring.
Winter Gardening Considerations
Growing winter vegetables translates into planting hardy plants with shorter maturation periods and protecting plants with season lengthening techniques such as cold frames, mulches, watering in roots, and utilizing greenhouses to keep the ground from freezing and the air warmer.
It is important to note that vegetables will not grow when the ground is frozen solid when covered in snow, or lacking sufficient sunlight. Winter garden vegetables are hardy enough to survive sub-freezing temperatures during the overnight hours. Still, they will need temperatures that rise up to at least 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit to thrive.
Tips on Growing Winter Garden Vegetables
- Consider where you are planting your winter garden vegetables. Containers and raised beds might keep the soil warmer in the spring, summer and fall, but they will be the first to freeze in the winter. You will find more protection for your winter vegetables when you plant them in the ground. This is particularly true for root vegetables.
- Plant winter vegetables in the sunniest spot in your garden bed to make the most of the shorter days.
- If you are growing plants in pots, they can quickly and easily be brought indoors or into greenhouses if the temperature plummets.
- Water can be a best friend to gardeners when growing vegetables in the winter. Water insulates the roots of the crop and protects plants from freezing. If you are expecting extreme temperatures, consider watering the roots well, avoiding the leaves.
- Add thick layers of mulch around plants in the winter. Mulch will act as a blanket, protecting the plants and their roots.
- Winter garden vegetables can act as cover crops, protecting the soil from erosion, and replenishing the garden soil with nutrients for subsequent spring and summer crops.
Growing Food in Winter
In this video, Resh Gala, an urban organic gardener in New Jersey – Zone 6b, discusses the best ways to grow food in winter.
Winter Container Gardening
Container gardening can be an inexpensive and beneficial winter gardening option, even if you live in a climate that has exceptionally harsh winters. Containers allow you to move your plants to protected areas or inside to keep them safe from the elements while still growing and producing.
If you are bringing your containers inside place pots near a window where they will receive full sun. If you don’t have a location where they will get adequate light, you should consider using grow lights. It is also recommended to keep plants away from air vents and fireplaces to avoid any sudden temperature changes.
Many plants can be grown indoors throughout winter, here are a few examples:
Winter Greenhouse Gardening
As mentioned, greenhouses can play a key role in a successful winter garden. Greenhouses give you more control over growing conditions allowing you to create an ideal environment for your winter garden vegetables. Here are some of our best winter greenhouse gardening tips.
- Determine the growing needs and temperature requirements of all your plants to ensure your greenhouse is set up to accommodate each one.
- Temperature control is key to successful greenhouse growing. If you find that your greenhouse is too cold:
- Mulching your plants and using row covers can help create more ambient warmth.
- Wrapping your pots in bubble wrap and newspaper can also help them retain heat.
- Save energy and money by grouping plants together in order to heat them selectively.
- Consider sun exposure for growth and heat and place your plants accordingly.
- Incorporate thermal mass to collect and release heat, include concrete and stone in the greenhouse. You can also use water barrels positioned to be heated by the sun that will release heat later.
- Proper humidity in greenhouse growing is important. If you find that the humidity is too high
- Keep your greenhouse dry.
- Proper watering and plant spacing will help.
- Make sure there is air movement and ventilation.
- Don’t forget to help your plants pollinate. Take on the role of a bee or butterfly by using a q-tip or paintbrush to hand-pollinate your plants.
- Greenhouses can seem overwhelming and expensive, but there are many inexpensive options such as creating a DIY greenhouse using plastic, PVC, or a premade kit.
Winter Garden Vegetables to Grow by Planting Zone
In planting zones 7 through 11, there are winter vegetables that you can plant that will grow and produce throughout the winter season, albeit a little more slowly than if they are grown in the springtime.
If you are growing in zone 6 and under, setting up cold frames and greenhouses can help to ensure a successful winter crop.
Check out our Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for more details.
12 Recommended Winter Garden Vegetables
Arugula is a leafy green that is frost-hardy but will require some protection from extreme cold. Use a cold frame, greenhouse, or hoop house to protect arugula from freezing. Harvest leaves when they are two to three inches tall and use them in salads.
Choose a frost-hardy variety of peas. Prepare the soil in the garden bed with rich, well-draining soil with a pH range of 6.2 to 7.0. Plant pea seeds 1 to 2 inches apart in rows. A winter crop of peas will also fix nitrogen back into the soil, enriching the soil with nutrients for spring gardens.
Asparagus is a perennial that can be grown year-round but takes some time to get established. Invest time and space in planting a crop of asparagus and reap the rewards of delicious and nutrient-rich spears that will produce for many years to come.
Garlic should be planted in the fall and allowed to grow through the winter for a summer harvest. Plant garlic in early fall by sowing the cloves at least 2-4 inches deep with the pointed end facing up. Allow 4-5 inches of space between garlic cloves and 12 inches between rows. Garlic thrives in full sun with well-draining soil.
Plant potatoes in the fall and protect them from severe temperatures and deep frost so that tubers can develop fully. Cold frames, hoop houses, and mulching can help protect potatoes as they develop. Be prepared to harvest your potatoes in spring.
Broccoli is part of the brassica family and it thrives in cooler temperatures. Sow seeds indoors 6 weeks before planting in the garden in early fall. Plant broccoli seeds with at least two feet between plants and harvest when the head is firm and green. You won’t have to worry so much about rapid bolting of the plant in the winter months.
Start Brussel sprouts indoors during the spring. Plant them outside in mid to late summer in rows two feet apart with three feet between rows. The plant will continue to produce throughout the fall and as the cold days of winter set in. Harvest Brussel sprouts from the bottom of the plant and then progressively upward, seeking small cabbage-like produce that is at least one inch in diameter.
Carrots are great winter garden vegetables because they prefer cooler temperatures. For a winter crop, plant carrot seeds in later summer or early fall in a sunny area of the garden. Soil should be well tilled with enough space for the carrots to dig deep into the ground. Allow three inches between plants and 5-6 inches between rows. As winter rolls in, you can protect carrots with thick mulch layers and cold frames. Overall, carrots can be kept in the ground until you are ready to use them, as long as the ground does not freeze completely. Harvest carrots when their taproot starts to poke out of the soil.
Broad beans are quick, easy to grow, and make a fantastic winter crop. They also release nitrogen back into the soil, enriching the ground for the following spring. Sow bean seeds in early fall for a winter harvest.
Beets thrive in rich, well-draining soil that’s high in phosphorus. Sow beet seeds late in the summer season for a winter harvest. Space seeds three inches apart in rows that are 12 inches apart. Beets are ready for harvest when you see the taproot peeking out of the soil.
Plant kale in late summer for a winter crop. Kale thrives best in well-draining soil that is amended with well-decomposed compost. Watering the roots of the plant will keep it protected from freezing and keep it producing leaves generously. Plant the seeds into the ground in mid to late summer, leaving 18 inches between plants and 2 feet between rows.