Colder weather doesn’t mean your backyard garden has to take a break. There are many cool-season vegetables that can tolerate freezing temperatures. In fact, many of them taste sweeter when they get “bit” with a light frost.
Although we love the warm sunshine that accompanies the spring and early summer garden, fall and winter gardening is our favorite because of the wide variety of vegetables we can grow! From greens to root veggies, some of the most nutritious vegetables can be grown in the cooler months. And with a little planning, you can ensure a plethora of fresh produce for you and your family during the fall and winter seasons.
Below we’ve listed 11 cold-hardy vegetables that will thrive with colder outside temperatures. As we mentioned in a previous blog (link here), it’s always a good idea to have some frost protection supplies on hand in the cases where temperatures drop below winter averages. Mulching and keeping soil moist will also ensure that plants are insulated and protected.
Garlic is extremely cold-tolerant and can withstand temperatures below 0°F. Garlic should be planted in the fall and will be harvested the following year. If you live in the southern states, garlic will sprout a few weeks after planting and will grow throughout the winter. If you live in a colder climate, the garlic won’t sprout until the following year. Plant cloves in the fall and mulch the area so that it’s well-insulated throughout the winter.
Growing leeks is very similar to growing onions, although leeks are not day-length sensitive like onions. This means you can plant leeks anytime during the cooler months and they’ll usually tolerate temperatures in the single digits. Start them in your greenhouse or indoor seed starting room and then transplant them when the summer heat has subsided.
Most spinach varieties can easily tolerate temperatures in the teens, making it a great option for cool-season gardening. Just be sure not to plant it too early. Spinach doesn’t germinate well in warmer soils. Wait until your soil temperature is consistently in the 60s or low 70s and it should germinate well for you. Spinach can usually be cut 4-5 times throughout the life of a single plant, ensuring a consistent source of nutrient-dense food!
Although collard greens are traditionally considered a southern dish, they have recently started to gain national recognition. You can have delicious greens throughout the entire winter with only a few collard plants. Just pick a few leaves off each plant, leaving some leaves at the top that can continue to grow. Collard cold-tolerance will vary a bit depending on variety, but some varieties are said to be cold-tolerant in single digit temperatures.
Much like collard greens, kale can be harvested many times throughout the life of a single plant. Cold tolerance will vary from one variety to the next. We’ve found that the red kale varieties are less cold-tolerant than the green ones, and the curly kale varieties tend to be more cold-hardy than the lacinato or dinosaur kale types.
6. Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts love the cold weather and will perform exceptionally well in areas with colder winters. From our experiences, the plants need a good shot of cold weather to stimulate sprout production. We don’t always get that here in the southern states. But in years where we have a colder winter, our plants are usually loaded with delicious Brussels sprouts.
Some varieties of cabbage can tolerate winter temperatures in the low teens, and green cabbage is usually more cold-tolerant than red cabbage. Cabbage is also a very compact plant that’s easy to cover if you have experience rogue winter temperatures. A light frost on cabbage plants will make them nice and sweet!
Overwintered carrots are significantly sweeter than spring-grown carrots. We always overwinter our carrots and are rewarded with the best-tasting carrots early the following year. Carrot tops can usually tolerate temperatures in the high teens, mulching will certainly improve the cold tolerance. If you’re in a northern growing zone, heavily mulch carrots once they emerge from the soil to protect the base of the tops and the roots in the soil.
Commonly called “swedes,” rutabagas are another great cold-tolerant root vegetable. In addition to the delicious root that can be boiled or roasted, rutabaga greens are excellent! Just pluck a few greens from each plant as they grow and cook the greens much like you would collards, kale, or mustard greens.
These “earthy” root vegetables can usually tolerate temperatures down to the mid-teens. Keeping soil moist is imperative when growing beets in the winter months. If you let the soil dry, you could lose them. But if the soil is moist, it will insulate the plants and keep them thriving throughout the winter.
Parsnips are probably the most cold-hardy root veggie. They can be a challenge to germinate because they take so long to sprout, but they’re well worth the patience. Some have reported cold tolerance down to 0°F. Plant seeds when temperatures start to cool in late summer or early fall and be sure to mulch them if you live in an area that gets snow.