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11 Vegetables To Grow In Winter

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Winter gardening can be a little tricky, but it is possible. Some extra precautions may be necessary to manage frigid temperatures.

Most brassicas, some root crops, and greens can withstand temperatures as low as the upper teens and still thrive. Vegetables like turnips need frost to convert starches to sugar, changing their taste profile completely. Cool-season plants grow best in colder temperatures.

Table of Contents

Planning Your Winter Garden

Winter is a relative term and depends on where you live. Some winters in polar regions only offer partial winter light, while those near the equator have minimal climatic changes.

First, you need to establish in which Hardiness Zone you live and your minimum temperatures. Below is a table of the USDA Hardiness Zones and their respective minimum temperatures in Fahrenheit and Celsius.

A table of of the USDA Hardiness Zones reflecting the both degrees Fahrenheit and degrees Celsius and the colors of each zone as corresponding with the USDA Hardiness Zones map
USDA Hardiness Zones

In my evaluation of each plant, I will tell you the hardiness zones where specific plants do best.

Secondly, you may consider using soil warming or crop protection techniques. Here are a few tips:

Winter Crop Protection

Greenhouse, Hoop House, or Cold Frame

You can grow successful winter plants depending on your environment and where you live. Consider the benefits of a greenhouse, hoop house, or cold frame if you live in an area with bitterly cold temperatures.

A cold frame traps higher day temperatures and shields your vegetables from chilly nighttime temperatures and brisk winter winds.

A greenhouse is a larger structure that works on similar principles, guaranteeing a frost-free climate and enabling you to grow vegetables all year.

In addition to winter vegetables, a greenhouse can cultivate warm-weather crops such as beans, cucumber, and summer and winter squashes.

Raise Bed Temperatures by Optimizing Shades of Grey

Darker colors absorb a broader light spectrum, while lighter colors reflect light. Soil temperatures can be manipulated by alternating between darker material coverings during the day and lighter-colored materials at night.

Combining this practice with raised beds allows the soil to retain heat better. Raised beds are perfect for cold temperatures, provide excellent drainage and lift garden beds away from the lower frost zones.

Timing is Key

Gardening success depends on precise timing, and the seeds will grow more quickly if they are started indoors in trays. Acclimatize the seedling to colder conditions by hardening it off – a gradual exposure to a colder environment.

Your winter garden is a continuation of your fall garden, so you should start planting late in the fall. I recommend planting seedlings and seeds for a winter garden 6 to 8 weeks before a regional average first frost date. Establish the average first frost date, calculate your best planting date, and start the process.

Use Natural Shelter

Protecting your vegetables from snow, wind, and frost is crucial by planting them in a protected spot. Trees help protect from wind, and higher areas are protected from temperature inversion when the coldest air flows to the lowest places.

A cover crop helps to replenish soil nutrients, prevent erosion, and reduce weed growth. Instead of leaving the soil naked until the first few weeks of spring after harvesting a bed, choose a cover crop like hairy vetch, crimson clover, or alfalfa.

Regional Frost-Free Dates for Winter Garden Planning

Below is a table showing the frost-free dates for 82 US cities to help you calculate the best planting dates for your winter crops. The dates are based on the average first and last frost dates of the past decade (2010 to 2020).

US CitySeason Length (Days)Frost Free Season
Huntsville, AL217Mar 30 – Nov 03
Montgomery, AL243Mar 12 – Nov 11
Juneau, AK139May 10 – Sep 27
Anchorage, AK139May 07 – Sep 24
Phoenix, AZ209Apr 04 – Oct 30
Little Rock, AR237Mar 19 – Nov 12
Sacramento, CA276Feb 22 – Nov 25
Los Angeles, CA362Jan 14 – Dec 30
Denver, CO147May 09 – Oct 04
Hartford, CT169Apr 25 – Oct 11
Bridgeport, CT208Apr 08 – Nov 03
Dover, DE184Apr 22 – Oct 23
Wilmington, DE203Apr 10 – Oct 30
Tallahassee, FL252Mar 13 – Nov 20
Jacksonville, FL286Feb 12 – Dec 04
Atlanta, GA238Mar 20 – Nov 14
Boise, ID158May 05 – Oct 11
Springfield, IL191Apr 13 – Oct 21
Chicago, IL188Apr 18 – Oct 25
Indianapolis, IN183Apr 19 – Oct 20
Des Moines, IA176Apr 21 – Oct 14
Topeka, KS192Apr 14 – Oct 23
Wichita, KS197Apr 11 – Oct 25
Frankfort, KY183Apr 21 – Oct 22
Louisville, KY208Apr 06 – Oct 31
Baton Rouge, LA273Feb 23 – Nov 24
New Orleans, LA348Jan 18 – Dec 27
Augusta, ME166Apr 27 – Oct 11
Portland, ME152May 05 – Oct 05
Annapolis, MD239Mar 24 – Nov 19
Baltimore, MD200Apr 11 – Oct 28
Boston, MA215Apr 06 – Nov 08
Lansing, MI149May 08 – Oct 04
Detroit, MI183Apr 23 – Oct 24
St. Paul, MN166Apr 27 – Oct 11
Minneapolis, MN154May 03 – Oct 04
Jackson, MS262Mar 01 – Nov 19
Jefferson City, MO189Apr 13 – Oct 20
Kansas City, MO206Apr 07 – Oct 31
Helena, MT128May 16 – Sep 22
Billings, MT149May 06 – Oct 03
Lincoln, NE163Apr 25 – Oct 07
Omaha, NE188Apr 04 – Oct 20
Carson City, NV54Jul 02 – Aug 25
Las Vegas, NV286Feb 15 – Nov 29
Concord, NH128Apr 24 – Sep 24
Manchester, NH176Apr 22 – Oct 15
Trenton, NJ200Apr 09 – Oct 27
Newark, NJ215Apr 04 – Nov 06
Santa Fe, NM161May 04 – Oct 13
Albuquerque, NM194Apr 16 – Oct 28
Albany, NY179Apr 20 – Oct 17
New York City, NY217Apr 08 – Nov 11
Raleigh, NC225Mar 29 – Nov 09
Charlotte, NC232Mar 24 – Nov 12
Bismarck, ND130May 14 – Sep 21
Fargo, ND137May 12 – Sep 27
Columbus, OH180Apr 23 – Oct 20
Oklahoma City, OK216Apr 01 – Nov 04
Salem, OR192Apr 17 – Oct 27
Portland, OR281Feb 19 – Nov 30
Harrisburg, PA194Apr 14 – Oct 25
Philadelphia, PA226Apr 02 – Nov 15
Providence, RI191Apr 14 – Oct 24
Columbia, SC243Mar 16 – Nov 15
Charleston, SC304Feb 15 – Dec 18
Pierre, SD151May 05 – Oct 04
Sioux Falls, SD161Apr 30 – Oct 09
Nashville, TN211Apr 02 – Oct 31
Austin, TX266Mar 03 – Nov 25
Houston, TX307Feb 09 – Dec 13
Salt Lake City, UT178Apr 23 – Oct 18
Montpelier, VT134May 16 – Sep 27
Burlington, VT148May 08 – Oct 04
Richmond, VA205Apr 08 – Oct 30
Virginia Beach, VA244Mar 20 – Nov 20
Olympia, WA155May 06 – Oct 09
Seattle, WA233Mar 22 – Nov 12
Charleston, WV183Apr 21 – Oct 22
Madison, WI149May 07 – Oct 03
Milwaukee, WI175Apr 26 – Oct 19
Cheyenne, WY135May 15 – Sep 28

Winter Vegetable Families

Some Members of the Apium Family (Apiaceae)

The Apium family has twelve popular herbs and vegetables, and the four below are happier in colder weather. Parsnip loves the winter freeze and should only be harvested ten days after the first freeze – or leave them to overwinter.

Winter VegetableScientific Name
CarrotDaucus carota subsp. Sativus
CeleryApium graveolens
ParsleyPetroselinum crispum
ParsnipPastinaca sativa

Some members of the Aster Family (Asteraceae)

Previously known as the composite family, these plants prefer cooler weather and shade.

Winter Vegetable
Scientific Name
EndivesCichorium endivia
LettuceLactuca sativa

The Brassica Family (Brassicaceae)

Some families are more warm-blooded than others. Take the Brassica family as an example; the whole family is pretty happy in cooler weather. Members of this family are great winter crop candidates.

Winter VegetableScientific Name
BroccoliBrassica oleracea var. italica
Brussels SproutsBrassica oleracea var. gemmifera
CabbageBrassica oleracea var. capitata
CauliflowerBrassica oleracea var. botrytis
KaleBrassica oleracea var. acephala)
KohlrabiBrassica oleracea var. gongylodes
MustardBrassica juncea
RadishesRaphanus sativus
RutabagaRheum rhabarbarum
TurnipBrassica rapa

Some Members of the Goosefoot Family (Chenopodiaceae)

These are marvelous plants because they are happy perennials that will produce year after year if you keep them trimmed

Winter VegetableScientific Name
BeetsBeta vulgaris
Swiss ChardBeta vulgaris subsp. cicla
SpinachSpinacia oleracea

The Lily Family (Liliaceae)

The alliums in the lily family are also quite happy with the cooler temperatures.

Winter VegetableScientific Name
ChivesAllium schoenoprasum
GarlicAllium sativum
LeeksAllium ampeloprasum var. porrum
OnionsAllium cepa
ScallionsAllium wakegi
ShallotsAllium cepa var. aggregatum

11 Winter Vegetables from Five Plant Families

I’ve already done an article on growing carrots and parsnip, so we’ll look are celery and parsnip from the Apian Family.

In the Aster family, we’ll look at lettuce. If you can grow lettuce, you can grow endives.

The six Brassica oleracea species variants are similar in their growth habit, so we’ll only cover one of them – broccoli. Then we’ll also explore growing radishes and mustard.

The Chenopodiaceae family; try and say that fast after a couple of slow glasses of wine – Che·​no·​po·​di·​a·​ce·​ae. Maybe the goosefoot family is easier to pronounce. We’ll explore growing spinach and beets.

And in the lily family will look at how to grow garlic, leeks, and onions.

Here is the list of winter vegetables you can grow that will build your skills to develop any winter vegetable crops:

FamilyCommon NameScientific Name
ApiaceaeCeleryApium graveolens
ApiaceaeParsnipPastinaca sativa
AsteraceaeLettuceLactuca sativa
BrassicaceaeBroccoliBrassica oleracea var. italica
BrassicaceaeMustardBrassica juncea
BrassicaceaeRadishesRaphanus sativus
ChenopodiaceaeBeetsBeta vulgaris
ChenopodiaceaeSpinachSpinacia oleracea
LiliaceaeGarlicAllium sativum
LiliaceaeLeeksAllium ampeloprasum var. porrum
LiliaceaeOnionsAllium cepa

1. Celery

Celery is grown in AZ, CA, CT, FL, ID, LA, MA, MS, MO, NV, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TX, UT, WA, and WV.

This long-season crop must be begun indoors, making it perhaps the most challenging vegetable to grow in many regions. Seeds take a while to sprout; if plants are moved outside too soon, they will bolt in response to the cold.

2. Parsnip

USDA Hardiness Zones 2a – 11b

Even though parsnips are one of the hardiest garden crops, their sweet, nutty flavor doesn’t fully develop until they have been exposed to frost for 10 days. Parsnip can overwinter in the bed for harvest when the ground thaws in the spring.

3. Lettuce

USDA Hardiness Zones 2a – 11b

Rich, damp, well-drained soils with full sun to partial shade are ideal for growing lettuce. The ideal pH range is 6.0–6.7. Lettuces grow best in the chilly spring and fall months and benefit from the moderate shade as long as they can obtain 3 to 4 hours of sunlight daily.

Because of their short root systems, they demand continually moist soil for healthy growth and flavor. Dry soil and temperatures between 70 to 80 ⁰F (21 – 27 ⁰C) might cause plants to bolt and blossom, causing the leaves to become bitter and stunting further growth.

4. Broccoli

USDA Hardiness Zones 2a – 11b

The ideal daily temperature for this cool-season crop is around 60 -70 ⁰F (15 to 21⁰C). Grow throughout the spring and the fall, but steer clear of mid-summer because the heat can cause crops to bolt prematurely. Romanesco varieties are lovely options for edible landscaping.

5. Mustard

USDA Hardiness Zones 2a – 11b

Being a cool-season plant, it flourishes in the fall and spring, bolts, and gets flavorful in the summer. As the temperatures rise, mustard needs shade, especially when foliage is still small.

Plant stress caused by high temperatures or drought cause mustard to develop n bitter taste. Straight-leaved mustards are less hardy to frost than their curly-leaved cousins.

6. Radishes

USDA Hardiness Zones 2a – 11b

Radishes are rapid growers, taking about three to six weeks for plants to grow to maturity. Because they are such fast growers, radishes are often used to plant with slower germinating plants like carrots as indicators and soil crust breakers.

Every week or so, plant cool-season spring radishes for a continual yield until the warmer weather arrives. Don’t overlook winter types that provide significant, harvestable roots in the fall.

As a cool-season crop, radishes thrive in the fall. Sow seeds between mid-August and mid-September for an autumn crop. For smaller cultivars, sow seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep; for larger cultivars, sow seeds up to 1 inch deep.

7. Beets

USDA Hardiness Zones 2a – 11b

Easy-to-grow Beets serve a dual purpose in the kitchen by yielding fresh greens and delectable roots. For the highest quality and finest flavor, plant them early.

Some kinds are ideal for edible landscaping since they naturally have venation in the leaves and red stems.

Plant in full sun to moderate shade and damp, well-drained soil. Even though they can still thrive in some shade, full sun exposure speeds up their maturation. Root crops do best in moist soil, and beets prefer cooler weather.

If you can, plant seeds directly into the ground because transplanting might disrupt the growth of the roots.

These plants can be grown in containers; they do best in pots that are at least 2 quarts in size and 8 inches deep.

Harvest about 70 days after germination when the roots are about two inches in diameter. Stagger planting in 3-week intervals for an extended crop.

8. Spinach

USDA Hardiness Zones 2a – 11b

This healthy, cool-season crop is among the earliest greens to grow, but warm weather will cause the plant to bolt. The savoy cultivars’ attractive texture and dark green color make them ideal for edible landscaping.

Spinach grows best in wet, rich, well-drained soil in full sun to moderate shade, withstanding 3  to 4 hours of direct sunlight each day,

Wait for early autumn to plant seeds in situ. Sow seeds every one to two weeks for an extended crop. Plants can endure temperatures as low as 20 ⁰F (-7 ⁰C) and are only moderately frost-tolerant.

9. Garlic

USDA Hardiness Zones 4a – 9b

Garlic requires rich, well-drained soil, full sun, and careful weed control. They are prolific producers, and a pound of cloves can yield 7 to 10 pounds of garlic.

Plant individual cloves in late October and early November for a May to June crop.

Garlic can potentially even be planted into December in more southern regions, allowing the plant to establish itself four to six weeks before soil freezes.

Before harvesting, reduce watering to avoid bulb rot. Remove the flower stem to enhance bulb sizes.

10. Leeks

USDA Hardiness Zones 5a – 10b

Long-season cultivars, which offer a milder flavor than other allium crops, can be harvested in the winter and spring if mulch is used.

Pick a spot that is clear of weeds and well-drained. It’s best to use raised beds. Leeks work well as intercropping plants in gardens, especially with spring greens that mature early. Where other crops from the onion family have been grown in the previous three years, do not plant.

Leeks can be started indoors as transplants or directly seeded. Still, the best option for long-season varieties is indoor starting.

11. Onions

USDA Hardiness Zones 5a – 10b

Onions require rich, well-drained soil and effective weed management, whether picked early for scallions (green onions) or stored for the winter. Green onions that are closely spaced work nicely as ornamental plants.

As soon as the ground can be worked in the spring, plant bulbs in moist but well-drained, fertile, loose soils in full sun, about half to an inch deep and 6 inches apart.

Plants are ready for harvesting once at least two-thirds of the tops have emerged. Shallots should be dug with a garden fork to avoid damage and left to dry out or “cure” for two to three weeks before using. To ensure proper air circulation, store in crates or mesh bags.

In Closing

Learning which are the best winter vegetables to grow begins with a bit of an understanding of winter harvesting. Winter vegetable gardening is always better to start with only a few crops to see what works in your region’s climate. Ask a local; I’m sure they will have the best options for you.

The listed winter veggies tend to grow in any region. There’s no need to supervise the progress as thoroughly as you would in spring and summer. Give winter gardening a try and enjoy a bowl of fresh salad in the middle of winter.

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