Growing Vegetables During the Fall and Winter

There are a number of great veggies that you can grow throughout the winter months. Cold hardy greens like escarole are a good pick for the winter garden. Carrots and other root crops also work well. Make sure to talk to your local extension agent for a list of vegetables that will work in your winter garden.

What is feasible to grow can vary widely on where you live. For example, wet and cooler states like Washington may be challenging places to grow vegetables as the wet conditions tend to attract pests and diseases to your plants. Residents of north central states like the Dakotas may be limited to growing vegetables in temperature controlled greenhouses because of the extreme cold.

If you do get a lot of rain in the winter, raised beds are a perfect way to control the soil moisture level. Soils dry out quicker in raised beds and containers. Additionally, diseases and pests are easier to treat. You can always cover your raised beds during the coldest days of the year to protect your plants.

Various kinds of winter squashes and pumpkins are ideal to plant later in the season and harvest during the late fall and winter. You can harvest your pumpkins and winter squash in late fall or early winter, store them, and enjoy cooking with them well into winter.

Some hot chile peppers are also a good pick for a fall harvest. See this website from the Chile Pepper Institute for tips on growing chiles in the home garden.

Rhubarb is a great plant to start growing late in the season. In some parts of the country, you can grow rhubarb as late as October and November. Rhubarb is a perennial plant that grows for many years. The University of Illinois has a good site about growing rhubarb in the home garden.

If you live in states like California or Florida, you can grow a wider variety of vegetables well into the winter. Try out greens like kale and chard, lettuce, brussel sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, beets, leeks, or carrots.

Depending on the climate of your specific region, you can plant most of these vegetables well into the fall months. However, in some cases it’s best to plant a little earlier to avoid problems with low levels of light and plant pests and diseases.

Vegetables that mature quickly like turnips are okay to plant in the fall. Arugula and spinach are also great greens to plant in cooler months for an early winter harvest. The soil still needs to be above 40 degree F for the seeds to germinate so make sure to test the soil before you plant.

Artichokes are an interesting crop to grow and you can plant them in late fall. Plant artichokes from root stock and you should be able to harvest by early spring.

Sweet peas and fava beans are good to plant in late fall, roughly before Thanksgiving, for an early spring harvest. You can also plant peas in late winter and early spring in many parts of the country.

Onions and other bulb vegetables such as garlic are a good choice for late summer and early fall planting. The size of an onion depends a lot on how much sunlight it gets. Green onions that don’t need to develop bulbs are a good pick to plant all year long as long as the temperatures don’t reach freezing.

Leeks are a great veggie to grow in cooler weather. You can plant them in the summer for a fall or winter harvest. You can also plant them in the fall or winter and harvest the tender leeks in the spring. Leeks planted in the winter will generally not get as big as leeks planted during the summer.

Garlic, onions, leeks, etc. require well draining soil with plenty of organic material mixed in, so try out making your own compost and adding it to the soil before you plant these bulb vegetables.

If you grow herbs in your garden, you can move many of them indoors and enjoy them throughout the winter. This is especially easy to do if you grow them in containers. Perennial herbs like lavender and rosemary are excellent to grow in the winter garden outdoors. They will both survive frost and rosemary is considered an evergreen shrub.

Here, we’ve summarized some basic information on vegetables that are good to grow in the fall and winter. Remember to talk to your extension agent for more information about specific vegetables to grow in your area. Some of these vegetables are great choices for Italian cooking.

Recommended Fall and Winter Vegetables *When to Plant (Ask Your Extension Agent for Specific Dates) Frost Hardy?
Arugula Late Summer Yes, light frost
Beets Mid Summer Yes, light frost
Broccoli Mid Summer Yes, very light frost
Brussels Sprouts Mid Summer Yes, heavy frost
Carrots Mid to late summer, early fall Yes, light frost
Corn Late summer, early fall Yes, light frost
Escarole Late summer Yes, light frost
Fava Beans Late summer, early fall Yes, medium to heavy frost
Garlic Early fall Yes, light to medium frost
Kale Mid summer Yes, medium to heavy frost
Leeks Spring, Fall Yes, light frost
Lettuce Late summer Yes, very light frost
Mustard greens Mid to late summer Yes, light frost
Onions Late summer Yes, light to medium frost
Radishes Late summer Yes, light to medium frost
Spinach Later summer Yes, light frost

*Note that these planting dates are listed for a fall and winter garden. Many of these vegetables are appropriate for growing during other seasons as well.

wintersquash

Winter Squash varieties

chardChard

rhubarbRhubarb

Note that late fall and winter is an important time for properly storing your fall vegetable harvest. Store your beans, winter squashes, root crops, etc. in a cool, dry place. If you can spread them out so they’re not touching each other, this will help prevent problems with decay. Monitor your crop to make sure they show no signs of decay or disease.

FIND YOUR GARDENING ZONE

The best way to find out what you can and can’t grow during fall and winter months (and all year long) is to determine what gardening zone you live in. Gardening zones are also known as USDA Hardiness Zones. What exactly is a gardening zone? The USDA has divided the country into numbered zones based on what plants can grow in certain regions. The zones are defined by what plants can survive the lowest average temperatures of that zone.

There are now 10 different hardiness zones listed throughout the U.S. The higher the number, the higher the average low temperature is. For example, Omaha, Nebraska is located in zone 5, whereas Los Angeles, California is located in zone 10. There is also an 11th zone being considered that would be a 100% “frost free zone.” Honolulu, Hawaii is located in this new zone.

An alternative to the USDA system of hardiness zones is Sunset Magazine’s “Sunset Climate Zones.” This system takes into account such factors as the length of the growing season, rainfall levels and times, winter low temperatures, summer high temperatures, and humidity. The Sunset system is divided into many more different regions, making it more specific than the USDA system.

You can find a clickable Sunset gardening zone map here.

When you buy a plant, you will find information on what hardiness zones it is suitable for. Most plants list a Sunset gardening zone as well. This way you will know if the plant will survive the cold temperatures of your region.

You can also use this handy guide from the Old Farmer’s Almanac to determine the approximate dates of the first fall frost and the last spring frost. They also list the length of the growing season.

This website also has lots of information on the average first and last frost dates, in addition to what kinds of plants grow best in each zone. These dates, along with information about the average length of your growing season, can help you determine when to plant.

If you have any doubts about what to grow, make sure to ask your local extension agent!

RESOURCES:

Wikipedia has an excellent website with a thorough definition of USDA plant hardiness zones.

See here for a large, clickable hardiness zone map that can help you locate your gardening zone.

See this website from the US National Arboretum for gardening zone information on specific woody perennials.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Janet Ndhlovu July 21, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Thanks so much for this information. It has helped me alot. I am new to gardening and would like to grow some vegetables in the winter. Again thank you.

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Leon Gile November 12, 2010 at 11:40 pm

The best results that I have had (Charleston, SC) are cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, and tomatoes.

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Leon Gile November 12, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Have had a fall/winter garden for 5 years now. The best results havebeen cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, and tomatoes (Charleston, SC)

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Annette Alrand July 10, 2011 at 11:48 am

Thank you for this wonderful info.I am also new at this.I am interested in winter gardening in the house. Can it be done? For instance;If they were in a planter could Lettuce, spinach,or potatoes be grown with special lights and lots of care?

Thank you, Annette Alrand

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M. Dyer November 13, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Having luck with cabbage, chard, lettuce, kale, mustard greens, some tomatoes if I cover them when it gets 20’s to low 30’s, thyme, leeks, onion, garlic. So far basil, oregano, pumpkin and mint holding up. Not sure what they will do late winter.

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