Winter Crops: 21 Veggies You Can Grow This Winter
Are you looking for some cold-weather crops you can add to your garden this season? There are a number of vegetables that are cold hardy and can actually be planted in the winter depending on your hardiness zone. In this article, gardening expert Logan Hailey examines her favorite winter-friendly crops for every climate!
Winter doesn’t mean you have to stop growing! The secret to a high-yielding garden is extending your growing season for as long as possible. There are several cold-hardy winter crops are perfect for braving the winter weather.
Some vegetables need winter protection, while others can handle frost on their own once they get established. If you combine winter-resilient crops with these winterizing strategies, you can enjoy vegetables almost year round in most growing zones!
So which types of plants should you pick for your winter garden? Keep reading as we dig in and take a deeper look at the best crops you can grow this winter. We’ll examine each vegetable, and the varieties of that plant that will give you the best chance for a bountiful winter garden!
- 1 Which Vegetables Are Cold Hardy?
- 2 21 Vegetable Crops for Your Winter Garden
- 3 Final Thoughts
Which Vegetables Are Cold Hardy?
The best crops for winter gardens are resilient greens like kale, collards, mache, spinach, chard, arugula, and radicchio, as well as root crops like turnips, parsnips, garlic, beets, and carrots. After they get established in late fall, these cold-hardy vegetables can resist frosty weather and provide food to last until spring. You can further improve your winter harvests with frost protection like row cover, low-tunnels, and cloches.
21 Vegetable Crops for Your Winter Garden
The key to a successful winter garden is starting early. Although most of these crops can tolerate temperatures well below freezing, they still need to be planted early in order to properly adjust before winter sets in.
Growing zones 4 through 6 may want to establish winter veggies as early as August and September. Gardeners in zones 7 through 10 can seed or transplant through early November and still have plenty of time for their crops to adjust to the weather.
As one of the most trendy cold-weather crops, kale is a winter staple thanks to its robust frost-tolerance and versatile uses. These greens actually thrive in the cold and get sweeter after a frost thanks to the concentration of sugars in the leaves.
You can sow kale seeds any time during late summer and early fall, as long as the kale is full-grown and healthy by the time frigid nights set in. It is especially easy to grow kale all season long and continuously harvest from the lower leaves. A well-tended kale plant can live for 6 months or longer and then overwinter without complaint.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Red Russian’ and ‘Siberian’ kale can handle as cold as negative temperatures.
Mache (Corn Salad)
Pronounced “mosh”, this lesser-known cold-weather green is a staple in Europe. It is sometimes called “corn salad” because it would grow as an edible winter weed in corn fields, or “lamb’s lettuce” because of its appearance in early spring pastures.
The tiny plant is dark green in color and has a sweet, slightly nutty flavor. It can overwinter down to 5°F or go dormant and sprout back as your first garden veggie in early spring.
Mache is phenomenally easy to grow, but does require some patience. Most varieties need at least 60 days to mature, but the leaves can be snipped off continuously throughout the cold season.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Vit’, ‘Green Heart’, and ‘Verte de Cambrai Mache’
One of the most popular spring veggies, Spinach is cold hardy and can be grown through the wintertime. In spite of its tender appearance, this nutrient-dense leafy green is incredibly frost hardy—mature plants can withstand down to 15°F or colder. In growing zones 5-9, spinach can be grown almost year-round. Plant overwintering spinach in the fall 2-3 weeks before the first frost.
In zones 6 and warmer, spinach can easily survive without protection. In the frigid winters of New Hampshire or Montana, spinach will go dormant during the coldest months and re-sprout in the early spring.
Unlike the early summer spinach varieties, the best winter spinach varieties have a denser, crinkly “savoyed” texture that helps them resist the frost. You can “cut and come again” from the outer leaves as often as the plant can handle.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Gazelle’ and ‘Hammerhead’
In spite of its centuries-old history in Europe, radicchio is only recently gaining popularity in the United States. This so-called “bitter” green may have you crinkling up your nose until you taste it after a flavor-sweetening-frost with a drizzle of balsamic and a hearty cheese. Though it looks like a red cabbage, this resilient green adds a more complex flavor to winter recipes.
Radicchio is amazingly nutritious and will eagerly overwinter without protection in regions as cold as zone 6. Established plants don’t mind temperatures down into the 20s. The coolest part about radicchio is its hidden beauty.
Though it can look like a ball of brown dead leaves in the middle of winter, you can peel back those layers to reveal a vibrant pink or red head of decadent radicchio.
Some growers use an old-time Italian technique called “forcing” that involves digging up radicchio plants and bringing them indoors to continue sprouting in trays of water.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Indigo’, ‘Leonardo’, ‘Pacifico’, and ‘Delta’
Collard greens are popular in the south but drastically under-utilized by northern gardeners. This leafy brassica has all the cold tolerance of kale and cabbage, but adds a more unique flavor and texture to winter stews.
You should seed collards at the same time as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and winter cabbage (typically in mid-fall) so that it is at least 12” tall before extra cold nights arrive. Once mature, collard greens can handle down to 10°F.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Champion and ‘Morris Heading’
Frilly mustards are a delicious textural addition to winter salads and sauces. Most mustard green varieties will tolerate light frosts into the 20s but cannot handle hard freezes.
If you dislike the sharp, spicy flavor of summer mustards, you will be delighted to find that winter-grown mustard greens are more mild and sweetened by the cold. Like spinach, the curly or crinkly types tend to be more cold-hardy than straight-leaf or frilly varieties.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Red Giant’
This peppery brassica cousin is lowkey and fast-growing. Arugula doesn’t mind temperatures down to 10°F, but it does best under a row cover where it will get added protection from heavy winds.
Like other winter greens, you can keep coming back to cut arugula leaves as they grow as long as you leave the central growing point intact. To do this, leave about 2” of stem behind every time you harvest.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Astro’, ‘Bellezia’
Upland cress, or winter cress, grows wild in boggy areas throughout the U.S and thrives in mild winter weather. It has a peppery flavor reminiscent of its arugula and mustard green relatives.
The plants grow as a low tender-leaved rosette in the winter down to about 20°F, then burst up to 3 feet tall when the weather warms, producing edible yellow flowers and more bitter leaves. Grow cress just like spinach and harvest the youngest leaves for the best flavor.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled’ Cress
Garlic is a winter favorite because it requires little to no effort! You simply plant it in the fall, cover it with a cozy layer of mulch, and then let it rest in the soil all winter until it sprouts in the spring.
Garlic operates on a different schedule than most garden veggies—it is harvested in the summer and actually requires the winter chill to properly develop a full bulb.
Remember that you don’t want to plant garlic too early or too late. It’s best to get your cloves in the ground about 2-4 weeks before the first frost, or just after the first light freeze during an unusually warm fall.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: Any hardneck garlic variety
Most types of lettuce can brave the cold, but leaf lettuces, romaines, and crispheads are particularly cold-resilient. Head lettuces can hold in the ground down into the teens, while baby lettuces will succumb to frosts around 25°F.
With a nice layer of mulch and row fabric, lettuce can be even hardier amongst winter snows and winds. The most successful winter growers keep lettuce under a low tunnel or cold frame and open it up to harvest leaves throughout the cold months.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Winter Marvel’, ‘Little Gem’, ‘Tango’, and ‘North Pole’
Cabbage has been a staple in Russia and Nordic countries for thousands of years. So, it’s no surprise that cabbage can grow in regions as cold as USDA zone 1! Seed indoors in the late summer and transplant in fall to ensure that the plants are able to mature before the first hard freezes.
Young plants can’t handle weather below 32°F. However, moderately-sized, established cabbages don’t mind freezing down to 15°F. They can thrive beneath frost protection row covers or low tunnels. You can even find cabbage leaves peaking out from beneath snowpack!
Generally, seed varieties labeled as “storage cabbage” are the best for winter growing. Both red leaf and savoy cabbages are particularly hardy. You can overwinter cabbage without protection in zones 7 or warmer, or harvest cold-weather cabbages after the first few fall frosts and store them in a cooler.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Ruby Perfection’, ‘Deadon’, and ‘Brunswick’
Known for its rainbow leaves, Swiss chard is a cousin of spinach and beets that also enjoys the cool weather. Mature chard tolerates frosts around 20°F, but the leaves can get mushy or damaged under snow.
Chard is like the gift that keeps on giving: You can plant it in the late summer or fall and continuously harvest outer leaves throughout the cool season. Row cover is ideal for extending the harvest.
The only risk with chard is that prolonged cold night temperatures can trigger some varieties (particularly the red-stemmed types) to go to seed prematurely.
Mud splash and subsequent leaf diseases can also be an issue with winter rains, so it’s best to mulch around chard with a straw or leaf mulch, or landscape fabric.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Charbell’
Also known as green onions, well-rooted scallions are winter workhorses. These slender non-bulbing onions can be cold hardy down to a whopping -10°F and reliably overwinter in zones 5 and warmer. However, overwintered scallions are prone to bolting in the spring, so it’s best to harvest this delicious garnish throughout the fall and winter.
Sow scallions indoors in late summer and transplant once they are about pencil-thick. To ensure winter survival, broadfork and amend with compost to keep the soil well-drained.
If you are too impatient to start from seed, you can often purchase scallions as “onion sets” (mini onion bulbs) that will take off very quickly. If the ground isn’t frozen, you can mound the soil around scallions for more insulation and an attractive blanched white stem.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Evergreen Hardy White’ and ‘Deep Purple’ Bunching Onions
No winter roast or cheesy soup is complete with broccoli. This is yet another cold-tolerant brassica that thrives in cool weather. Broccoli seedlings need to be established in early fall to ensure mature heads and reliable overwintering.
If you choose late-maturing varieties, broccoli can often be harvested throughout late fall and can overwinter in milder regions with less frost. However, hard freezes tend to be a no-go for broccoli, as this crop prefers temperatures around 40-50°F beneath row cover or a low plastic tunnel.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Kariba’, ‘Marathon’, and ‘Bonarda’
With their hardy bulbous roots buried in the insulated soil, beets are among the most winter-hardy crops you can grow. Some varieties can handle temperatures to 10°F, although the chard-like leaves may die off in extreme cold.
Beets can get hard or bitter if they are left in the ground too long, so it’s best to seed in the fall (about 10 weeks before the expected first heavy freeze) and harvest when they are 4-6” in diameter.
In mild climates, you can store beets in the ground, but in extreme cold you will need to wash the roots and keep them in a fridge or root cellar. The greens can be eaten like chard at any time.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Lutz Green Leaf’ (Winter Keeper)
Though it’s not quite as resilient as kale or lettuce, endive is a chicory family crop with a uniquely crisp texture and slightly bitter-sweet flavor. This European delicacy prefers cool weather and thrives all winter long in zones 8 and warmer.
In colder areas, endive needs protection or should be harvested before the ground freezes. The leaves are prone to frost damage in temperatures below 25°F.
It’s important to plan ahead with endive. This long-season crop needs to be sown in late summer in order to be ready to sweeten with the first light frosts.
Planting too early can cause bolting and planting too late can kill the plant before it has time to “head up”. Like radicchio, some gardeners will dig up endive in the fall and use indoor “forcing” throughout the winter months for a regular supply of intriguing greens.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Avance’ and ‘Pancalieri’
As one of the most cold-hardy radishes, daikons tolerate down to 20°F (or sometimes into the teens). The crunchy spice of an elongated daikon radish is balanced by the cold-sweetened flavor. Sow daikon radishes in late summer and harvest several months later when they are 3-4” in diameter.
In climates without heavy frosts, daikons can overwinter until spring. In northern regions, you may need to cover your daikons to extend the harvest into December or January. Alternatively, you can pull the roots in early winter, remove the greens, and store them in a root cellar.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘KN Bravo’ (purple daikon), ‘Watermelon’ (pink and green), or ‘Alpine’
Like their broccoli and cabbage cousins, turnips can withstand temperatures in the mid 20s without frost protection. Purple top varieties tend to be the most cold-tolerant and best for stews, but the delicious Japanese salad turnips are a delightful fresh-eating choice for mild winters.
A light frost will sweeten these roots but may lightly damage the leaves. Mulch is excellent for insulating turnip roots through the cold, however you should be careful to exclude or eliminate rodents that may want to munch on these bulbous winter snacks.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Purple Top White Globe’ and ‘Hakurei’
This popular Asian green can tolerate light frosts and becomes more flavorful in the late fall or early winter. Baby bok choy can be grown as a quick buffer crop in the late autumn. Simply reduce the spacing to 6-8” between plants.
These smaller versions are easier to protect with row cover and harvest throughout early winter. Full size bok choy needs to be planted while the weather is still warm because seedlings exposed to cold may prematurely bolt.
In general, bok choy can be sown in August or September and selectively harvested until hard frosts come. Gardeners in zones 8 and warmer can overwinter bok choy and cut small heads for meals as needed.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Mei Qing Choi’ and ‘Black Summer’
One of the most popular winter vegetables, Leeks can have a place in all winter gardens. These onion cousins can handle frost like no other and have been known to withstand deep frosts without any protection.
Mulch and “hilling up” the soil adds even more insulation to these flavorful, elongated alliums. The main downside of leeks is their long growing season. Because they require around 100 days to mature, you need to start growing leeks as early as July.
In general, leeks with a longer maturity window are more cold hardy. They can be mounded for added insulation and held in the garden without protection to be dug up throughout the winter. Add a 3-6” deep straw mulch around leeks for even more resilience.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘King Reichard’, ‘Tadorna’, and ‘Bleu de Solaize’
We cannot discuss winter veggies without mentioning the classic parsnip! This underrated carrot cousin tolerates freezing temperatures from seed to maturity. As one of the most frost hardy crops, parsnips can be left in the ground all winter long. Just make sure to keep them under a thick layer of mulch.
Though the leaves will die back, the roots can brave fully frozen ground! When the soil thaws in the spring, you can dig up parsnips before their tops start growing again.
If the plants bolt (develop a flower stalk), the roots can turn woody, so it is important to harvest these sweet roots throughout the winter and early spring. Start this long-season root in mid to late autumn.
Top Cold Hardy Varieties: ‘Javelin’ and ‘Harris Model’
Now that you know which vegetables to plant his winter, the next step is getting them into the ground! Whether you decide to start from seed, or transplant from a local garden center, there’s no reason to put your garden plans on hold this wintertime. There are plenty of different cold hardy vegetable varieties that should be able to fit your gardening plans this season!