Planting Winter Vegetables: Your Guide to Cool Weather Gardening

Winter. A season filled with shorter days and cooler temperatures doesn’t seem like it would make very good gardening weather. Might as well hang up your gardening gloves and store your seeds for the season, right?

Not so fast.

With some smart planning and simple strategies, you can garden year-round and keep your refrigerator stocked through the colder months with winter vegetables harvested straight from your garden.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to set up the perfect garden for winter vegetables. We’ll give you some ideas on which veggies to plant, along with tips for a successful garden. There’s no reason to postpone gardening until early spring — you can get started with a fantastic winter vegetable garden even when it’s chilly out.

Why Grow Winter Vegetables?

Aside from the usual reasons for growing your own food — it’s eco-friendly, saves time and money, and usually involves fewer (if any) pesticides — there are other advantages to having a winter vegetable garden.

Say Hasta La Vista to Insects

During the spring and summer, you probably deal with some kind of pest problem (unless you’re keeping an indoor vegetable garden).

With a winter garden, the natural change of seasons brings cool weather and fewer bugs. That doesn’t mean you’ll never have to manage them. But you won’t have to worry quite as much about having a swarm of hungry insects decimating your hard work.

Hang Up the Garden Hose

Ok, so you might not really be able to put away your garden hose for the year. But you definitely don’t have to worry about setting up sprinklers or watering nearly as often as you do during the summertime.

Depending on where you live, Mother Nature usually lends a hand with winter weather, leaving you with more time for sipping cocoa while you’re cozy on the couch.

(Almost) No Need to Weed

Cool-season gardening means fewer weeds. With less sunshine and frosty temperatures, the growing season slows down for everything. Luckily, you won’t have to be quite as diligent about regular maintenance as you might be during warmer weather.

Without sunny days, weeds won’t be quite as hearty. When you do find a few to pull, expect it to be more manageable than some of the stubborn ones you find during other times of the year.

Getting Your Garden Ready for Winter Vegetables

While it doesn’t take too much work to get your garden ready for winter vegetables, it does require some careful planning.

Be Mindful of Your Timing

Believe it or not, getting fall and winter veggies off to the right start begins while it’s still warm in late summer. You want the best conditions for germination along with enough time for plants to fully mature before harvesting.

Look on the back of your seed packets for information on how long it takes for your plants to grow and mature and check the Old Farmers’ Almanac for details on frost dates. When you have an idea of when the first frost comes in your area, count backward from the frost date the number of days it takes a plant to mature. Doing so will give you a good idea of when you should start planting your seeds.

Don’t forget, you can always start your plants indoors if you miss this window of time or buy seedlings. In either case, slowly get your plants used to outdoor temperatures. Keep them closer to the window or leave them outside for a few hours a day before you transplant them.

Quick garden tip: If you decide to start your winter vegetables from seed, pay attention to where you get them. Back to the Roots Organic Seed Packets are grown domestically right here in the United States, so you know where your seeds are coming from. They’re always 100% organically grown, giving you an ideal foundation for a perfect vegetable garden.

Prep Your Garden

It’s always a good idea to clean things up when the seasons change. Clear out any lingering weeds and check your soil quality.

Your garden will grow best in nutrient-rich soil, so think about picking up organic potting soil for your winter garden. Be sure to read labels just as you do in the grocery store. You’ll want to keep your eyes open for soil that’s chemical-free and provides good drainage. Soil that’s too heavy won’t allow for enough oxygen to reach your plants, and without it, you won’t have much of a garden.

Back to the Roots is launching organic potting soil in Spring ’21, so when your winter gardening season ends, you’ll be all set for spring and summer!

Keep an Eye on Temperatures Bird looking at thermometer in a garden pot

Even though we’re talking about winter vegetables, it doesn’t mean they’re invincible in cooler temperatures. In some climates, you may have to go the extra mile to protect them from the elements.

Spreading mulch in your garden beds works well to insulate their root systems from the cold. It’ll also help with drainage and pest management. Row covers are an option too.

You might have already seen row covers at a community garden or in a neighbor’s yard. Row covers are made from lightweight material you can use to cover plants and secure to the ground with stakes. They help keep your plants warm in cooler temperatures, minimize pests, and extend growing seasons.

If you’re using a row cover to protect your plants, think about pulling it up during the day so every inch of your plants can get as much sunshine as possible. Shorter days mean less sun and needing to maximize what you get.

A hoop house could be another way to protect your garden through the cold season if you have the space. Think of them as a hybrid between row covers and a greenhouse. They’re more economical than a greenhouse and are a great DIY project, so keep that in mind depending on where you live.

Final Tips for Putting It All Together

For a garden full of hearty vegetables, remember to consider your unique region and climate’s needs. Areas with mild winters aren’t likely to need as much protection from freezing temperatures as northern gardens do.

And if you live in a wet climate with quite a bit of rainfall, raised garden beds could mean the difference between a fantastic winter garden and one that flops.

Raised beds give you better drainage (which is even more critical during wet winters) and protect your plants from pests. Slugs can do a number on a garden, but are less likely to invade your veggie patch with a raised garden bed.

Winter gardening doesn’t have to be intimidating with the proper preparation. Before you know it, you’ll be ready for a winter harvest of tasty vegetables.

What To Plant in Your Winter Vegetable Garden

Child playing in a garden with winter vegetables

While you can grow beautiful vegetables during other times of the year, some just do better in winter. It’s not uncommon for winter vegetables to benefit from a light frost and get even tastier. Now that you know what it takes to have a flourishing garden, the only thing left to decide is what you’ll plant.

We always recommend planting what you love eating. Still, if you need a little bit of inspiration for planning your garden, we’ve got you covered. Here are some of our all-time favorites:

  • Leafy Greens: You can’t go wrong with leafy greens. While you might think of them as being right at home in a summer garden, you can keep planting them through the winter. Swiss chard, arugula, kale, collards, mustard greens, and lettuces such as endive and radicchio all make lovely additions to a salad, wilted into soups and stews, or gently braised for a nourishing side dish.
  • Root Vegetables: Root vegetables are a perfect part of any wintry meal. Beets, radishes, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, and carrots are excellent roasted or added to a hearty stew.
  • Alliums: Leeks, onions, garlic, and shallots are all part of the allium family and are perfect in any dish. Try caramelizing onions to add a savory element to a meal, throw some leeks in a delicious quiche, or roast some garlic for homemade pizza or hummus.
  • Cruciferous Favorites: Winter vegetables are so versatile. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts can be roasted, braised, thrown in soup, the list is endless. For a wintery twist, try adding kohlrabi to a favorite slaw recipe and bok choy to a ramen bowl. Or turn thinly sliced Brussels sprouts into a healthy snack with a quick roast in the oven.

Plant a Winter Vegetable Garden for Year-Round Enjoyment

Learning the ins and outs of winter gardening is well worth the time and effort, especially if you love winter vegetables. Growing your own food can easily be done year-round with careful planning and keeps you connected with nature.

Whether you want to start small or use every inch of available space for a winter garden, you’ll be giving your family the best nature has to offer.

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