Winter is a tough season for growing plants, especially in vegetable gardens. But you don’t have to wait for the spring or summer to plant your garden: winter gardening is easy with the right varieties. We’ve rounded up 22 of the best vegetables (and herbs) for you to grow long before spring rolls back around.
Growing a Winter Garden at Home
Some vegetables—when planted at the right time and protected with care—can grow during the typical off-season. Winter gardens won’t require a lot of work either, as watering and sunlight are often less vital when it’s cold. The crop you yield may appear smaller as a result, but you’ll have tasty veggies at home whenever needed.
This kind of garden allows you to make the cold season count and enjoy your space all year round! No need to trek to your local grocery store when it’s cold out.
Winter gardening involves the vegetables you can grow during the coldest months of the year. Some of these veggies grow better with temperatures around 15 degrees cooler than other warm-season varieties, while others endure small periods of frost. Some are grown in pots indoors during winter, or are protected by both heated and unheated greenhouses.
When and Where to Plant a Winter Garden
Consider how much frost and harsh winds strike your area, then weigh the pros and cons of growing vegetables in containers indoors. Alternatively, think about making your own greenhouse or cold frame to keep veggies safe before the cold hits.
Planting Based on Climate
In most climates, you plant your vegetables in early spring and harvest the crop before autumn. Warmer regions will allow you to plant later, from the late summer months to early fall, and harvest the crop during late fall, winter, or even early spring. On the other hand, the coldest regions like Alaska will have cool summers and require planting in May or June to harvest in time.
Potted Winter Plants
Some plants grow well in pots, which allows you to grow them all year around. Usually, these vegetables require the warmth, and growing them is best in a pot indoors or in a heated greenhouse for protection. The easiest potted plants to grow during the winter include:
Greenhouses and Cold Frames
An unheated greenhouse or cold frame will keep your plants safe during winter, whereas a heated greenhouse or potted indoor plant will grow all year long.
A cold frame is a bottomless box with a transparent top that you can place over your plants to protect them during freezing months. You can plant seeds directly into a portable cold frame or start sowing seeds indoors or in a greenhouse before transferring them to your garden.
Both methods help protect the plants who need a little protection to grow in winter, and there are different ways to make your own cold frame. If you can’t afford a heated, full-size greenhouse, you can also create your own DIY greenhouse using a variety of materials.
Plants that require protection from cold winds and frost include those from the cabbage family, such as:
- Brussel sprouts
Outdoor Winter Garden
However, you don’t need to use a pot or greenhouse to grow a winter garden. There are also some vegetables that thrive during the winter and grow well in colder regions. The northern hemisphere is the best location unless the weather reaches arctic proportions.
Leafy greens, in particular, grow well in the cold. They’re typically used to create winter salads, and varieties can include arugula, mustard greens, winter mix lettuce, and more. Vegetables that do particularly well in cold weather include:
Many winter plants like these do well on their own, even when sown outdoors. If the winter becomes especially harsh or frosts threaten your plants, however, you can protect the plants with a layer of fleece. Various plants will require shielding from the harsh weather while others are more resilient.
23 Vegetables You Can Grow in a Winter Garden
Even more types of vegetables are grown in a winter garden with a bit of added care. Here is an inclusive list of all the veggies you can grow during the winter, and how:
If you have a winter gardening bed with plenty of space, you could permanently grow asparagus all year. Just note that doing so will require some patience. Plant a variety like “Pacific 2000” or “Pacific Purple” during the autumn. Although it will take at least two years for your crop to become established, an asparagus crown can create 25 spears each year for over 25 years.
This leafy green goes well with spinach, both in terms of growing companions and taste.
Arugula can tolerate frost or moderate freezes, yet requires protection from the harsh cold. An unheated greenhouse or cover helps protect this green in the winter, and you can harvest the leaves after they’re two inches tall. Sow the seeds in autumn, leaving at least one inch between seedlings.
Beets grow best in rich soil that’s high in phosphorus and low in nitrogen. To grow beets in the winter, sow seeds during late summer. Leave three inches between the seeds, planting 8 rows with around 12 inches between each row for the best results. When you see the beetroot tops begin to show, it’s harvest time.
4. Broad Beans
Broad beans sown in autumn are harvested around a month earlier than plants normally sown in the spring, and they’re easy to get started. Once you have an established plant, you can even use the tips in meals. Try “Aguadulce Claudia,” which is one of the best winter beans.
Grow broccoli from seeds indoors for the best late winter or early spring crop. You can plant seeds with 2-3 feet between plants, and harvest the first head you see before it splits. If you live in a warmer area, you can grow broccoli outdoors as well. Just make sure to use mesh or netting to prevent cabbage butterflies.
6. Brussels Sprouts
Begin growing Brussels sprouts indoors during early spring with at least 30 inches between plants, or 3 feet between rows. Move the plants outdoors to a full-sun area in June or July.
This veggie is ideal for winter gardening, as it will continue to produce in cold weather. After the final harvest of the year, store the plant in a cool root cellar or leave it in the ground to continue harvesting during the snow. Pick the sprouts from the bottom up, looking for green sprouts that are an inch wide.
Carrots prefer cold weather, and can be grown in pots, cold frames, greenhouses, or outdoors. Sow seeds in July for a nice late fall crop, with 3 inches between plants and at least 5 inches between rows.
In the winter, carrots can stay in the soil if mulched or potted. Keep in mind that the longer the carrots are in the ground, however, insects and other pests are more likely to eat them. You’ll also need to make sure the soil is deep, and place them in full sun for best results.
8. Collard Greens
Gardeners typically plant collard greens specifically for winter gardening. In autumn, plant them in a cold frame or greenhouse instead to enjoy this hearty veggie throughout the year. Use moist, fertile soil and plant the rows at least 3 feet apart with 18 inches between seedlings.
Although easy to plant indoors or outside, garlic takes a long time to harvest. Plant garlic in autumn by cracking a bulb and sowing the seeds at least 2-4 inches deep within 48 hours, making sure the pointed ends are facing upwards.
Leave 5 inches of space between cloves and 12-15 inches between rows and harvest in the summer. Garlic grows best in full sun with well-drained soil.
This plant grows well indoors in a sunny window, or outdoors when well-mulched. When harvested frequently, kale will produce generously right into the winter months. Use well-draining soil with compost, and water heavily. Plant the seeds directly into the soil during midsummer, 18 inches apart with over 2 feet between rows.
If you have mild winters, you can grow leeks outdoors throughout the year. In fact, they’re a winter gardening favorite in the UK and France.
Sow the seeds indoors in early spring, setting them outdoors during the summer. Soil needs to be rich, and a part-sun, part-shady planting spot works well. For best results and longer stems, use a dibber to create 3-inch deep holes that are 5 inches apart.
Also known as “lamb’s lettuce” or “corn salad”, mache is an easy-to-harvest, resilient green with a nutty taste that’s often used in salads. Seeds are best sown during the fall, a few inches apart with 4 inches between rows. Use acidic, well-drained soil, and you might need to protect plants with fleece in winter.
13. Miner’s Lettuce
Miner’s lettuce, also known as claytonia, is a small-yet-resilient green used in salads. Seed should be sown in sandy soil during the late summer or mid-fall, with a half inch between seeds and 3 inches between rows. Water well and cover with fleece in harsh weather to harvest through winter into the spring months.
14. Mustard Greens
A green perfect for winter gardening and salad mixes, mustard offers a spicier taste to jazz up any fresh salad or warm meal. Greens like these do well in winter gardens when grown in a cold frame or greenhouse with rich soil. Just sow seeds in warm weather and keep them cool for harvests throughout the year.
Plant onions in the fall, and they’ll last throughout the winter with little maintenance on your part. Because they have a long growing season, you won’t be able to harvest until summer. That said, there are varieties like “First Early” that you can harvest in spring. Onions are best grown with mint to deter pesky onion flies, and they grow well in a kitchen garden.
16. Pak Choi (Bok Choy)
Also known as Chinese cabbage, Pak Choi is an Asian vegetable that grows throughout the winter, and can be harvested young because it matures quickly. The stems work well in stir-fries, while the leaves make a great addition to salads. It’s traditionally sown during late summer and transplanted during the fall with a cover, cold frame, or unheated greenhouse.
Perfect for winter gardening when covered to protect from frost. Whether you get the curly or flat-leaf variety, soak parsley seeds in warm water overnight and sow them 3-inches apart in well-drained soil in early spring. Remove the flowers when they appear and keep the soil moist.
For an early pea crop in the spring (normally June), sow pea varieties such as “Kelvedon Wonder” or “Meteor” in the fall. They grow well over the winter due to their resiliency and produce pods with a heavy yield. Sow seeds 10 inches apart and position plants in full sun. For an added bonus, you can even eat the flowers.
Plant potatoes in February to receive a harvest 3 months later. Depending on the variety you plant, you can grow potatoes in the autumn and winter as long as you protect them against heavy frost or drastic cold. Low temperatures can stop the tuber growth needed to reach harvest. The cold weather doesn’t exactly hurt potatoes, but make sure to plant before it gets too cold to ensure good tuber formation.
To grow spinach indoors, sow seeds in composted, well-drained soil for a late autumn harvest. Space the seedlings 2-3 inches apart with a foot between rows, and thin your chop to keep them 7 inches apart for proper air circulation. You can keep spinach outdoors in the winter with mulch and covers. Unlike lettuce, spinach will not grow back.
21. Spring Onions
Spring onions are easy to grow, and work amazingly well in salads and soups. Sow seeds in autumn for an early spring harvest, either indoors or out. The popular variety known as “White Lisbon” is a gardener’s favorite for winter gardening.
22. Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is one of easiest greens to grow during winter. This lovely green—also known as silverbeet—is used in salads, soups, or stir-fries. All you need in rich soil and cool weather to create a batch from seeds or from starts.
Additional Potted Vegetables for Winter Gardening
Lastly, note that you can grow almost any type of potted vegetable during the winter with some care and the right environment. Pots and containers allow you to prolong the growing season and take advantage of your crops all year, especially in a heated greenhouse. Strawberries, peppers, squash, fruit trees, and tomatoes are perfect for pots or greenhouses.