Best Vegetables to Grow in Winter

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The hummingbirds that spent the summer in my garden left last week, so I know winter is coming. It's time to get busy planting winter crops and making plans for their protection, which is rewarding work indeed. Spinach and parsley planted now will produce a little crop in late autumn and a much larger one in spring, and every year I am blown away by the quality of onions grown from overwintered plants.

But I have learned this truth about growing winter vegetables the hard way: Grow only as much as you can protect from the elements, because that's the essence of the task. Where I live, winter temperatures occasionally drop below 0°F (-18°C), with several significant snows and winds that howl for days at a time. Spinach resting in a cold frame with a tempered glass lid (made from an old shower door) scarcely know what's happening, and the same goes for onions snug inside a sturdy tunnel covered with heavy-duty row cover (garden fleece) and an old quilt.

Row cover snow

My protective frames and covers don't need to be in place until November, and they can be opened or lifted in March. During that time, the plants grow very little due to cold temperatures and limited light from short, dim days. But as soon as days start to lengthen in late winter, overwintered vegetables make rapid growth and are ready to start picking when spring plantings are just going into the ground – the neatest thing about growing winter vegetables.

What to Grow in Winter

The top winter vegetable to grow is probably spinach, which has no trouble surviving cold temperatures with a secure glass, plastic or cloth cover. I like to work with well-established plants that are well rooted, but even young spinach plants will survive winter under cover with no problem. Arugula (rocket) and parsley make good neighbours for winter spinach, so I often growth them together in the same enclosure.

Winter spinach

When handled just like spinach and grown through winter with protection, special varieties of overwintering onions make wonderful spring crops in the US. American gardeners must start varieties such as Top Keeper and Desert Sunrise from seed, but in Europe gardeners can grow autumn onions like Senshyu Yellow from sets. I am now hooked on this lovely type of onion, which is mild and juicy yet stores beautifully, but the best part is that they mature so early, in June. I get the best results from plants growth from direct-sown seeds that are never transplanted, one of many unexplainable mysteries associated with the growing of good onions. Garlic is a much more straightforward crop that I will plant in late October, and it needs no cover beyond a good mulch of chopped leaves.

Over Wintering Onions

Finally there are the little greens -- mache (lamb's lettuce) and claytonia (miner's lettuce) – which stay tiny the first half of winter and then explode with new growth in early spring. A fleece-covered tunnel keeps these little wildlings happy through winter's worst cold, and they will produce several small but welcome harvests while cold weather lingers. The plants will be in full bloom when the hummingbirds return, perhaps offering up spring sips of nectar – another reason for growing winter vegetables.

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Show Comments


"Thank You for the encouragement to look for some more winter vegetables to plant. Also for reminding me of working on the garden and the learning spirit for my garden. I remembered searching out various pests while asking various people of their knowledge such as the Dept. of Agriculture. These people would "happen" through the area in their work truck, and I seized the moment... Also there are Knowledgeable people who promote the County's causes for Ecological purposes who like to show places like the present County Fair in our area... "
Douglas Purther on Sunday 4 September 2016
"Thanks for sharing. It's helpful as I am looking for plants for winter. I agree that spinach is the best winter-tolerant, but I haven't tried growing it with parsley. I will soon try planting mache and claytonia and wait for their bloom in spring as the idea sounds great and promising Shari Jennings"
Shari Jennings on Tuesday 6 September 2016
"Hi, I live in Seattle. This is my first winter garden. Could you send me a list of vegetables to start now in September? Would be much appreciated"
Richard on Sunday 11 September 2016
"Richard, please start with the vegetables discussed here, because your days will soon become short and cloudy, bringing a prompt end to the active growing season. In your climate you also can grow many half-hardy crops like cabbage and celery through winter, but you will need to start with purchased seedlings this late in the season. Check local garden centers to see what they have, and good luck."
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 14 September 2016
"Am new in this agri world and live in Brits town,and want to start planting crops on early July 17.what crop will be sortable for me.leaving on black clay soil"
Tlhokz on Tuesday 27 June 2017
"i have built raised gardens for i cannot work on my knees i am now done with 5 units and are anxious to start is it to late i live in southern pa"
john on Thursday 9 November 2017
"John, it is not too late to plant garlic, but with days getting so short and cold, you will need to wait until March to move ahead with next year's garden. Plenty of time to plan!"
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 9 November 2017
"more vegetables for winter"
Mthe theleli on Saturday 3 February 2018

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