Sep 272010

Your garden doesn’t have to end when frost nips the tomatoes and squash. If you provide your plants with some protection from the cold, you can grow a wide array of vegetables that thrive in cool weather. Here’s a sample of what you can plant for your fall and winter garden.


Lettuce grows easily in spring and fall. These are the seasons for both heading lettuce and loose-leaf varieties. But don’t try to keep big heads of lettuce through a cold winter. They may turn to mush. Instead plant leaf lettuce close together and harvest the leaves while they are small. Choose lettuce varieties bred to stand the cold, such as Arctic King, Winter Density, Marvel of Four Seasons (Merveille des Quatre Saisons), Brune d’Hiver and Little Gem. However why limit your salads to just lettuce? There are so many other salad greens that love cool weather:

  • Belgium endive (witloof endive)
  • Sugarloaf endive
  • escarole
  • arugula
  • rocket (sometimes spelled roquette)
  • spinach
  • radicchio
  • cress (both upland cress and garden cress)
  • mizuna
  • mache (sometimes know as corn salad or lamb’s lettuce)
  • miner’s lettuce (claytonia)

Root vegetables

Many root vegetables can be harvested all winter long:

  • carrots
  • beets
  • turnips
  • rutabagas
  • radishes, especially daikon and black Spanish radishes
  • leeks
  • scallions
  • bunching onions, potato onions and walking onions
  • parsnips
  • mangels

Mangels? What’s a mangel? It’s a sweet beet used for animal feed. However some mangels were bred for their fine flavor. Bountiful Gardens has seeds for them.

Onions are grown in different season, depending on where you garden. Here in the South, fall is the traditional time to plant onion seed for early-summer harvests. In the North, they’re spring sown. On the other hand, in both the North and the South, garlic is planted in the fall for harvesting the following summer.

Some root veggies like turnips, kohlrabi and beets can be grown for their greens as well as their roots.

Greens for Cooking

For winter green vegetables, nothing beats the cabbage family. They love cool weather. There are many different member of the cabbage clan to try:

  • cabbages, both green and red
  • Chinese cabbage
  • broccoli
  • gai lohn (Chinese broccoli)
  • kale
  • cauliflower, one of the fussier cabbages to grow
  • tatsoi
  • mustard greens
  • pak choy
  • bok choy
  • Brussels sprouts
  • and that epitome of southern green veggies: collards

Not all cold-tolerant green vegetables are members of the cabbage tribe, although sometimes it seems that way. Spinach and Swiss chard grow happily in fall and winter. Swiss chard is so hardy, that during mild winters, it will grow in my zone 7b garden without any protection.

Beans and Peas

You may be able to squeeze a fall crop of peas in between the hot days of summer and a killing frost. Use disease resistant varieties. In mild winter area, pea plants can be over-wintered. In spring, the plants revive and will produce an early crop of peas. 

You can eat fava beans from your winter garden—with or without the Chianti. A warning: a few people, mainly of Mediterranean heritage, can have a deadly allergic reaction to fava beans.


Finally don’t forget to plant some herbs, such as:

  • parsley
  • chervil
  • thyme
  • sage
  • oregano

In mild areas, rosemary can grow outdoors, under with some protection from frost. Chives and lemon balm disappear during the coldest winter days, but are among the first plants to reappear in early spring.