Growing vegetables (or any plant for that matter) during the fall and winter seasons may seem impossible. Many amateur gardeners will cover their plots for the upcoming frost and wait until spring comes to start gardening again.
However, you can grow vegetables outside during the winter with excellent results! How awesome would it be to have a greenhouse full of fresh greens while it’s snowing outside?
If you live in an area that experiences cold winters, there are a few easy steps you can take to start growing vegetables even during the harshest winters. Read on to learn more about how to grow vegetables in winter!
What are the Best Vegetables to Grow in Winter?
When it comes down to it, winter gardening is all about paying attention. If you’re used to only gardening for three seasons a year, you’ll have to be extra diligent during the winter to ensure your plants are doing well. All it takes is a little know-how and preparation.
Before you begin building your greenhouse or other structure for your plants, you’ll need to consider which vegetables you want to grow. Surprisingly, there are a ton of vegetables out there that do quite well in winter! The key is to plant only very hardy vegetables that are tolerant of cold. The following vegetables can be germinated and sown shortly before or during autumn and harvested during winter:
- Spring onions
- Broad beans
There are even more vegetables you can grow in winter, but it’s essential that these varieties are only grown in a greenhouse:
- Land cress
- Pak choi
Depending on where you live, your winters may be warmer or colder. Because of this, you might have some additional vegetable options to choose from, depending on your area. Take a look at the Farmer’s Almanac planting guide (or better yet, purchase the 2020-2021 almanac with more details) to determine which plants will do well to germinate in your grow zone and what temperatures they can tolerate.
How to Grow Vegetables in Winter
Protect Germinating, Growing, and Future Plants
When you’ve chosen cold-tolerant vegetables to plant, it’s time to consider how these plants will be adequately protected from frost. The most important thing to remember during this process is that while cold-tolerant veggies can survive cold temperatures, it’s vital that they don’t actually freeze.
There are a number of things you can do to prevent freezing for your plants:
Build a greenhouse
Greenhouses are a tried-and-true tool for growing plants during winter. While they can be a little bit costly to build or buy pre-built, greenhouses provide an excellent place to grow vegetables. Make sure you build your shelter before the first frost hits in your area. You can find out this information via American Meadows.
Use frost cloths
If you have an unusually large rowed garden, these freeze protection blankets can be used to protect your vegetables from frost and can also extend your autumn harvest season. If you’re planting your vegetables in a hügelkultur or otherwise “non-traditional” garden bed format, frost cloths are an excellent option to try.
Similar to greenhouses, polytunnels are circular metal structures that are covered in tight plastic to protect plants. They look similar to a camping tent.
Raised garden beds with lid coverings
If you have a raised bed garden or plan on building one, you can use garden beds with lids. Depending on how cold your winters are, these covers can be made of mesh, thin plastic, thick plastic, or wire. Raised bed gardens can be relatively easy to make and don’t cost a lot in terms of supplies, so opt for this if you’re on a budget.
Strawbale cold frames
If you have access to straw bales, you can easily DIY a makeshift cold frame with them! Simply surround your garden with straw bales so that the garden is completely closed off. Then, use an old door or large piece of polycarbonate to lay over the top of the bales to seal off the top. To harvest, simply remove the top covering.
Use mulch for root vegetables
Root vegetables are quite hardy, but their roots can be susceptible to cold soil even if they’re already established. To keep your soil from freezing, apply a thick layer of mulch (around 1-2 feet) on top of your root vegetables. Then, use a sheet to cover the mulch to insulate the soil and vegetables. Common types of mulch to use for this include leaves, straw, or bark.
You can also use a combination of the above options for some extra protection. Polytunnels and frost cloths work great together.
Seeds require a particular amount of heat in order to germinate. Because of this, it is wise to germinate your seeds inside of your warm air-conditioned home before planting them in autumn.
Typically, you can germinate them next to a sunny window in a warm room. If your zone’s fall temperatures are a bit too cold and your windows are already frosty, consider investing in a grow light. Some vegetables can be germinated outside in a greenhouse, but unless your greenhouse is heated, it may be better to play it safe and germinate them inside.
Seeds are ready to be planted outside when they sprout, but ensure that your planting day is on a warm one.
Don’t Overwater Your Plants
Your plants will get a lot of moisture from the soil as rain and snow penetrate the soil outside of your structure. Plus, there is usually less sunlight during the wintertime, meaning your soil won’t dry out as quickly.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t water your plants, though. Check on your veggies regularly and if the soil looks dry, give them a bit of water. Always avoid watering your vegetables if the temperatures are below 40 °F or 4 °C. If you have notoriously frosty winters in your area, generously water your plants in autumn before with starts and leave them be until winter is over.
Don’t Be Afraid of Fertilizer
All plants can benefit from a bit of fertilizer, including winter vegetables. Keep in mind that winter vegetables don’t need a ton of fertilizer applications. Apply your fertilizer of choice once when you’re planting your seedlings and don’t apply any more for the rest of winter. Some popular winter vegetable fertilizers are bone and cottonseed meal.
Harvest Throughout the Winter Months
Vegetables can be a bit tricky when it comes to harvesting. The right time to harvest your vegetables depends on their variety and when precisely you planted them. Always check on your vegetables regularly throughout the winter to see what stage they are at. If a vegetable looks ready to be harvested, go ahead and harvest them directly from their winter covering or shelter.
If you’re growing leafy greens, harvest them when the leaves are small or medium-sized and a bit soft. If they grow too large, they may come out bitter. However, greens grown in winter that are harvested when small end up very sweet and flavorful!
Brassicas like mustard, broccoli, and turnips can take up to 14 weeks to fully mature. Don’t be disappointed if they don’t reach their ideal size during winter. Once the snow melts and spring comes, you’ll be able to harvest them.
Consider Growing Your Vegetables Indoors
We’ve covered a lot of information about how to grow vegetables in the winter outdoors, but you also have the option of growing them in your home as well.
Greenhouses can be expensive, and some people just don’t have the outdoor space for a garden. You can definitely grow winter vegetables inside if they are kept in the right conditions and have access to a grow light. Some varieties that do very well indoors from seed to harvest include carrots, garlic, onions, and many types of herbs.
Commonly Asked Questions About Growing Vegetables in Winter
Why Are My Winter Vegetables Not Growing?
During very cold winters, most plants won’t actually grow. They will often stay dormant until the outside temperatures warm up and direct sunlight increases. Don’t worry if you do not see a ton of results, especially if you aren’t using a heated greenhouse. When there are sparse warm days during the upcoming winter season (above freezing and over 0°C or 32°F), open up your bed lids or air out your greenhouse to let the air circulate a bit and to let some sunlight in. You might want to water your plants on these days as well if the soil is dry. Only do this for a few hours and aim to do it around noon. Afterward, you might notice some of your vegetables growing!
How Can I Make My Winter Vegetables Grow Faster?
Again, many winter vegetables may not grow enough to be harvested in winter. If you want your plants to grow faster, you should consider starting your winter garden earlier in the year, around late summer to early fall. This way, your plants will be established, and their roots won’t be so tender.
Should I Water My Vegetables During Winter?
As we mentioned earlier, be sparing with your watering. If it seems like your plants aren’t doing well, watering them too much during the cold season could actually damage them.
Winter gardening may be a learning experience if you’ve never done it before, and that’s okay! Remember to invest in a good protective structure, be sparing with your watering, and let your garden breathe during warmer days. Make sure to check on the expected temperatures for your zone’s upcoming winter and reference your almanac to see which vegetables are more likely to make it if you start germinating them in autumn. You may just be surprised by the harvest you get in winter.
How was our guide to growing vegetables during the winter? This process really isn’t so tough to master, and you’ll get to enjoy some seriously tasty winter vegetables in the coming season. Don’t forget to comment down below which winter vegetable is your favorite!