5 Vegetable Seeds Best For Winter Sowing - Backyard Boss
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5 Vegetable Seeds Best For Winter Sowing

In the winter, it seems like nature has fallen into a deep sleep without the intention to wake back up until spring. However, this dormant period is actually an excellent time to sow seeds for a rewarding spring harvest. Continue reading to learn more about the most resilient vegetable seeds to select for winter sowing!

What Is Winter Sowing?

Seeds being planted in pots
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Winter sowing is the process of planting seeds outside in a protected environment that allows them to germinate before spring. At this time of year, temperatures are well below freezing. As the seeds sit in their sheltered area, they start to get acclimatized through vernalization. This prevents them from freezing and instead, stimulates germination. Vernalization is essentially what makes winter sowing possible and it’s favored by those who are looking to jumpstart their spring gardening with just a few simple tools and steps.

Best Vegetable Seeds For Winter Sowing

Seedlings growing in dividers
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Some plants are more resilient than others when it comes to winter sowing. Herbs and certain flowers for instance, have a very short growing season, are incredibly delicate, and cannot tolerate drastic temperature changes. This indicates they will easily be damaged in harsh winter weather and their likelihood of surviving any exposure to frost is quite low. Climbing vegetables that grow on vines, such as cucumbers and zucchini, are similar and not recommended for winter sowing. In addition, root vegetables, like potatoes and beetroots, are highly sensitive to soil nutrient balance.  This is why they are not optimal for sowing or transplanting between seasons. 

The vegetable seeds that best tolerate tough environmental winter conditions are hardy green vegetables. Hardy vegetables can withstand conditions such as cold temperatures and frost. Did you know hardy vegetables also taste better after exposure to frost? This is because when temperatures lower toward freezing, they naturally begin to convert their starches into sugars. This protects the seed from fully freezing (also part of the vernalization process) and results in a sweeter and riper taste upon harvest.

Experience the sweet fulfillment that winter sowing can bring to both your taste buds and your love for gardening!

1. Broccoli

Broccoli bunch
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Broccoli is a green vegetable that is rich in nutritional value, containing Vitamin A, potassium, iron, and fiber. When exploring the produce section of any grocery store, you’re likely to find the “Calabrese” variety, which grows a large green head and thick stalks.

There are a few additional varieties, however, that have seeds that germinate well in cooler soil (between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit), which include “Green Magic” and “Paragon.” Seeds should be planted around 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost of the season. They should be 3 inches away from one another and placed ½ inch to 3 inches deep in the ground. Plant them in rows around 20 inches apart.

2. Brussel Sprouts

Brussels sprouts in winter on field covered snow
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Brussels sprouts are a cultivated variety of wild cabbage, Brassica oleracea, and are known for sprouting thick leafy buds from their stems. Make sure they get lots of sunlight, while frequently removing any dried or yellowed leaves they may develop to support healthy growth.

Though in the spring and summer, it’s common to cut off some of the top leaves to support faster maturation, in the winter leave these leaves as they are. They will provide a protective layer that shields the plant from winter weather.

Brussel sprouts have a longer growing season, so make sure to plant them about 12 weeks before the last frost. Keep their seeds around 3 inches apart and bury them ½ inch deep.

3. Cabbage

Cabbage in winter garden
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Cabbage is a hardy, antioxidant-rich vegetable and one of the most common to sow in the winter because it thrives in colder temperatures. Once the head of the plant starts to develop, lower temperatures are also beneficial for holding it firmly in place. This helps the layers of the plant stay neatly intact.

Some of the best types of cabbage to select for winter sowing are those that are known to overwinter well, which means they can survive through the winter even in very harsh conditions and the quality of their roots is maintained for the next season. These include “Alcosa” or “Wirosa” Savoy types, as well as “Ruby Perfection” and “Li Ren Choy”, which are forms of red or Chinese cabbage. Though cabbage overwinters well, make sure the seed beds have easy drainage. This prevents ice build-up which can damage the roots.

Sow the seeds about ¼ inch deep and 12 to 24 inches apart. Aim to plant them 2 to 3 weeks in advance of the last spring frost.

4. Garlic

Garlic bulb close-up
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When it comes to garlic, it’s easy to recognize its powerful scent and flavor which is similar among many garlic varieties. However, if you’re planning to sow garlic in the winter, it’s always a safer option to choose “hardneck” garlic, such as “Early Italian,” “German Red,” and “Spanish Roja”. These types of garlic tend to grow fewer but thicker cloves and harder stems. This is what makes them more resilient to harsh weather.

For the best results, go for the largest seeds or cloves you can find. They will be able to harness the most amount of energy resulting in the strongest roots. Plant the seeds 4 to 8 inches apart, 2 inches deep, and keep the rows about 10 inches away from each other. Garlic requires 6 to 8 weeks of dormancy before the ground freezes. This allows it to successfully germinate and wake back up in the spring.

5. Kale

Kale growing outdoors
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Kale is one of the most nutritious leafy greens and also one of the simplest vegetables to grow in the winter. It comes from the Brassica family and is known to be a strong survivor in the wintertime. “Winterbor,” “True Siberian,” and “Lacinato” kale are the varieties that can tolerate chilly temperatures and frosty conditions best.

It’s best to sow kale seeds in a sheltered container when first starting the winter sowing process. However, once kale forms leaves, it has more protection from snow and wind. Plant the seeds about one month before the last spring frost. Keep the seeds ½ inch deep in the soil and 1 inch apart from one another. Rows should be 20 inches apart.

Time To Jumpstart Your Spring Gardening!

Winter sowing is a simple way to jumpstart your spring gardening! Remember the best vegetables to select will be deep leafy greens. These plants can tolerate low temperatures, frosty conditions and even snow. When it’s time to select your seedlings for winter sowing, keep these favorites in mind for a successful harvest.