It’s officially fall now, but that doesn’t mean planting season has to be completely over with! Depending on your climate zone, there may still be a number of crops you can grow.
While in cooler climates you may not get much of a harvest during the winter months, there are quite a few vegetables that you may be able to winter over and harvest when the weather warms.
Won’t it be great to be picking fresh kale and cabbage when everyone else is still waiting for their seedlings to grow?
In order to have springtime success with fall-planted and overwintered vegetables, it’s important to know the growing zone you live in: that’s going to have a big impact on what you can and cannot grow. For example, I’m in Montreal, which is zone 5, borderline 6, and planting anything outdoors for harvesting during winter is out of the question for me. Ditto trying to overwinter broccoli, since I don’t have a heated greenhouse in my backyard. But even here, believe it or not, there are things that I can sow or plant now that will ensure I am the first kid on the block with a serving of homegrown produce come spring. For growing zone guides worldwide, you can find comprehensive maps here, and the detailed USDA map can be found here.
In milder zones, you’ll be able to grow most of the traditional overwintering crops such as root vegetables and brassicas. In fact, if you’re in Florida, winter is the only time you’re likely to have much success with these crops. As you head further north or into higher altitudes, cold frames and poly tents become the winter gardener’s ally, helping you to nurture plants through until the days start getting longer and the plants start to regain their vigor and reward you with your first spring vegetables. Well-composted raised garden beds are also recommended, as they improve drainage in wet winter weather thereby reducing the chance of rot….
If you can’t grow vegetables outdoors during winter because it’s too cold, you can still pre-seed your garden for early spring germination. Pre-seeding your veggie patch lets nature decide for herself when the time is right for your spring seedlings to sprout. Plant the seed of spring-growing vegetables once it’s too cold for them to germinate, then mulch and wait…. Ideal pre-seeded crops include arugula (rocket), lettuce, brassicas, radish, and basil, as well as the usual compost heap volunteers, cherry tomatoes and pumpkins. While you’re busy throwing seeds about, don’t forget your summertime pollinator friends either: be sure to add some milkweed and local wildflower seeds into the mix so bees and butterflies have something to forage on as soon as possible too.
Below you’ll find a list of some familiar – and not so familiar – cool weather crops that you can plant out as seeds or bulbs now for an early spring harvest, climate zone permitting.
1. Leafy greens
Fall-planted leafy greens such as kale and collards are not only tough enough to survive the cold – and even snow – they usually taste all the better for it….
If you have the space, winter onion varieties can be a set-and-forget crop. Give them plenty of food, weed-suppressing mulch and good drainage, keep a eye out for pests such as slugs, and you should be right. The big catch is they won’t be ready to harvest until summer. For an earlier crop, try some of the smaller alliums….
Garlic is an allium too, but it deserves its own special mention. Fall is the time to plant garlic, though it won’t be ready to harvest as a mature vegetable until next summer. In spring, however, you can treat yourself to green garlic shoots, and if you plant “hardneck” garlic varieties, you can harvest garlic scapes in May to early summer….
4. Peas and broad beans
In milder climate zones you can plant peas and broad beans in fall for an early spring harvest. A fall planting can produce pods up to a month earlier than a spring planting, and you can also pick the shoots and leaf tips for inclusion in salads, sautés and stir fries….
5. Broccoli and cauliflower
….Like the leafy greens, this crop is cut-and-come-again, making it ideal for home gardens as you’ll get a light to regular supply all winter long, depending on your location. Overwintered sprouting broccoli will then really start to flourish come spring. If you find your brassicas seem to stall as the weather cools down, just give them some more mulch and when the weather warms up they’ll take off again to give you an early spring crop.
If kept protected from the extremes of winter, fall-planted cabbages will chug along slowly over the colder months and give you a head start on a spring crop. Because cabbages are a single-harvest vegetable, ensure you don’t wind up with 20 of them maturing all at once in spring by planting a mixture of red, green and Savoy cabbages. Look out for shorter and longer growing season varieties too and you will be able to stagger your spring harvest….
7. Root vegetables
Like the leafy greens, root vegetables are often all the sweeter for being overwintered, and parsnips especially benefit from taking a hit of frost. Options here include carrots, parsnips, beetroot, swedes (rutabagas), turnips and salsify. If you are lucky enough to not get frosts, the larger daikon radish is a possibility as well….
Unless you are in a warm hardiness zone, bring your potted herbs inside and pop them in a sunny spot over winter. With enough light, woody perennials such as thyme, sage and oregano should soldier on through, though rosemary can be temperamental about water and humidity, so maybe don’t get too attached to outcomes there. That said, some herbs we normally consider annuals can actually be grown perennially, or at least biennially. Parsley is a useful and long-lasting cooking and salad herb that will overwinter well indoors with adequate light and watering….
9. Salad leaves
Arugula (or rocket) is hands down my favorite homegrown vegetable: it lives up to the rocket moniker with super fast germination, and you will be picking baby leaves within 30 days of planting seeds. A fall planting under cold frames or in a pot indoors should get you through to spring, but be sure to pre-seed some in a sunny spot so your spring crop starts as soon as the weather allows…. Some of the hardier lettuces, such as cos, can be nurtured in cold frames over winter, though if you have room indoors you could also grow a potful of mixed mesclun leaves in a sunny spot to have baby salad greens all winter long that can then be moved out of doors as it gets warmer.
10. Asparagus and artichokes
If you have the space, the right climate zoning and you are confident you are going to have access to your current garden for a few years to come, please consider planting some of these perennials. You will be rewarded with vegetable luxury every year come early spring. The catches? Colder than zone 8 and artichokes should really be grown as an annual, which means they won’t be ready for a spring harvest. However, asparagus can be grown in zones 4 to 9, which makes it quite versatile as a first-of-the-season crop. Florida is generally too warm for either of these beauties to grow with much success….