Cold-Weather Crops to Grow in Your Winter Vegetable Garden

Instead of packing away our shovels when cold fall nights settle in, this is the year to start a winter garden! With some careful planning, you can keep growing through the winter months in most climates, and you can expect to harvest carrots, collards, leeks, kale, and more right through the winter with some simple season extension.

For a successful winter garden, start by choosing the best season extension for your garden, time your plantings, and then select the hardiest vegetables that will not only withstand the cold, but thrive in it.

Below, I have outlined 18 of the ultimate crops to grow and plant during the winter, plus some tips to keep your garden growing in every zone and climate.

Planting Winter A Garden

So, what is a winter garden? A winter garden is simply when you grow vegetables through the cold months. While this might seem impossible, there are actually some advantages to growing in the winter, including:

  • Avoid bolting: Since most vegetables bolt in hot weather, this isn’t a problem when growing in the fall and winter.
  • No bugs: Our food will be growing while the bugs are sleeping (but you might need to watch out for mice and other small animals).
  • Good food all year: You can harvest fresh produce and skip a trip to the store.

When starting your winter garden, here are a few things to consider:

Planting Winter Veggies: Timing is Everything!

When growing over winter, our plants won’t grow like the do in the spring, summer, or even fall. Winter temperatures are not sufficient for germination and most seedlings won’t survive the bitter cold. Also, growth slows or might stop altogether once the thermometer dips and when there is less than 10 hours of sunlight in a day.

Because of this, you want to start your plants early enough so they have time to establish themselves before it gets too cold. In most cases, this means sowing or transplanting the vegetables into your garden in the mid summer or into the autumn, but here is a rough idea when to plant your winter garden depending on your USDA Hardiness Zone:

Zones 1 to 3: In these areas, growing a winter garden is not really practical unless you have heated greenhouse. Timing is not so critical in this case, but you probably want to start your crops in the summer so they will be ready to harvest before the year ends so you avoid trying to keep a greenhouse warm in the bitter cold months of January and February.

Zones 4 to 6: You want to start your crops around early August so they have time to establish before it gets really cold. See below for specific planting times for each crop.

Zone 7 to 10: In these Zones, many gardeners can sow seeds into early November (and sometimes beyond).

Types Of Season Extension

When it comes to season extension, there are many options out there including:

  • Cold frames
  • Mini hoop tunnels
  • Walk-in poly tunnels
  • Cloches (if you are just growing a few plants)
  • Floating row covers
  • Mulching
  • Greenhouses

You want to choose the best season extension that is right for your area (and your wallet). For example, Zones 1 to 3 pretty much always require a greenhouse, Zone 4 can get along very nicely with cold frames, while milder climates might only require a light floating row cover.

Top Cold-Hardy Vegetables for Your Winter Garden

When planning a winter garden, the most important consideration is “which vegetables to grow”. You want to select varieties that are cold-tolerant for your area, will grow on time, and that you like eating!

Here are our favorite cold tolerant vegetables for winter garden:

1. Arugula


“Astro” is an excellent cold-hardy variety to grow in winter, but most arugula are great for growing in the cold season. It will handle temperatures down to -12C (10F), and it is often rated for down to Zone 2.

While it tolerates cold, it can be damaged by frost so some protection is advisable. Put it in a cold frame in cold climates, or under row covers in mild winters, and your arugula will thrive.

Like many other greens, arugula will regrow new leaves when you pick some (often called a cut-and-come-again vegetable) so make sure to leave the roots and stem in the ground when harvesting. However, remember that regrowth will be limited or even stalled in winter depending on the temperature.

Arugula will mature quite quickly (often in around 40 days), so it can usually be planted about a month and half before your first expected frost.

2. Asian Greens

Asian Greens

There are many different types of Asian greens (pac choi/bok choi, tatsoi, mizuna, mustard greens) and they are all equally well suited for cold growing.

Sow them in late summer and then offer protection when it gets cold, and you should have a great harvest. Most Asian greens can handle temperatures down to -6C (20F) but most will die back with hard freezes so make sure to protect from frost. Since the grow quite quickly, you can start them quite late in the year.

One of my favorite Asian greens is Ethiopian kale, which isn’t a kale at all but akin to mustard greens. While its not as hardy as true kale, it has a great flavor and we have better luck growing Ethiopian kale.

3. Beets


Like other root crops, beets are an excellent choice for the winter garden as they do exceptionally well in the cool moist conditions. The roots handle temperatures down to -12C (10F), although the greens will die before that (or you can harvest the greens before that and eat them!).

They will do well under a thick mulch, but work well with any season extensions.

They mature quite fast, in 50 to 70 days depending on variety, so plant them around 2 months before the expected first frost. But don’t plant them too early as beets get hard and bitter if left in the ground too long before the cold comes.

“Red Ace” is my beet of choice for the garden and it grows exceptionally all year long.

4. Broccoli

Broccoli growing in the winter garden.

Broccoli is plagued by insects and bolt throughout the spring and summer. Thankfully, these issues all but disappear during the late fall and winter.

Make sure your broccoli is sown 10 to 12 weeks before your first frost and, if started indoors, transplant it into the in time for it to establish its roots.

Broccoli is not quite as hardy as some others, but it will easily handle temperatures down to -3C (26F). Do not let is suffer a hard freeze or frost, so keep it under cover of a cold frame, hoop tunnel, or row cover.

Two great winter varieties of broccoli are “Kariba” and “Marathon”.

5. Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

Brussel sprouts are very cold hardy and will stand temperatures down to -18C (0F). Make sure to plant them about 4 months before the first frost, and let them grow right through the winter for a sweet Christmas harvest.

6. Cabbage


Cabbages are another very cold hardy vegetable for winter. Young plants will survive down to 0C (32F), but mature plants will stand -10C (15F). Just make sure to protect them from frost as this can damage the leaves and heads. Some gardeners in Zone 1 are even able to keep them growing through the cold with adequate protection.

Sow your cabbages indoors in late summer and transplant them into the garden in the fall so they have enough time to mature and establish before winter.

7. Carrots


Carrots are another great winter crop. You can leave them in the garden to get sweeter, or cover them with a thick mulch and store them right there in the ground until they are needed. Like most root vegetables, carrots get sweeter after frost. Through a process called cold sweetening (sometimes called chill or frost sweetening) the carrots convert starch back into sugars to protect the roots from freezing, and making a much more delicious dinner.

Without protection, many carrots will overwinter down to -4°C (24°F), but with proper protection they can stand much colder than that.

When keeping carrots in the winter garden, its important to keep the ground from freezing solid, so make sure to cover them with an organic mulch before the soil freezes, or put them in a hoop house or cold frame to keep them warm.

Sow carrots in the summer, and “Napoli” and “Bolero” are two excellent winter varieties, although most carrots overwinter well.

8. Collards


Collards are a very hardy brassica, and one of the hardiest vegetables you can include in your winter garden. Many growers have kept the out in -15C (5F) and they actually get more flavorful with the cold.

Sow collards around late summer until early fall, just make sure they have time to reach 30cm (12 inches) tall before the cold arrives so they are hardy enough to handle the weather.

Tunnels, cold frames, and other season extensions are ideal as they will provide extra protection and shelter them from heavy snowfall.  

9. Daikon Radish

Daikon Radish

Radish is often suggested as a winter crop because it grows so quickly that it can be squeezed in before the snow flies, but why not dry growing Daikon radish and let it grow all winter.

Daikon radish, also called winter radish, should be sown in late summer and will overwinter in areas without a killing frost and can handle temperatures down to -7C (-20F). In cold regions, protect them with a season extension and keep them in the garden to harvest at Christmas. Giving them a hoop to protect from frost and a thick mulch to keep the roots from freezing is ideal.

As an added perk, Daikon radish will also cold sweeten!

10. Garlic

Garlic plants growing in the garden.

In cold climates, garlic is best planted in the fall. Of course, it won’t grow until spring, but keeping garlic in your winter garden is a perfect way to get a jump start on spring.

Plant garlic 4 to 6 weeks before the ground freezes for the year so it has time to establish roots before winter.

11. Herbs


There are many herbs that will handle cold quite well, though most of them will be damaged by a killing frost. Some great herbs to include in your winter garden are:

  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Sage

Keep them under protection and they will last a surprisingly long time into the cold seasons.

12. Kale

Kale growing in the winter garden.

Kale is one of the ultimate winter vegetables for your garden: both the mature and baby plants will survive the cold, and it easily handles temperatures down to -12°C (40°F).

One great perk about winter kale is that this often-pest riddled plant will be bug free while the weather is cold!

Even though it is hardy, kale will benefit from season extenders. While it is often pictured buried in snow, it is generally safest to cover it to keep the snow off. Also, a mulch around the roots will help it overwinter.

I would recommend “Winterbor”, “Red Russian”, or “Siberian” for winter growing.

13. Leeks

Leeks growing in the winter garden.

Leeks are another true hard crop, and will happily overwinter when the temperatures reach -17C (0F), and they will be fine with hard frosts even without protection.

Since leeks take a while to grow, start them in around July, or as long as they have about 100 days to mature before cold weather arrives. Hilling winter leeks has two advantages: not only does it keep the stems nice and white, but the extra soil adds extra protection to the leek.

If you don’t have time to set leeks before winter, try growing scallions (or green onions). They are not quite as hardy as leeks (they will overwinter in Zone 5 without any problems), and they only need 50 to 60 days to grow before the weather gets cold.

14. Lettuce


Lettuce is often touted as an excellent winter crop, and it certainly is as long as you can keep frost at bay. Start lettuce in the fall, about 1 to 3 months before it will get cold) and grow them in a tunnel or cold frame to protect them from heavy snow and frost. You can also mulch them for extra protection.

Baby lettuce will only handle -4C (25F), but mature heads can tolerate much colder. I would suggest “Winter Density” and “Winter Marvel” for great flavor and cold hardiness.

15. Mache


Mache (pronounced ‘mosh’), is also known as corn salad or lamb’s lettuce and is another very cold hardy vegetable for your garden. It will handle temperatures down to -15C (5F), and even if it gets colder than that, it will go dormant and then start growing first thing in the spring.

Plant mature about 60 days before your first expected fall frost. They will also continue to regrow if the leaves are snipped off, especially when grown under cover.

16. Parsnips


Parsnips take a long time to mature (120 to 180 days), so even if you plant them in the spring, chances are they won’t be ready before the growing season ends. So just leave them in the garden, much like carrots, and they will get sweeter. And, also like carrots, you can leave them in the ground under a thick layer of mulch to harvest throughout the winter.

TIP: The tops will die back, but don’t worry as they are slightly toxic anyways!

17. Spinach


Plant spinach about a month before the first expect frost and you will have spinach throughout the fall and winter. Mature spinach plants will easily handle -9C (15F) and can tolerate colder if protected from frost and snow.

In cold zones (such as 2-4) spinach will grow into the fall with cover and an extra mulch. Zone 5 gardens can grow spinach all year with protection, and it will grow year round without any protection at all in zones 6 to 9.

For winter, choose thick, savoy leaves to better withstand frost, such as “Gazelle” or “Hammerhead” varieties.

18. Rutabaga


I love growing rutabaga, and they good to grow in almost any season. They will handle -7C (20F) without and protection, and will stand much colder when mulched and sheltered under a cover. They will also cold sweeten, so say goodbye to bitter turnips.

When overwintering rutabagas, the tops will die back far sooner than the roots, so consider picking the green tops (they are edible and quite tasty in their own right).


For some of us, winter gardening outdoors just isn’t feasible: there is simply too much snow and the plummeting temperatures would kill anything you attempt to grow (and heating a greenhouse can be a very expensive and unsustainable option). Or maybe perhaps you are just not set up to protect your crops this winter.

But don’t worry. If you really want to grow something this winter but don’t know how, remember you can always start by keeping a potted basil, or a few heads of lettuce growing on your kitchen counter. While this might not sustain you through the winter, each plant grown will mean one less that has to be shipped across the country, and you will be one meal closer to self reliance.  

Amber Noyes

Written By

Amber Noyes

Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.

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