By: Liz Baessler
You don’t need to wait until high summer to get your garden going. In fact, many vegetables grow and taste better in the cooler temperatures of spring. Certain ones, like lettuce and spinach, will bolt when the weather gets too hot and can only be grown in cool temperatures. Keep reading to learn more about when to plant cold season vegetables.
What are cool season crops? Cool season crops germinate in cold soil and mature with cool weather and short periods of daylight, meaning they are perfect for planting in early spring. Pea, onion, and lettuce seeds will germinate as low as 35 F. (1 C.), meaning they can go in the ground as soon as it is unfrozen and workable.
Most other cold weather food crops will germinate in soil as cold as 40 F. (4 C.). These include many root vegetables and leafy greens like:
Sometimes the period between the ground becoming workable and high summer is awfully short. A great way to get a head start, no matter where you live, is to start your seeds indoors even earlier in the spring, then transplant them as seedlings when the weather is just right. Many cold weather food crops can be started indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost date.
Just make sure that when you put your cool weather plants out in your garden you save enough room for your hot weather plants. Plants that grow in cold weather are often ready for harvest around the time hot weather plants can be transplanted out, but an especially mild summer can mean your lettuce and spinach will last much longer than you’d planned.
This article was last updated on
Read more about General Vegetable Garden Care
Just because it’s getting cooler out and the sun is setting earlier doesn’t mean you can’t produce bountiful crops in your garden. Many vegetables you can easily grow yourself will flourish in cold weather.
Lettuce is a useful and versatile vegetable that can be grown during the fall. Plant it four to eight weeks before the first first as it grows best in temperatures between 45 and 75 degrees - which is quite a wide range. Lettuce needs full sun to partial shade to flourish, so keep that in mind while planting. In most areas, you can even continue to grow this veggie through the winter as long as you use a cold frame or row cover, allowing you many homegrown salads throughout the season.
This vegetable can be harvested time and time again, typically ready to be plucked from your garden 30 to 40 days after planting. Plant it every two weeks to enjoy a continual harvest in a spot that receives full sun to partial shade. If you pick only the outer leaves while harvesting, the same plant will bloom time and time again. While this plant does not do well in heat, it also can be damaged from hard frosts and snow. If you are growing this past the fall and into the winter months, use row covers and thick mulch to protect it from the elements.
Perhaps one of the most popular veggies in today’s world for its ability to replace carbs at times, cauliflower can be successfully grown in your fall garden. In fact, cauliflower grows best in cool temperatures.
This veggie is sort of a no-brainer to plant in the fall, as it’s a universal symbol for the season. These come in a wide range of colors and sizes, so you can easily pick what’s best for you and your garden. All varieties of pumpkins do need room to grow, as their vines can reach up to an astounding 30 feet in length. If desired, they can be grown on trellises to allow them more room without taking up an entire garden.
This is another green that should be planted six to eight weeks before the first frost hits. Kale needs full sun to partial shade to flourish and they can be grown into the winter. Believe it or not, frost and snow help kale to have a more bold and richer flavor. When exposed to heat, your kale plant may wither slightly. Don’t give up on it, though - once the cool temperatures come back, it will perk back up.
A great veggie to use in fall and winter soups, carrots get great flavor when grown in the fall and winter. Allow them to fully mature as the weather gets colder, and then they can be stored in your fridge for up to three months once harvested.
As you’ve probably caught on, greens do pretty well in fall gardens! Mustard greens are no exception to that rule. These seeds can be planted every two to three weeks for a continual harvest in a spot that receives full sun to partial shade. Note that these greens need rich and moist soil to thrive. This is because they grow rapidly and produce many leaves to be harvested.
There are several varieties of winter squash that do well in the colder months. Acorn, spaghetti, butternut, buttercup, and hubbard squashes are all great fall and winter plants that are also wonderful for seasonal meals. These plants should be started indoors as seeds and then put in your outdoor garden as temperatures begin to cool for fall. Like pumpkin plants, squash takes up lots of room, so consider using trellises for planting to make the most of your space.
There are so many plants that can be grown and harvested during one of the most beautiful seasons of the year—fall.
When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commissions at no cost to you.
For most, cool-season vegetable gardens are intended for a fall or winter harvest. Tender young plants or seeds are planted in the garden during mid- and late summer and are ready for harvest in fall. When planting cool-season crops during the hottest part of the summer, cover the crops with floating row covers to shade them and protect them from the heat.
Planting cool-season vegetables in late winter will allow you to have a bountiful harvest in mid-spring, right around the time you would plant a standard vegetable garden. Plant your vegetable transplants or seeds so that they'll reach maturity before daytime highs hit around 60 F. Spring harvest presents one challenge: The soil temperature still needs to be warm enough for germination. Because of this, you may need to start seeds indoors or use some type of insulation around the plants to keep the temperature of the soil raised slightly.
The Cabbage Family: This includes cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower and kales which all produce white or yellow flowers when the plant goes to seed. They germinate in about a week and can be placed into a protected garden bed about a month before your last frost date. If the weather is still cool, add a row cover or cloche to the plants to keep them warm. In warm areas you can grow these vegetables in your fall garden too. Transplant the seedlings and put them into the garden in September, and protect from hot afternoon sun. Warm summer soil combined with cooler fall temperatures help the seedlings to settle quickly and a second crop is produced about 60 days later. Have a frost protection cloth ready in case an early frost occurs.
The Onion Family: Onions, shallots and leeks are the main members or this group and they take a long time to mature. Onion and shallot sets can be put into the garden about a month before your last frost date, as well as seeded in the garden for a fall crop. They can also be planted in fall to emerge late winter for an early spring harvest.
Salad Vegetables: There are numerous varieties of cool weather lettuce and mesclun mixes that thrive in spring gardens. Spicy mustards and colorful greens can all be started indoors about 2 months before the last frost. Put the seedlings out about a month before the last frost and cover with a cloth on cool nights. Seeds can also be sown for a longer harvest. Try planting some seeds in late summer too for a fall harvest.
Most of the cool weather vegetables can tolerate a light frost, but keep a cloth handy for sudden cold days and late frosts. Extending the season with winter vegetables will keep your dinner table full of fresh, nutritious vegetables for at least a few weeks longer.
Request a catalogBuy a gift card
Special offers, discounts, and new products.
For best results, grow these crops to maturity in cool weather
Cool-season veggies grow best at temperatures averaging 15° cooler than those needed by warm season types.
Many have edible leaves or roots (lettuce, spinach, carrots, and radishes) others (artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower) are grown for their immature flowers. A few (peas, broad beans) produce edible seeds.
Most can endure short periods of frost.
For best results, you need to grow them to maturity in cool weather otherwise, they can turn bitter tasting, or bolt to seed rather than producing edible parts. (Except in coldest climates, plant them in very early spring so the crop will mature before summer heat settles in, or in late summer for a crop in fall in winter.
In warm regions, plant cool season crops from late summer to early fall for harvest in late fall, winter, or early spring.
In coldest regions where cool summers are the norm (Alaska, for example), plant cool season crops in May or June for summer harvest.