If the long winter months have you itching to get your hands in the dirt and taste the crisp flavor of fresh-from-the-garden vegetables, consider adding cool-weather crops to your seasonal planting plan.
Certain varieties of vegetables—like cabbage, kale, and other cole crops—prefer to grow in cooler temperatures, making them a perfect choice to help extend your garden yields.
Wondering how to fill your plate with a nutritious bounty while the heater hums and frost coats your windows? Keep reading for all the details about how and when to plant cool-season vegetables in your garden.
Cool-Weather Crops vs. Warm-Weather Crops
While you might think you need to adhere to stringent growing-zone frost dates to harvest a garden full of edible delights, as long as you can “work” or dig in your soil, you can tend to a vegetable garden.
Unlike a warm-season crop, like peppers and tomatoes that thrive in the midsummer sun and heat, a cool-season vegetable crop prefers cold temperatures to spread its roots and grow its greens.
When these cold-friendly plants face the heat, their growth slows, and they start to bolt. To get the most out of these hearty veggies, start them in early spring to get the best chance at a plentiful harvest and a successful growing season.
What Vegetables Grow Best in Cool Weather?
Cool-growing veggies range from root vegetables to leafy greens—everything you need for a zesty salad or savory stew. Here are some of the best cold-season vegetables and herbs to try and grow at home:
- Brussels sprouts
- Bunching onions
Some of these crops are so fast and easy to grow, like radishes and leafy greens, varieties are ready to harvest in about a month. Others, like cabbage, leeks, and brussels sprouts, take their time to reach maturity,taking up to 120 days from seed to harvest.
How to Plant Cool-Season Vegetables
You may need gardening gloves to keep your hands toasty, but the cool, replenishing soil is the perfect home for cool-growing vegetables to spread their roots. As soon as your garden beds are prepped, you can seed or transplant the chill-loving, frost-tolerant plants straight in.
If you’re limited on ground space, some cool-season veggies and herbs also do well in containers. However, you’ll need to pay closer attention to soil moisture levels and freezing weather, as container plants dry out and freeze faster than their in-ground counterparts.
What’s the Best Time to Start Cool-Season Vegetables?
When you bring home a packet of seeds, you’ll usually find planting guidelines that indicate how many weeks before or after your last frost date to sow, sometimes with the caveat of “as soon as soil can be worked.”
Exactly when to plant cool-weather vegetables depends on the type of plant, germination requirements, and days to maturity. For cold-loving crops, this can be anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost date for direct sowing or up to 12 weeks if transplanting. Generally, when the soil temperature warms to around 40 degrees in your home climate, is the ideal time to place your seeds in the dirt.
Transplanting vs. Direct Sowing
One of the best aspects of cool-weather vegetables is the minimal maintenance needed to get growing. But knowing which low-temp lovers prefer to break out of seedlings vs. transplants makes an even greater difference in how heartily your veggies grow.
If you’ve been known to spend hours outside tending to your soil, or you’re in need of a vitamin-A boost, direct sowing in the ground might be for you—so long as your garden is thawed and workable. Cool-growing varieties like these grow wonderfully from seeds:
- Leafy greens like spinach and kale
Transplanting, on the other hand, allows you to start seeds indoors under grow lights while the ground is still frozen, putting you ahead of the gardening pack and allowing sprouts to prepare for more thawed soil.
Vegetables that need a longer time to mature benefit from this indoor headstart to maximize growing time before the weather heats up. For example:
Transplants also help give your seedlings a better chance at survival. If you’ve got birds and bunnies that like to nibble in your yard, starting seeds indoors can help shield budding sprouts from curious beaks and tiny taste buds—giving your garden a fighting chance to grow to full-size fruition.
Spring Vegetables vs. Fall Vegetables
Spring isn’t the only season to take advantage of cool
-season crops to extend your garden beyond the bounds of Memorial Day and Labor Day. Some veggies, like many of the cole crops or Brassicas, can provide a double harvest by planting in the spring for an early summer harvest and then again mid-summer for a fall harvest.
For cool-season vegetables in the fall, plants like broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts benefit from a touch of frost for better taste and flavor. And as a bonus, pests will be less likely to gobble them up when the autumn chill arrives.
Grow Your Veggies from Seed to Salad with Help from Greendigs
With a little bit of planning and preparation, you can harvest a bounty of cold-weather vegetables and herbs from your very own space. Before you know it, you’ll be munching on crisp lettuce and earthy beets straight from the garden.
Don’t forget your gardening tools and accessories as you plan your succession of planting flavorful veggie-packed recipes like a master gardener. From soil and spades to grow lights and plant food, Greendigs has every tool you need to take your cool-season vegetables from seed to plate. Discover our vegetable plants online to start your veggie garden!
Organic Growers School. Seeds vs. Transplants. https://organicgrowersschool.org/gardeners/library/seeds-vs-transplants/
Penn State Extension. Cool-season vs. Warm-season Vegetables. https://extension.psu.edu/cool-season-vs-warm-season-vegetables
South Dakota State University Extension. Early Spring Gardeners Prepare to Plant Cool Season Vegetables. https://extension.sdstate.edu/early-spring-gardeners-prepare-plant-cool-season-vegetables
University of Maryland Extension. Vegetable Planting Calendar. https://extension.umd.edu/resource/vegetable-planting-calendar