When the fall and winter seasons hit, green thumbs tend to go into hibernation. But if you feel that horticultural itch year round, you have options beyond the basic perennials’ upkeep: You can grow vegetables.
Veggies aren’t just for spring and summer gardens; some varieties actually thrive in cooler, crisper seasons. No experience with growing vegetables? No worries. Horticulturist, contributing editor for The American Gardener magazine and author of Homegrown Harvest Rita Pelczar offers some expert input on getting veggies to grow in cooler seasons.
What should you grow?
Choosing what to grow depends entirely on where you live. If the weather in your area is reasonably mild, spinach and lettuce are great options. In colder regions, opt for kale, turnips and mustard, which all grow well. And if you’re planning ahead for next season, broccoli, cabbage, carrots and parsnips started in late summer will last well into winter in many areas.
When should I start growing?
It’s best to get your fall/winter crops in the ground in late summer so that they get a good jump on their growth before the cold weather sets in. If the weather is still relatively mild in your area, start immediately if you’re hoping to plant for this season. The later you start, the lower the chances of survival are, but it never hurts to try!
Use floating row covers to protect your plants, both against late-season pests and against cold, windy weather. Keep your soil evenly moist and reduce temperature fluctuations by using mulch (think of it as a winter sweater for your plants). Dig root crops before the ground freezes — store them in a sand pile for easy digging or in a root cellar.
Can I keep it indoors?
There are plenty of herbs that will grow well year round as long as they have a sunny window. If you want to grow veggies — such as tomatoes or peppers — you’ll need to do so in a very bright sunroom or a greenhouse. (Have room in your backyard to build one? There’s a DIY project for fall!)
Try these tips if you’re growing spinach, cabbage or carrots:
SPINACH: If you live in milder climates, in the fall, sow your seeds one month to six weeks before the first frost date and continue sowing them through the winter. For all climates, you can also sow your seeds up to two months before the last frost date in spring, then continue sowing every three weeks until just after the last frost date. Grow spinach in full sun to light shade (more shade in hotter areas), and provide consistent water without overwatering (moist but not mushy). Your spinach seeds should reach maturity in just over a month at minimum and 150 days at maximum.
CABBAGE: Cabbage is a great cool-season vegetable. To have a fall or winter crop for use in holiday cooking, you’ll want to plan ahead and plant seeds in late summer as they’ll take about 50 to 100 days to reach maturity. (Plant in full sun or partial shade if you’re in a hotter climate.)
CARROTS: If you have mild winters (at most an occasional light frost), you’ll be able to grow carrots from late summer through spring. Sow carrot seeds ideally in early spring — sow them again in late summer if you have cold winters. They’ll take about one to two and a half months to reach maturity. Grow them in full sun and water regularly to keep them evenly moist.