Does winter bring dreams of spring planting to your mind? You don’t have to wait for warm weather to begin planting. No, your squash, tomatoes, and peppers won’t survive a winter frost, but there are several beginner fall garden veggies that tolerate the cold and actually prefer cooler weather!
For help figuring out your best planting dates, read this page. With the context that I’m growing in zone 8 (approximately), here are the first winter veggie seeds I’m planting this year…. Many of these can be started in late summer or early fall as well!
Peas, particularly snow peas, are probably the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of winter veggies. Why? It’s in the name! In my experience, snow pea sprouts don’t seem to mind small amounts of snow at all. In my dry zone 8 (ish) area, January is the perfect time to plant peas because they tolerate cold & wet weather well, but often start to burn and die as soon as the heat & dry wind starts to come.
Peas do best when you sew the seeds directly in the garden, with a small trellis or fence to climb. The seeds will germinate or sprout best when soil temperature is 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit, or at minimum 40 degrees. (Soil temp tends to run a bit warmer than air temp).
Broccoli & Cauliflower
Broccoli and cauliflower are next up on my list of beginner fall garden veggies since they tend to take longer to grow and mature. It’s possible to sew the seeds outdoors, but I’m starting them indoors to transplant since our spring is unpredictable. (And because the bunnies have been snacking on my winter plants!) However, my bigger broccoli and cauliflower plants have survived a few snows just fine. Plus, the cold weather means a lower chance caterpillar pests.
Brassica family plants like cauliflower and broccoli need lots of nutrients or fertilizer, nitrogen in particular (the first of 3 numbers on the fertilizer). Broccoli is easier to grow than cauliflower. I like to start the seeds in a potting soil that already has fertilizer included, like miracle gro potting soil. You can get potting or seed starting soil and add your own organic fertilizer if you prefer. For more seed starting tips, go here.
Is kale still as trendy as it once was? Regardless, this nutrient-packed leafy green is a great choice because it is simple and rewarding to grow. If you haven’t learned to like its texture yet, try one of the varieties with flatter leaves (like lacinato) instead of the traditional ruffled leaves.
You can scatter the seeds in the fall garden and cover them lightly with soil, or start indoors if you’re in a colder area. seeds will sprout when the soil is 45-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, growing this winter veggie in the cold means less insect pests like aphids!
Swiss chard or rainbow chard is another easy-to-grow and nutrient dense veggie for your beginner fall garden. It is similar to spinach in taste and use, but can grow much larger and in my opinion is easier to cut and clean. Many chard varieties also have brightly colored stems from bright yellow to red, so they can be a pretty ornamental. Read more about why it’s a such a great plant for any garden or grower here.
Plant chard seeds in the garden when the soil temp is at least 40 degrees, or start indoors and transplant. Keep cutting the outer leaves to eat as needed, and let the rest keep growing until it goes to seed!
Bok Choy and Lettuce
Bok choy is great for stir frying or soups, but I’m still learning to grow it. I’ve only planted it once and it very quickly “bolted”. Bolting is when leafy winter veggies get too warm and start to get tall and grow flowers or seeds instead of staying short and bunchy. So I’m going to try growing bok choy in the winter this year and see if it helps!
If you’ve ever had problems with lettuce or other leafy greens starting to get tall like a stalk, chances are they got too old or too warm. Try planting in cooler weather instead!
These aren’t the only cool weather veggies (root veggies like radishes and beets do well) but they’re my favorite and perhaps the easiest for beginners!