Veteran gardeners know gardening doesn’t begin with spring and end with fall’s conclusion. Hard-core gardeners grow year-round—and we’re not just talking indoor kitchen herb gardens. With a little know-how, you can keep your vegetable garden growing even through frost and snow in much of the United States.
(Brag your love of gardening with the Organic Life 2018 Wall Calendar, featuring gorgeous photographs, cooking tips and recipes, plus how to eat more—and waste less—of what's in season.)
As you probably know, when temperatures reach 32 degrees and lower, frost will begin to develop and any precipitation will turn to snow. As the temperature drops lower, the danger to your garden increases. Light freezes occur between 28-32 degrees, and anything below 28 degrees is considered a hard freeze. Very few vegetables can survive hard freezes without protective measures such as hay mulch, but some vegetables actually do well in lower temperatures. These vegetables, considered cold-hardy or cool-season, can be planted in early fall so they are given time to mature before the temperature drops too drastically.
Not up for outdoor gardening in winter? You can still grow these herbs indoors all year round while staying nice and cozy:
Why Some Plants Are Frost-Tolerant And Others Aren’t
There’s a pretty cool scientific reason why some plants can withstand frost while others can’t. It’s not that they’re “tougher” than other veggies. When the outside temperature drops to 32 degrees, it’s not only the water in your birdbath or dog bowl that freezes—the water stored in plant cells freezes, too. The cells expand as the water freezes and eventually burst, killing the plant. (This is also why lettuce shoved in the back of the fridge that gets too cold and frosty turns soggy and ruined.)
Frost-tolerant plants, however, won’t suffer this fate as easily due to the presence of sugar in their system. More sugar combined with the water in their cells lowers their freeze point and allows them to survive in colder environments. Frost-tolerant plants also tend to be short, hugging the ground for warmth and insulation against the cold air. Plants that have had time to grow to maturity are also more likely to survive because they have already established a strong root base, so they can find and retain more nutrients than seedlings and younger plants.
How To Protect Your Plants From Frost And Snow
Even though frost-tolerant plants can withstand a couple of frosts, they need a little extra protection if you want them to survive the whole winter. When temperatures regularly begin dropping to 32 degrees, it’s time to insulate your garden to keep your plants nice and snug. Spread mulch or hay in a thick layer—about 8 inches thick—between rows and around plants. It may seem high, but it will settle within a few days and trap heat in the ground. For plants that grow higher and are subjected to the wind, tarps and sheets can help them stay warm. Be sure to drape them loosely so air can still circulate; you don’t want to choke your garden.
The following are vegetable varieties that can withstand lower temperatures throughout the winter with minimal fuss and protection. Each is resistant up to a certain point before it will need your help to stay warm.