9 Veggies That Can Survive The Winter—And How To Protect Them From Snow

With a little care and attention, these veggies can last through the cold—and even flourish.

October 17, 2017
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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.)

Related: This DIY Cold Frame Keeps Frost At Bay

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.

Related: 7 Sure Signs That Frost Is Coming—Brace Yourself

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.

leeks in snow
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Leeks

Leeks can handle hard freezes, which means they can reside in most hardiness zones. Some of the most resilient plants a gardener can grow, leeks aren’t sensitive to day-length adjustments so short winter days don’t adversely affect their growth.

Recommended frost-tolerant varieties:
Blue de Solaise
Bandit

Related: Lengthen Your Growing Season With Cold Frames

spinach with frost
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Spinach

Some tough varieties of spinach are capable of weathering conditions found in zone 6 without assistance, though they will grow slowly over winter. In fact, they can even survive temperatures as low as zero degrees, though they will lose their visual appeal. Covering the plants with some light fabric for insulation will help them look more edible.

Recommended frost-tolerant varieties:
Winter Bloomsdale
Tyee

Related: Plant Spinach This Fall So It’s Ready To Eat In Early Spring

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Carrots

Carrots rely on the large amount of sugar they contain to survive the cold months. It works as an organic ‘anti-freeze’ which keeps the roots safe from damage. The tops can survive temperatures around 18 degrees, but the hardy roots can handle even colder temperatures. If you are planting in zones 5 or colder, you will want to add some mulch for further protection.

Recommended frost-tolerant varieties:
Scarlet Nantes
Autumn King

Related: How To Plan And Protect Your Fall Vegetable Garden

turnip harvest
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Turnips

Turnips’ flavor actually improves when grown during the cold months. They lose their spiciness as they accumulate sugar to protect themselves, resulting in a sweeter, delicious taste that differs from standard flavors. However, turnips are slightly more temperamental than the other frost-tolerant vegetables, and could pose a fun challenge. Our recommended variety, Golden Globe, is a good choice for cold weather due to its thick skin and lower ground root-production. They can survive light snow and frost, but will need to be protected as the winter wears on in colder zones.

Recommended frost-tolerant variety:
Golden Globe

Related: 9 Things You Should Be Doing To Clean Your Fall Garden In Preparation For Winter

collard greens with frost
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Other green veggies

Many textured green veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and collard greens are also tough enough to withstand cold temperatures with some protection.

Recommended frost-tolerant varieties:
Brussels Sprouts: Long Island Improved Brussel Sprouts
Cabbage: Red Express Cabbage or Early Jersey Wakefield
Broccoli: Calabrese Green Sprouting Broccoli
Collards: Roughwood Improved Green Glaze Collards

Bryan Traficante is a gardener and co-founder of GardenInMinutes, a gardening company focused on reducing the time and effort normally associated with starting a garden. They make innovative modular raised garden beds with built-in watering systems and provide time-saving gardening tips and practical growing advice on their website. Additional reporting by Wiley Geren.