Cold-tolerant Greens for Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardens

cold-tolerant greens tatsoi

Tatsoi is one cold-tolerant green that can be grown in fall and winter vegetable gardens.

Niki Jabbour, who grows vegetables and fruits year-round at her home in Nova Scotia, offers these suggestions for cold-tolerant greens to grow in fall and winter:

For me, one of the most important tasks in September and October is sowing the seed of cold-hardy, quick-growing greens. These crops will overwinter in cold frames and beneath mini hoop tunnels for late winter harvesting. The process is easy; prepare the soil for planting, sow seed and cover when the autumn weather turns cold. By late February, the plants should be large enough for the harvest to begin.

It’s been about a decade since I first started to experiment with fall and winter vegetable gardening. It all happened rather by accident when I discovered that my late-summer patch of arugula just wouldn’t give up—even after it was buried beneath a few inches of snow in early November. I soon began a quest to discover other crops that could withstand the diminished light and frigid temperatures of late fall and winter.

The search led me to Asian greens, a diverse group of salad crops that offer excellent cold tolerance as well as an intriguing array of leaf shapes, textures, colors and flavors. I filled my cold frames with bold blocks of bok choy, mizuna, mustard and tatsoi, impressed by their quick growth and hardiness. Like most salad crops, Asian greens appreciate a sunny site with fertile, moist soil. I like to broadcast the seed in blocks, but they can also be sown in tidy rows.

Tatsoi (shown) is a low-growing green with deep green, spoon-shaped foliage that forms pretty rosettes in the garden. It laughs off winter, thriving in the shelter of a simple cold frame. Use the young leaves in salads, or let the plants mature and add them to stir-fries or Asian-style soups.

A member of the mustard family, mizuna produces delicate-looking but robust frilly leaves in green or green tinged with purple. It’s very easy to grow and extremely frost tolerant. It tastes a bit peppery, but it’s mild and sweet compared to other greens.

Mustard, meanwhile, tastes quite hot, but it grows well in the cold weather of late autumn and winter. Favorites include ‘Green Wave’, which has bright green leaves with attractive curled leaf edges, and ‘Ruby Streaks’, a bi-colored mustard with maroon and green foliage. The leaves are extremely serrated, the leaves adding texture as well as color and, of course, flavor to the salad bowl.

Fun jen (pronounced foon yen) is a superstar in our autumn garden, offering an extended harvest of homegrown greens that persists into winter if it’s sheltered in a mini hoop tunnel or cold frame. While fun jen is a looseleaf Chinese cabbage, you’d be forgiven if you mistook its frilly rosettes for leaf lettuce. Its mild flavor and crisp texture mimic resemble lettuce, too. Because it’s such an attractive plant, fun jen plays well in edible landscaping, tucked into flowerbeds and borders. I’ve also had great success growing it in window boxes and large pots on our deck. A quick grower, it offers baby greens ready to harvest just 35 days from sowing. Its seed can be sown directly in the garden four to six weeks before the expected first fall frost, or sown indoors under grow lights for a head start. As the plants mature, the white leaf stems thicken; they are delicious chopped into stir-fries or sautéed with garlic, ginger and soy sauce for a tasty side dish. The large leaves can also be used as wraps for sandwiches or spring rolls.

Find year-round gardening expert Niki Jabbour at savvygardening.com.

Image credit: TOHRU MINOWA / Getty Images

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