10 Hardy Winter Vegetables You Can Grow In Pots
For most folks, gardening is a seasonal activity. We get our seed catalogs in the mail in December, and we spend the winter planning for our spring and summer gardens. But there’s an additional six months that you can utilize to feed yourself and your family, and you don’t have to be a Master Gardener to succeed. Unless you live in the Rocky Mountains or interior Alaska, your fall garden has a pretty good chance of surviving the colder months.
Of all the cold-tolerant vegetables, kale, Dutch vit, komatsuna, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, leek, carrot, rutabaga, parsley, and Windsor bean are ten species that have been known to keep on producing right through winter, in even the coldest hardiness zones.
Keep reading for our favorite varieties for winter container gardening, plus a few tips on how to protect your plants from deep freezes and prolonged cold weather.
10 container-friendly, frost-tolerant vegetables
Greens, stems, roots, and legumes tend to be the most cold-hardy of all the cool-season vegetables. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these are some of our favorite varieties of the hardiest, most delicious vegetables.
Not only does kale survive in frigid temperatures, but the leafy vegetable actually gets sweeter with each frost. Cool-season vegetables have a trick up their sleeves when temperatures drop–plants convert a season’s worth of starches into sugars, which prevent the plants from freezing. When we go to harvest these leafy greens, we reap the benefits.Kale has a reputation for being a nutritional powerhouse, and for good reason. To be such a low-calorie food, kale is rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients. Plus, kale is a low-maintenance plant that doesn’t require much extra care other than partial sun and the occasional watering, so there’s no good reason you shouldn’t grow kale in your container garden this winter! Darkibor and Prizm are two of our favorite hybrids bred for colder weather and tight spaces.
Hardy greens like Chicory, Arugula, and Mustard are no strangers to the serious off-season grower, and no container garden is complete without a mixed bed of these salad greens. But there’s another, more elusive leafy green that puts even these winter garden mainstays to shame.
You might know it as lamb’s lettuce, miner’s lettuce, corn salad, winter purslane, or mache, but one thing’s for certain–Dutch vit will still be growing when hell freezes over. The succulent-stemmed spreading plant is hardy down to 0℉, and the dark green, oblong leaves have a distinctive nutty flavor. A cut-and-come-again vegetable, Dutch vit bounces back from each harvest with more tender shoots, so you’ll always have fresh salad greens.
Asian greens are getting more and more publicity, but komatsuna is still an underrepresented vegetable in American gardens. The cruciferous vegetable is kin to kale and collards, but is significantly hardier, surviving deep freezes down to 10℉ or -12℃. You might know komatsuna by its more common name, Japanese Mustard Spinach–owing to a flavor profile reminiscent of these two greens.
Harvest baby komatsuna leaves for salads–the sweet and slightly spicy leaves complement other greens nicely. Komatsuna matures 35 days from sowing, producing leaves at least a foot across that can be prepared any way you would cook spinach.
When growing komatsuna in containers, pay careful attention to soil moisture–like other cool-season leaf vegetables, komatsuna prefers to stay moist. A cut-and-come-again vegetable, one planting of komatsuna will keep you fed up until the hottest weeks of late summer, at which point you can sow another round for fall and winter harvests.
If your childhood was scarred with plate after plate of bland Brussels sprouts, we invite you to try again with one of our flavorful heirloom cultivars. Catskills Brussels Sprouts and Long Island Improved are both staff favorites for their compact, container-friendly stature paired with prolific harvests.
Though you may want to harvest head broccoli before a deep freeze, the stems will produce harvestable side shoots throughout winter. Add broccoli florets to salads or stir-fries, or roast the florets with other root vegetables. Waltham 29 is one heirloom known for its superior cold resistance, and Castle Dome is a hybrid variety that also thrives in cooler temperatures.
There’s nothing more comforting than potato leek soup in early winter. It’s an easy meal with just a few ingredients, some of which you can pull right out of your garden! Though not the most popular member of the allium family, leeks are just as aromatic and flavorful–and tolerate freezing temps a little better than onions.
Leeks take a relatively long time to mature, but their hardiness means that you can start seedlings early and late and still count on an abundant harvest. You can’t go wrong with either Large American Flag or Dawn Giant, though the latter matures a little earlier than the former.
You can direct sow leek seeds in a container with soil, but only fill the container part way full, leaving at least six inches from the top bare, so that you can add soil to the container as the leeks grow. Alternatively, you can start leek seeds indoors and transplant the seedlings into a container later. Bury leek seedlings at least six inches deep to produce the white, straight shafts that are typical of leeks.
Everyone’s favorite vegetable is a perfect candidate for winter container gardening. Carrot tops are extremely cold tolerant–down to 20℉–and the roots are even hardier. Carrots are one vegetable that doesn’t need to be lifted before a freeze–frosts tend to make carrots taste even sweeter as the plant converts more starches to sugars. The best place to store carrots in winter is in the ground.
Yet another vegetable on this list that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, rutabagas are a delicious root vegetable with a high tolerance for cold weather and freezing temperatures. Similar to cabbage in taste and turnip in growth habit, rutabagas take longer to mature, but the extra time allows the plants to better withstand winter weather.
Like other vegetables in the Brassica plant family, the flavor of rutabagas improves with frost, as the plant stores more sugars in its bulbous root. Laurentian is an improved version of American Purple Top, but both varieties are excellent varieties for storage.
Parsley is an underrated herb and an excellent compliment to winter soups and stews. This superfood is packed with essential vitamins and minerals–keep it close so you’ll be inspired to use the peppery herb more often. Moss Curled is a little hardier than Italian Plain Leaf, but both varieties are known to keep on growing through snow and ice. Harvest parsley in moderation through the winter, as the stems won’t grow quite as quickly as they do in the warmer months.
Bet you didn’t know that some beans are cold tolerant, did you? Windsor Bean, an heirloom fava bean variety, can be overwintered in zone 8b and warmer, if grown in containers. Growers in zone 8a can bring the containers inside for the winter. Growers in colder regions will need to seed Windsor beans indoors in late winter, and move the container outside after the weather warms. Be sure to choose a location that receives adequate sunlight, and stake the plant as it grows–although Windsor bean is a bush bean, support will protect the plant from damage.
Pick the seedpods between two and three inches for snap beans, or allow the seedpods to mature to six or seven inches for shell beans. Mature Windsor Bean seedpods are meaty, containing buff-colored beans that have an earthy, nutty flavor.
Tips for cultivating cool-season vegetables in containers
Keeping plants alive during the winter months looks just a little bit different than summer gardening.
Choose the right containers for winter gardening
Growing winter-hardy vegetables isn’t as simple as throwing seeds in any pot and calling it good. The size of a planter and the material it’s made from are important considerations in any container garden, but none more so than in the colder months.
While we love terracotta and ceramic pots, they aren’t the best option for winter gardening. Clay is prone to crack during freeze/thaw cycles–so stick to metal, wood, and concrete planters. Fiberglass and resin containers also hold up well, as do the more durable types of plastic.
Make sure to pot up your plants in a pot that’s big enough to accommodate their mature size–and bigger pots mean more soil, which helps to insulate plant roots from fluctuating temperatures.
If you can, elevate your planters off of the ground to prevent the containers from freezing to the ground or your patio.
Protect plants from deep freezes
Protect tender plants from frost damage by watering plants the evening before a deep freeze. While it may seem counterintuitive to water already cold plants with frigid water, the water actually protects the plants from freezing by keeping them a few degrees warmer than the surrounding air.
Floating row cover goes a long way in protecting even the most cold-tolerant plants from severe drops in temperature. When used correctly, row cover adds five degrees of warmth underneath the fabric, which could spell the difference between one or more harvests.
The best thing about growing cold-hardy plants in pots? You can always bring your pots inside if you expect prolonged freezing temperatures or particularly nasty weather.
The first frost doesn’t have to signal the end of your growing season. Keep yourself and your family stocked in fresh food all winter long with these 10 container-friendly, cold-hardy vegetables. Keeping cool-season plants alive through the winter is easier than you think!