Though we tend to regard summer as the heyday for growing vegetables, cool-season crops in the spring and fall can be just as rewarding. The cool daytime temperatures and occasional light frost yield the sweetest, crispest, most flavorful vegetables around—stretching the summer bounty into an almost year-round smorgasbord.
Whether you want to get a head start on planting in the spring or extend your gardening season in the fall, cool-season vegetables are the perfect solution.
Knowing When to Plant
- Cool-season vegetables thrive when daytime temperatures average between 65°- 80° F, with nighttime temperatures staying above 40° F. Spring and fall (and winter in some areas) provide perfect conditions for these crops.
- Most cool-season vegetables can tolerate a light frost and are generally planted 2-4 weeks before your last frost date in the spring.
- Since hot temperatures make these vegetables bitter, or cause them to go to seed, plan your growing seasons to avoid harvesting when the temperatures climb above 80° F.
- If you shop carefully, you can buy seeds or plants with detailed information about germination, proper planting times, and maturity for that particular variety. Armed with this information, and your average first and last frost dates, you can plan your fall and spring harvests for just the right time.
- If you live where the summers are cool, you can plant successive crops and harvest straight through until the first heavy freeze in the fall. If your summers are hot, follow up your cool-season crops with a summertime planting of warm-season veggies such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.
Top 10 Easy to Grow Cool-Season Vegetables
Check out our top 10 most popular cool-season vegetables, with tips on how to grow them in your spring or fall garden.
Cool-Season Vegetable #1: Asparagus
Asparagus is a hardy, perennial vegetable that, once established, can produce crops for years. Most easily grown from year-old dormant roots, known as “crowns,” which should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in early spring while crowns are still dormant.
Be patient with asparagus, since it can take several years to become established. Plan on no harvest the first year, a very light crop (2-4 week season) the second year, and a full (6-8 week season) harvest on the third year.
Cool-Season Vegetable #2: Beets
Beets are best grown from seed planted a month before the last frost. Soil should be well-drained, rich, and aerated so it’s light, fluffy, and free of stones. Successive crops of beets can be planted all season long if temperatures are under 80° F.
Begin harvesting beets when they are 1″ in diameter, and the greens at any time. Fall plantings of beets can be left in the ground and harvested as needed until the soil freezes. Radishes and turnips are more frost tolerant than beets and parsnips.
Cool-Season Vegetable #3: Broccoli
Broccoli is very cold hardy but will quickly “bolt” (go to seed) in hotter temperatures. It is most easily grown from transplanted seedlings set out about a month before the last frost in spring, or about two months before the first frost of fall.
Different varieties have different maturation rates, so choose a variety likely to mature before the weather gets too hot in your area. Cauliflower is grown in a similar fashion but is both more heat and cold sensitive than broccoli and does best in the fall.
Read our article on How to Grow Broccoli to find out more.
Cool-Season Vegetable #4: Cabbage
Cabbage likes rich soil with plenty of compost to feed the tender, tasty leaves. While cabbage can tolerate a light frost, it can go to seed if exposed to temperatures below 40° F for long periods of time.
Plant seedlings about a month before the last frost in the spring, and continue planting and harvesting as long as temperatures stay between about 40° and 70° F. When you plant your cabbage, don’t forget to add in some kale, Swiss chard, and kohlrabi for good measure.
Read our article on How to Grow Cabbage to find out more.
Cool-Season Vegetable #5: Carrots
Like beets, carrots need well-aerated, well-drained soil with no competition from weeds or other plants. Clay soil should be amended with lots of organic matter, but don’t use non-composted manure or fertilizers that are high in nitrogen. Keep the soil free of rocks to ensure well-shaped carrots, and protect from a hard freeze.
Plant carrot seeds about 2-3 weeks before your last frost date in the spring. As you thin your carrot seedlings, enjoy the baby carrots in salads.