Frost Tolerance in Vegetables

Fall is on the way, and many of us in the northern part of the country have had frost warnings, or will soon. Some gardeners are tired, and happy to let the frost kill the remainder of their garden -  while others are eager to get as much out of their garden as possible. If you fall into the latter category, the following information is a quick run-down to help you to decide how you should proceed with your fall garden.

Light Frost:

At High Mowing we use a floating row cover to protect our frost-sensitive crops.

If you hear that a frost is on the way, even a light one, you should harvest all your “frost-tender” crops such as:

  • cucumbers,
  • peppers,
  • tomatoes,
  • summer squash,
  • eggplant,
  • melons and
  • okra.

If the temperature is not going to go below 30 F, you can cover the above mentioned plants with burlap sacks, buckets, baskets, floating row covers, or blankets supported by stakes. This will allow the immature fruit to ripen in the remaining warm days.

Heavier Frost:

Colder temperatures (26-31F) may burn the foliage of, but will not kill, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, mustard, onion, radish, beets and leeks. In fact, some of these crops, as well as parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and brussels sprouts actually produce the best flavor when they have had a touch of frost!

Overwintering:

For gardeners located in warmer climates, you may find that crops such as spinach, lettuce, parsnips, carrots, parsley, kale and leeks may survive all winter long. To help these plants overwinter, make sure to mulch them. (You can read more about mulching in Winter Mulches for Vegetable Gardens by Barbara Pleasant, or read about a variety of mulches to use from the University of Georgia’s Extension office – Mulching Vegetables.) Most of these vegetables can be harvested throughout the winter.

This entry was posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips, Winter Growing. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Frost Tolerance in Vegetables

  1. always curious about people’s ideas on when one can plant what. for example, i learned the hard way that if you plant carrots too soon in the fall (like right now) they will certainly winterover but unfortunately go to seed in the early spring and one won’t get much.
    so, do you have much information about when to plant spinach in the fall. is it too late to plant spinach for this year, or are we looking at maturity in the early winter?
    and beets and chard, same question.
    i’ve been experimenting with these questions for years, so if anyone there has some good answers, i’d love to know
    and thank you

    • High Mowing Organic Seeds says:

      Hi David,
      The answer depends on where you live. If you live in Vermont or a similar region, mid-September is a great time to start spinach transplants (if you have a hoophouse, coldframe or a layer of thick row cover for winter protection). They are extremely cold-tolerant plants and can do very well as a winter crop, since the leaves get thicker and sweeter with each night below freezing. If you wait to plant, however, the plants will not put on enough growth for a significant harvest before the end of the year. Without protection the plants might survive the winter but would go dormant until spring. In a warmer climate than Vermont you could plant spinach now without protection. Spinach can also be planted as a very early spring crop in February (in the South) or March and April (in the North).
      Beets and chard are also quite hardy and depending on where you live, could be worth trying with protection. Both would need to be seeded right away, however. Eliot Coleman of Harborside, Maine produces baby beets from plants started very early in the spring and then transplanted into an unheated greenhouse with row covers. For more information on growing winter vegetables, I highly recommend his books, particularly the Winter Harvest Handbook.
      -Sophia

  2. Laura says:

    We planted both carrots and spinach at the end of November under quick hoops with plastic and had both in early spring, had to vent both ends on hot days. Took plastic off completely April 1

  3. Alison Low says:

    Someone who has been gardening for years told me that it’s okay to plan onions from seed in the fall. Has anyone done this? Those seeds are so darn tiny, I just can’t imagine it.

    • High Mowing Organic Seeds says:

      Hi Alison,
      Good question! I haven’t heard of planting onions in the fall, probably because they are a fairly long season crop and in our Vermont climate wouldn’t get very big before the snow comes. Onions left in my garden do sometimes survive the winter. What region are you gardening in? In many climates I would imagine it could be done easily. One alternative that I know does work well in Vermont is scallions. They grow rapidly in cool weather and can then be overwintered and harvested into the spring – by spring they are almost as big as leeks and really delicious. You could try an experiment – plant some of each, and see what happens!
      - Sophia

  4. Pingback: Brassicas Rule! A Fall Planting Guide | High Mowing Organic Seeds' Blog – The Seed Hopper

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