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GardenSMART :: Greens to Grow in the Dead of Winter

Greens to Grow in the Dead of Winter

By Shannon McCabe, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/
Photographs courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

The winter gardening landscape varies greatly by region. For southern growers, winter is the time to sow, grow and reap abundant harvests of cool weather-loving crops that otherwise wither in the hot, humid springs and summers of the south. For gardeners in the central and northern parts of the country, winter usually means giving the green thumb a rest. However, some clever gardeners see winter as a fun challenge, and they dare to push the boundaries of climate in pursuit of fresh produce even in the most bitterly cold months.

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Whether you live in a mild winter climate or you are a northern grower employing season extension techniques such as cold frames, hoop houses or row covers, your choices for winter greens will be fairly similar. The best winter greens are varieties that can germinate and grow in cool weather and in the face of shorter day length, as days are shorter in the north in the winter. Here are Baker Creek's top cold-hardy greens, perfect for your winter garden.

Mache: One of the most cold-hardy greens known, the seeds will germinate in temperatures as low as 40° F. The flavor is like spinach but more mild and nutty and the texture is buttery soft. This is one of the most refined winter greens! Be aware that seeds germinate best between 40°-70° F. and warm temperatures will cause plants to suffer, so mache is best for northern and cool winter climates!

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Kale: Everyone's favorite superfood also boasts impressive cold tolerance. Kale will germinate in soil that is as cool as 40° F. and the established plants are hardy down to 10° F. Kale is also noted for its improved flavor as the weather gets cooler and the caterpillars, which are usually a pest of all cabbage family members, typically die off in winter, leaving you an abundant, bug free harvest of sweet leaves! Try Scarlet kale or Blue Curled Scotch for the most cold-hardy types. Southern gardeners should try tronchuda, a Portuguese type that is more heat tolerant than others and will withstand those unexpected winter heat spells better than other types.

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Asian Greens: There is an incredible diversity of Asian greens from which to choose, from deep green rosettes of tatsoi to the piquant leaves of mizuna. Regardless of your choice, you can expect cold tolerance and impressive depth of flavor from any Asian greens that you choose. Mizuna is a perfect choice for those cold winter gardens as it will germinate in temps as low as 40° F.

Take note: Pac choy and bok choy may prematurely bolt if young plants are exposed to frost or temperatures below 50° for long periods of time, so it is best for warmer winter climates and greenhouses.

Remember that plants will tend to grow a bit slower in winter than during the summer months. Also many gardeners find that plants do not demand nearly as much water as in the summertime, but this can vary depending on your specific location!


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