In nature, some wild seeds sleep through the winter before germinating at the first signs of spring. While respecting this natural process is an ancient gardening practice, using containers as mini outdoor greenhouses, you can mimic the growth of wild seeds in nature. This technique has grown in popularity, in part because overwintering seedlings gives cool-season vegetables a head start in the spring harvest. Some seeds germinate at an even higher rate when sown in winter.
How to sow in winter?
You can sow seeds directly into flower beds or start your seeds in containers.
Direct sowing is the simplest method, but your seeds will likely germinate later because the soil will take longer to warm up in the spring. This is why many gardeners choose to start seeds in containers made of everything from plastic pots, toilet paper rolls, egg cartons and then transplanting them in the spring will be enough.
When should I sow my seeds in winter?
By direct sowing, you can sow seeds at any time as long as the ground has thawed enough for the seeds to go into the soil. The seeds will remain dormant until soil temperatures allow them to germinate in the spring. In warmer climates, this is advantageous with crops like leafy greens, which tend to flower once the weather gets too warm.
For containers, in cold climates it is best to plant after the winter solstice, in January or early February. This way, they will still have plenty of time to mimic natural germination conditions. In milder locations, seeds adapted to these climates will not need frost, so your timing can be more flexible.
Here are 9 of the best crops to plant in cool weather.
- 1- Spinach
Spinach, mustard greens, and kale are ultra-hardy greens. Kale actually becomes more tender when it’s cold. Sow them in winter for a spring harvest. In temperate climates, you can also plant them in the fall for winter harvest.
- 2- Swiss chard
Most greens prefer cool weather, making them excellent choices for winter gardens. Swiss chard is a semi-hardy plant, along with kale, arugula, bok choy, escarole, mizuna and radicchio. All can be direct sown or started in containers, with the exception of bok choy, which grows best when transplanted. When collard greens are planted and grown during the winter, the flavor of the leaves improves.
- 3- Carrots
Carrots, as well as turnips and beets, become sweeter when grown in winter, as the plants produce more sugars to avoid frost. Keep the soil sandy and well-drained, as heavy soil will slow the growth of carrots. Everything can be started by direct sowing.
- 4- Radishes
Radishes are a fun cold crop because they are low maintenance and grow quickly. Specific varieties grow in winter, such as daikons, which grow more slowly but come out beautiful and crisp. Sow them directly into sandy, well-drained soil outside.
- 5- Peas
Peas grow well when it is cool and help improve the soil by fixing nitrogen. They need full sun and well-drained soil. They don’t need much fertilizer, but they grow best when a little compost is added to the soil before planting. Plant them outside in late winter and make sure they have a trellis or something else to climb on.
- 6- Broccoli
As with radishes, there are winter varieties of broccoli, such as hardy purple broccoli. Sow in containers over winter, then transplant in spring. Broccoli prefers full direct sunlight for about six to eight hours a day. Although it needs regular watering, broccoli will not grow well in soil that is too wet.
- 7- Onions to boot
Because they grow quickly and tolerate many conditions, grouping onions like green onions make excellent winter seedling crops. They can be sown directly into flower beds for early spring harvesting, or sown and grown in containers for a winter harvest.
- 8 – Leeks
Leeks develop a bolder flavor after a frost or two. Sow them in containers and transplant them in the spring. They are also good for planting in early summer. They are hardy and can stay in the ground through the winter, waiting to be picked for a winter soup or even growing in the snow on a spring day.
- 9 – Cabbages
The most weather-resistant winter cabbage is the curled Savoy cabbage, which becomes brighter once it experiences a frost. They take a while to grow, so start them in containers and transplant them once they have about six leaves.
And you, what do you plant in winter for early crops in spring?