Cold Hardy Plants: Grow Edible Fresh Greens Year-Round

For fresh greens in the winter, grow cold-hardy plants using these season-extending gardening techniques.

| August/September 2006

Fresh greens of all kinds are a year-round staple in my family’s kitchen. We have learned to transform the traditional “lean time” of the coldest months into a time of abundance by growing hardy and semihardy greens adapted to each season and using season-extending techniques in winter and early spring. Try these techniques and you’ll be thrilled the first time you pick a fresh, crisp salad right from your back yard — in the middle of January.

Our most reliable cold-hardy plants are those that have had at least one season to develop extensive root systems. Regardless of your location, these “naturals” — cooking greens and salad plants that naturally overwinter — will always be your best performers. The naturals usually can survive winter on their own with no protection in our Zone 6 region in the mountains of North Carolina, and they are vigorous early producers. In colder zones, you can use the protection techniques described below and enjoy cooked greens and fresh salads prepared from a variety of tasty and nutritious greens all winter long.

You may already be familiar with many of the stalwarts of winter gardens:

  • kale (‘Winterbor’ hybrid is among the hardiest)
  • collards
  • spinach (‘Space’ and ‘Hector’ thrive even in cold climates)
  • winter-hardy lettuces (‘Tango’ and ‘Brune d’Hiver’ are excellent choices for winter gardens)
  • salad brassicas, such as tatsoi and rape

In addition, there are two other categories of cold-loving naturals:

Self-seeding annuals that will return from year to year: 

  • arugula
  • giant red mustard
  • mâche or corn salad (‘Piedmont’ and other large-leaf varieties produce the most greens per plant)
  • claytonia, aka miners lettuce (needs a little protection)

Perennial greens:
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