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Fall and Winter Veggie Gardening in the South
by John Tullock

As of August 1, gardeners in the South that experience cold winters have from 90 to 120 days before they can expect a hard freeze. That is plenty of time to bring in a crop of many cold-tolerant vegetables. While exact planting dates will vary depending upon your climate zone, here are some general guidelines for successfully growing cool-season veggies.


“October” beans are traditional in many parts of the South. Mayo Seed Company says the variety typically grown for late picking is ‘Dwarf Horticultural’, a half-runner type with brown seeds. Half-runners usually do best with a small trellis for support, but they never get as tall as pole beans. Bush bean cultivars mature in about 60 days, a little longer for half-runners. Therefore, planting any of them before the middle of August assures a harvest in the Upper South.


When they mature during cool weather, beets are tastier. They mature in about two months and can take a light frost without losing quality. Even after a frost, the tops remain edible.


Not only do carrots grow best if planted in summer for fall harvest, but they can be left in the ground throughout the winter for harvesting as needed.

Cole Crops

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi all grow best during cold weather. Start seeds in July or August, or purchase transplants in August or September. Some cultivars of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower have been bred for fall production and those should be used rather than the ones intended for spring cultivation. Other varieties are intended for overwintering for an extra-early crop the following spring. Make sure you choose appropriately, or you may be disappointed. Kale and kohlrabi are easy to grow members of this clan. Direct-seed either one in August or September and harvest well into the winter. 'Lacinato' kale (also known as dinosaur kale) keeps on growing right through the coldest weather.

Carrots are an excellent cool-season vegetable that enjoy soft, well-amended soils. Hard red clay soil will stunt the carrots growth.

Fresh broccoli is great for Thanksgiving.

'Lacinato' kale, also known as dinosaur kale.


Seeds started in August will be ready to transplant in early October. Most cultivars can be left in the ground all winter if you hill up soil around them. Harvest baby leeks for Thanksgiving and leave the rest to mature for a spring crop.


As a rule of thumb, select looseleaf and butterhead lettuce varieties for cool-weather culture. Red lettuces and those with frilly, savoyed leaves are more cold tolerant than other types. Try several new cultivars to identify those that perform best in your garden. There are hundreds to select from.


Also called lamb’s lettuce, this tender, dark green salad crop is amazingly cold tolerant. Direct-seed beginning in September and enjoy the crop throughout the fall and winter months. Thinning is the key to a decent harvest. Transplant thinned-out seedlings for a later crop. Plants should stand about 6 inches apart and will be ready to pick when they are as big as a softball.

'Buttercrunch' lettuce

Mâche has an slightly sweet, nutty flavor.


Asian mustards, in particular, are well suited to cool weather cultivation in the South. Bok choy should be started in cell trays and moved into the garden after Labor Day. It will be ready to pick in just over a month. Similarly, mizuna, tatsoi and the various European mustards will all yield a fall crop about 40 days from seeding.


Green onions will grow all winter throughout the South, and can be planted any time after the first of August. In the Deep South, sweet onions are typically fall planted for harvest the following June.


From germination, peas will begin to bear in about two months. Start them early, as the pods can be damaged by a severe frost. Otherwise, the plants are cold tolerant. When the weather threatens to wipe out the crop, harvest the last 8 inches of stems with leaves and use them in stir-fries. These “pea shoots” are esteemed in Asian cooking.

Pea sprouts

Cabbage and onions are perfect companion plants. Both grow better when planted closely together. The onions help repel insect pests from the cabbage.

The Asian green tatsoi features beautiful spoon-shaped leaves, with a strong mustard bite. Some gardeners grow tatsoi for its handsome appearance alone.

The small size of baby bok choy varieties helps them mature quickly, in only five to six weeks. 


Because they only require a month to mature, radishes can be planted in succession throughout fall. Cool weather keeps them from turning hot, like they often do in spring.


Among the most cold-tolerant greens, spinach leaves can be harvested in fall and the plants left in the ground to provide an early spring crop. Look for ‘Winter Bloomsdale’ for the best performance, but don’t hesitate to try any variety you find.


Another good crop when you are in a hurry, turnips will yield greens in a month and roots in about six weeks. Fall plantings should be made after Labor Day in most of the South. The roots are sweetest when less than 2 inches in diameter.

Turnip greens are always best when young and tender. Thinning crowded plants will help those left behind grow bigger roots.

Spinach and lettuce growing in the cool-season garden.

This wide array of vegetables can provide food for the fall table throughout the south central portion of the U.S. If you have a simple cold frame, you can extend the harvest right through the winter, even as far north as Zone 5. Take advantage of our mild, sunny autumn days with their crisp evenings and start a fall garden this month!

A cold frame can be as simple as this one (left) – stacked hay bales with repurposed windows, or purchased already made, as elaborate as you wish! (right)

Photos courtesy of John Tullock

Posted July 2013


Lifelong gardener John Tullock is the author of Pay Dirt: How to Make $10,000 a Year From Your Backyard Garden and a dozen other books on gardening, fish, aquariums and ponds. He lives in Powell. John Tullock’s blog, The Permanent Gardener, is updated weekly at



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