Seasonal Articles

Top 10 Great Overwintering Vegetables

Brussels sprouts in winter snowWe always get loads of calls in August / September looking for overwintering vegetable seedlings. Of course I’m delighted as we do a great range of vegetables for autumn planting from our online nursery but I often think many novice gardeners have unrealistic expectations from overwinter planting.

When temperatures drop and the soil cools below 5 degrees celsius in November there won’t be any growth until March / April the following Spring. As little or no growth occurs in mid winter it’s all about either planting in Autumn to harvest in winter or planting to harvest the following Spring.

Beginner vegetable gardeners may not realise that although brussels sprouts, leeks and parsnips are traditionally Winter vegetables they are actually sown much earlier in the year. Fear not though, there are still plenty of vegetables to grow, I’ve listed my personal top 10 below but you can view our full range of our vegetables to sow in Autumn in our vegetable seedling section here.

Autumn / Winter Vegetables
August and September are still very productive months in the vegetable garden with growth slowing considerably in October only to grind pretty much to a halt in November. Unless you have a greenhouse or polytunnel (which I’d highly recommend) once the Winter sets in there won’t be any growth outside with short days and cold temperatures.

There are really 3 main groups of autumn winter vegetables and it’s handy to understand the plan here and the plants which fall into the three groups:

Annual spinachAutumn Vegetables
The idea with Autumn vegetables is to plant quick growing crops that are ready to harvest before growth stops around mid November. Autumn garden plants like quick growing turnips, salads, spinach and radish can be planted in August/September and will provide a worthwhile crop and are handy to make use of otherwise bare ground following a previous harvest.

Autumn Planted Overwintering Vegetables
Overwintering vegetables are planted in the early Autumn and will spend the Winter dormant in the ground to (hopefully) spring back into life when temperatures increase again in March and April. Crops in this category include Spring Cabbage, Autumn planted garlic, Autumn onion sets and Swiss Chard. You can also overwinter broad beans and peas for a crop about a month before your neighbours if you are of an impatient disposition.

Spring Planted Overwintering Vegetables
Spring planted overwinter vegetables tend to be the ones everyone thinks of as and the ones novice growers usually get caught out on. These crops have a long growing season and are ready in the winter months but require a bit of forward planning to have them ready in time. Sprouts, for example will need to be sown before the end of April to ensure you can force feed them to your family and friends at Christmas time while the latest you can sow leeks is mid June though you probably don’t think of them until the Autumn.

My top 10 below refers Autumn Vegetables and Autumn planted overwintering vegetables, we’ll deal with (and remind you if you follow us on facebook) the Spring planted varieties in a later post.

My Top 10 Vegetables to Grow Over Winter

Garlic provence wightGarlic – Overwinter
Growing garlic is really very easy, just plant the a clove in the ground and without much intervention you should end up with a full bulb the following Autumn. A garlic plant needs a period of about 6 weeks of temperatures below 10 degrees celsius for the clove to multiply to form a bulb which is why it’s perfect to plant in the Autumn.

Planting garlic is best done from Autumn to early Spring with the Autumn planted cloves having a better yield. If you live in areas of high rainfall (who doesn’t?) raised beds are recommend or delay planting until Spring.

We love our garlic here and stock a number of varieties suitable for Autumn planting, you can view our garlic and onion section here.

Spring cabbageSpring Cabbage – Overwinter
Spring Cabbage plants are planted in the autumn for a harvest of tasty conical shaped heads the following spring. Spring cabbage is sown in July to mid August and overwintered till the following Spring. Keep and eye out for slugs in a mild winter as although slug activity will be reduced in the winter they can still wipe out your new seedlings.

Sowing indoors in modular trays is most successful with 4 week old spring cabbage plants planted out 3-4 weeks later. Sow 1 seed per module at about 1.5cm deep and water well. If you’ve missed the sowing date you can access of Autumn / Winter seedling ‘plants by post’ here.

Broad beans close upBroad Beans – Overwinter
Broad beans can be planted in the Autumn or the Spring depending on the variety. We find Aquadulce Claudia to be the best for Autumn planting and can sown from September until early November for harvesting a month earlier than a Spring sown crop.
Another advantage of sowing Winter broad beans is the plants protect the soil that would normally be exposed to wet Winter weather in the same manner as green manures.
Sow directly in drills 5cm deep at a spacing of 15cm between plants and 45cm between rows. You can also sow indoors in modular trays, planting broad beans out 3 weeks later. It’s also worth staking your plants as they can be buffeted about in Winter winds. Place stakes about a metre apart and join with twine to create a bean support frame as per image.

Italian kaleKale – Overwinter
Kale is a bit of an underrated plant as it’s very easy to grow, highly nutritious and, if cooked properly (stir fry with lemon and tahini), a delicious vegetable. It is a tough customer and can easily survive the harshest Winter. If your plants are large enough you will get some useful winter greens but the main reward is when your kale plants get back into action in spring when there is little else in the garden. Growing kale is relatively trouble free

Grow kale in modular trays as they seem to do much better than direct sown plants. Sow 1 seed per cell 2cm deep but make sure they are planted out before the roots become restricted and pot bound. Kale should be sown by the end of June for planting out 3 weeks later. Don’t worry if you’ve missed the sowing date as we have kale plants available in our winter seedling range.

You can view our How to Grow Kale video here.

Bright red stems of Rhubarb chardChard / Perpetual Spinach – Overwinter
Chard is one of my favourite overwintering vegetables especially in the polytunnel where you can get a surprisingly long season. Growing chard is easy as it suffers from very few pests and diseases while producing new leaves as you pick them. Even outside chard will survive a cold winter and like kale will be one of the earliest sources of spring greens in your garden.

Some people are put off by the slightly bitter aftertaste of chard or perpetual spinach but this is where Autumn and overwinter planting are an advantage as chard is less bitter in the cooler months of the year.

Sow chard seeds 1 seed per cell in modular trays for planting out 3-4 weeks later. Chard seeds are actually clusters 3 or 4 seeds so any surplus seedlings that appear in each module will need to be weeded out to leave the strongest seedling.

You can have a look at our  How to Grow Swiss Chard and perpetual spinach video here.

Kohl rabiKohl Rabi – Autumn Vegetables
Kohl Rabi is what Klaus Laitenberger calls the ‘Queen of Vegetables’, it’s relatively unknown in Ireland but produces a fresh, slightly nutty tasting bulbous stem. It’s relatively quick growing so makes it a good choice for an Autumn vegetables as long as you get your seedling plants planted in early August. If conditions go your way in Autumn you can get a very worthwhile crop outside while growing inside in a tunnel is ideal.

Sow Kohl Rabi in modular trays, 1 seed per module at approx 1.5 cm deep. Plant out 3-4 weeks later at a spacing of 30cm between plants and 30cm between rows.

You can have a look at our  How to Grow Kohl Rabi video here.

Turnip tokyo crossTurnip – Autumn Vegetables
When I say turnip here I’m talking about white turnip rather than swede turnip. If you choose a quick growing variety like speedy Tokyo cross you can get an excellent harvest of clean white roots before the Winter. Growing turnips is quick, easy and relatively trouble free and is a perfect follow on crop when any beds are left bare. Turnips make a delicious gratin baked with milk, cream, salt and pepper and topped with a little gruyere cheese, fantastic as the nights are drawing in!

I like to sow them in modular trays as I’ve got into the habit of sowing nearly everything that way but they are reliable and quick to germinate so perfect for sowing direct if you wish. Sow 1 seed per cell 1.5cm deep in modular trays or outside in drills 2cm deep at 10cm intervals. Thin drill sown crops to 25cm between turnip plants with a spacing of 30cm between rows.

Radish short top forcingRadish – Autumn Vegetables
Radishes are so quick to mature, you can harvest roots from about 4 weeks after sowing which makes growing radish perfect for the last dash before the winter. I’ll have to admit I was never a huge fan but have developed a bit of a taste for them by munching the little rosy ‘Short top forcing’ we grow in our Quickcrop seedling trays. The trick is to get them quick while still small for a lovely fresh peppery bite.

You can also sow Winter radishes like ‘Black Spanish Round’ which are sown in July or August for harvesting in October. They store well in boxes of sand or in a plastic bag at the bottom of the fridge. Winter radishes are slower growing and larger than the Summer varieties but are suitable for roasting or sauteing while smaller summer radishes are not.

Seed is best sown direct at about 2o cm between radish plants in rows 15 cm apart.

Autumn planted onion radarOnion and Spring Onion
While we usually sow our onion seed or plant our onion sets in Spring there are still possibilities here for Autumn sowing. Growing onions from sets in Autumn results in an earlier harvest the following year but are not recommended if your garden is prone to water logging in Winter. Plant onion sets like Radar or Senshui yellow in Sept/Oct for harvesting in May.

Spring Onions can be sown until early August, later if you have polytunnel and will give you a good crop of crunchy onions. Most people sow weedy white lisbon which are my pet hate, try ishikura bunching instead for sure fire success.

Sow in modules with 8-10 seeds per module, plant each module at a spacing of 25 cm between bunches and 30cm between rows. When harvesting just pull up the whole bunch, cut all the ends to the same length and put a blue rubber band around them to pretend you bought them in a shop.

Oriental slad mixOriental Salads
In my opinion the real stars of the Autumn/Winter show are the Oriental salads because they grow much more successfully in cooler temperatures and are far less likely to bolt and run to seed than Summer sown plants. Orientals tend to be frost hardy and while they don’t enjoy being frozen they certainly tolerate it well. You need to have sown them by mid September to get a decent size plant by the time growth slows dramatically from November onwards.

You are in for a real treat with varieties like mustard golden frills and ruby streaks which has to be one of the tastiest salad leaves around and pretty much impossible to grow in the Summer. There are a huge range of oriental salads available as seeds from the Vegetable Seed Co. or a range of our favourite varieties as seedling plants. We’ve all tried rocket but have a go at prolific ‘mizuna’ and ‘mibuna’, tasty mustards including the hot and spicy ‘Green in the Snow’. Add bags of colour and flavour to your plate with these excellent end of year crops.

Vegetable seedling stuff

  1. Pete's Kitchen Garden

    Very useful article, I’ve been growing veg for a few years but other than Kale and Garlic I haven’t done much overwinter growing and I’m looking to start doing so. Appreciating the blue rubber band joke 🙂

    1. admin

      Hi Pete.
      Thank you for getting in touch. I am glad you found out article useful, let me know if you need any more information. Also glad you appreciate my attempts at humour.
      All the best


  2. Di


    My sprouts were doing great in my green house so I planted them outside.

    We have had really low temperatures & they have now fell over & the compost is frozen, will they recover?

    1. Andrew

      Hi Di
      When you say sprouts, are we taking about brussels sprouts? If they are mature brussels sprouts plants that you dug up and removed then I would say no, they are unlikely to recover. If you have freezing temperatures it is too cold to plant anything outside.
      I hope this helps.

  3. Rehana

    I was extra eager this year and sowed my peas far too early, mid February, indoors. They’re now almost 6-8 inches tall and have outgrown their modules. Should I plant them out now and will I get an earlier crop or is it too cod for them? I’m in West Yorkshire.
    Would it be a better idea to plant them straight into my greenhouse? I have a large greenhouse at my allotment so I could probably grow them in the ground before I sow my tomatoes and chillies.
    What would you suggest please?

    1. Andrew

      Hi Rehana
      It depends what the weather is like but early March would still be early even with an unusually warm Spring. This year has been very cold obviously so I would not plant out this stage, peas will not like cold, wet soil. I would plant in the greenhouse if you have the room but would also sow peas outside. Bear in mind the peas won’t be cropping indoors for another 10 weeks or so when they may be taking up valuable greenhouse space.

      I hope this helps


  4. Cyril Peach

    I noticed that you don’t mention sowing carrot seed earley autumn, covering with plastic or fleece over winter ,harvesting about march/April, such as obtainable from supermarkets. The verities names would be much appreciated

    1. Andrew

      Hi Cyril
      Thank you for your comment. I have never tried this method in my garden but I know this is done for field scale crops. I wonder whether it will be practical for the home grower. An interesting one, I will definitely look into it and amend the post as necessary.
      Have a great growing season!

  5. Paul Ricketts

    I grew parsnips on for seed. The wind knocked one over & shook seeds loose. Now in early October I have loads of 3 inch high parsnip plants. Is it worth letting them grow on or will they just bolt in the spring?



    1. Andrew

      Hi Paul, Parsnips are great for overwintering, you can pull them as you need them. The trick is to harvest them before they sprout in Spring. Once they have flowered they tend to be woody. Regards, Tony.

  6. John Kindred

    I want to start doing asparagus in the allotment soon. When and how is the best way to plant? I know these take at least a couple of years to mature and they will need a permanent plot that I have earmarked.

    1. Andrew

      Hi John. Asparagus is best planted in Spring. It might sound odd but one year old crowns are better than 2 year old ones as they establish much quicker. You need to make sure the area you are planting in is completely free of perennial weeds as once the bed fills out you will never be able to remove them from among the asparagus roots. The planting method is to make a trench 30cm wide and 20cm deep. Make a mound of soil along the center of the trench 8cm high and place the crowns on top with their roots draped down either side. The crowns go in approx 35cm apart. I hope this helps. Andrew

  7. Joan Fields

    I have a very small garden with mainly raised beds. Can I plant Strawberries in my hanging baskets in September once my flowers have died off. Also can I plant cauliflowers in August and cover with a cloche to over winter. Thanks for all your tips, I am very new to veg growing but have had some great results.

  8. Julie

    Interesting read.
    I’m just purchasing some large planters for veggies. Any suggestions with what to start with – I know it’s not the best time to be starting out. But seems a waste not to use them straight away lol

  9. Dave

    HI, we feed our dog veg and will be growing our own when we move house. This has been delayed so won’t be in till Nov now so I was wondering if you know of any large veg like Turnips that might grow over winter. We generally feed him Carrots, Cabage, Sweed etc now mixed with rice.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Dave
      I am afraid there is nothing you could start growing in November, you would need to have had veg in by Sept. It looks like fido will have to make do with supermarket veg this winter!

  10. Kris Novelli

    Hi. We’ve just been given a large veg planter. It’s about 6 foot long, 2 foot wide and about 2 foot deep. What veg can I plant in it now being a real novice at this?

    1. Andrew

      Hi Kris. At this stage you will be looking at Oriental and winter salads like rocket, leaf mustard, mizuna, claytonaia, corn salad. You would need to get a move on before it gets too cold. I hope this helps. Andrew

    1. Andrew

      Hi Lesley, sorry for the delay in replying. Unfortunately, the majority of winter crops are sown in spring so you are out of time this season for these. You could sow the celeriac in late winter/early spring in a heated propogator.

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