Fast Growing Cold Hardy Spring Vegetables

After a long gray winter, spring planting is a highly anticipated breath of fresh air and sunshine! Don’t let people discourage you, several vegetables thrive in early spring and are hardy enough to withstand cold temperatures and even late frosts. These cold-hardy vegetables are excellent choices for planting as soon as the soil can be worked in early spring. Here are some examples:

  1. Lettuce: Lettuce varieties such as leaf lettuce, romaine, and butterhead lettuce are cold-hardy and can tolerate temperatures as low as 28°F (-2°C). They can be sown directly in the garden or started indoors and transplanted.
  2. Spinach: Spinach is another cold-hardy leafy green that can withstand frost and cool temperatures. It can be planted early in spring and will continue to produce well into the season.
  3. Kale: Kale is incredibly cold-hardy and can withstand temperatures down to 20°F (-6°C). It’s an excellent choice for early spring planting and will produce abundant leaves for salads, smoothies, or cooked dishes.
  4. Arugula: Arugula, also known as rocket, is a peppery leafy green that thrives in cooler weather. It can be sown directly in the garden and will germinate quickly, providing a flavorful addition to salads and sandwiches.
  5. Radishes: Radishes are fast-growing root vegetables that can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in spring. They tolerate cold temperatures well and are ready for harvest in as little as 3-4 weeks.
  6. Carrots: Carrots are cold-hardy root vegetables that can be planted early in spring. While they take longer to mature compared to radishes, they can withstand light frosts and will continue to grow as temperatures warm up.
  7. Peas: Peas are cool-season legumes that thrive in early spring. They can tolerate frost and cool temperatures and should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Peas prefer cooler weather and may struggle in hot summer temperatures.
  8. Broccoli: Broccoli is a cold-hardy brassica that can tolerate frost and cool temperatures. It’s best to start broccoli seeds indoors or purchase transplants to get a head start on the growing season.
  9. Cabbage: Cabbage is another cold-hardy brassica that can withstand frost and cool temperatures. It can be planted early in spring and will produce heads later in the season.
  10. Swiss Chard: Swiss chard is a versatile leafy green that can tolerate cold temperatures and even light frost. It’s an excellent addition to early spring gardens and provides a continuous harvest of nutritious greens.

These cold-hardy vegetables are not only resilient to cold temperatures and late frosts but also provide an early start to the gardening season, allowing you to enjoy fresh produce as soon as possible.

Where I am in Zone 7, which typically experiences mild winters and moderate temperatures, March can be an ideal time to start planting colder weather crops like green beans and greens. However, it’s essential to consider the specific climate conditions and local frost dates in your area before planting.

Green beans and many leafy greens, such as lettuce, spinach, kale, and Swiss chard, are some of the cool-season crops we like to start planting this time of year. They thrive in cooler temperatures and can tolerate light frosts. Planting them in March allows for a longer growing season before the heat of summer sets in. This round of planting is also a bit easier as you are not dealing with pests or extreme heat.

Here are a few tips for planting your early spring crops:

  1. Check Frost Dates: Before planting, check your local frost dates to determine when it’s safe to plant outdoor crops. While green beans and some greens can tolerate light frosts, it’s best to avoid planting them too early if there’s still a risk of freezing temperatures.
  2. Prepare the Soil: Ensure that the soil is well-drained, loose, and rich in organic matter. Amend the soil with compost or aged manure to improve fertility and texture.
  3. Choose Varieties: Select varieties of green beans and greens that are well-suited to your climate and growing conditions. Look for varieties labeled as suitable for early spring planting or cold tolerance.
  4. Planting Green Beans: Green beans can be planted directly in the garden from seeds. Sow the seeds about 1 inch deep and 2-4 inches apart in rows or hills. Provide support for climbing varieties if needed.
  5. Planting Greens: Leafy greens can also be sown directly in the garden from seeds. Plant seeds according to the spacing recommendations on the seed packet, usually about 6-12 inches apart depending on the type of greens.
  6. Planting Radishes: Radishes can be sown directly into the garden from seeds. Space them about 1 inch apart and cover with a thin layer of soil. Keep the soil consistently moist and thin seedlings to ensure proper spacing as they grow.
  7. Planting Peas: To grow peas, sow seeds directly into well-drained soil in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Plant them 1 to 2 inches deep and 2 to 4 inches apart in rows, providing support for climbing varieties with trellises or stakes. Keep the soil consistently moist and harvest the pods when they are plump and firm.
  8. Watering and Care: Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged. Water newly planted seeds gently to avoid displacing them. Mulching can help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.
  9. Protect from Pests: Monitor plants for signs of pests such as aphids, slugs, and snails, which may become more active as temperatures warm up. Use organic pest control methods as needed.
  10. Cold frames and gardening fabric are valuable tools for protecting plants from frost damage. Cold frames provide a miniature greenhouse environment, trapping heat and shielding plants from freezing temperatures, while gardening fabric acts as a protective barrier, insulating plants and preventing frost formation. Using these methods can extend the growing season and safeguard tender plants, allowing for earlier planting in spring and later harvests in fall.

By following these guidelines and paying attention to local conditions, you can successfully plant your early spring crops and enjoy a bountiful harvest as the weather warms up.

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Anne Marie Berggren RDN, MS, CDN, CNSC is a Registered Dietitian with a Master's Degree in Nutrition, training in integrative and functional nutrition, nutrition for mental health, obesity and weight management, is a board certified nutrition support clinician, and an adjunct professor for the Stony Brook Graduate Nutrition Program teaching advanced clinical nutrition.

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