Many root and bulb vegetables prefer cooler temperatures, growing well during spring and fall. In mild climates or with the help of mulch, the growing season can even be extended throughout the winter.
Root and bulb vegetables can be stored for longer than most produce and make wonderful additions to healthy winter comfort foods such as soups and stews. A few tips for root vegetables:
- Keep soil evenly moist but not waterlogged (soil should be loose and well-drained).
- Remove stones and other obstructions that may cause deformities such as forking.
- Add compost or well-rotted manure (but not fresh manure, which can damage crops) to enrich the soil.
The following are root crops that grow well during the cooler seasons.
Both the roots (the bulbous portion) and the leaves of beets can be eaten. Beets are a good source of folate, potassium, slimming dietary fiber, and iron. Sweet but low in calories, beet roots have a soft, buttery texture when cooked. They can also be grated raw to enhance salads or add sweetness to cakes.
Beets mature approximately 8 weeks after planting. Plant late in the summer for a fall harvest, or even during the fall for a winter harvest in places where winters aren’t too harsh.
Carrots are a great source of vitamin A, a potent antioxidant that provides a number of benefits, including promoting good vision.
Carrots will grow in full sun or partial shade (though they prefer full sun) and take around 2 months to mature. Carrots can be harvested throughout the fall.
For more information about growing carrots, see Carrots: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Growing, Storing, and Cooking.
Garlic is a slow-growing crop that can be planted in the fall or even during winter in milder climates. It will grow over the cold season and be ready to harvest early in the summer.
Unless your area is likely to get at least 6 inches of snow over the winter, protect your garlic with mulch. Garlic is ready when approximately one-third of its leaves have turned brown and bent toward the ground. After harvesting, cure garlic for 20 days outdoors (under cover to protect against rain) or indoors in a well-ventilated place.
Similar to green onions but larger, leeks are a source of the flavonoid kaempferol, which provides health-protective effects.
It’s best to start leeks indoors during early spring for fall and winter crops as they take 30-45 weeks to mature. At around 8 weeks, they can be transplanted, preferably to a full sun location. Ideally, they should be hardened off first by bringing their containers outdoors for increasingly long excursions.
Begin harvesting plants that have reached the size of a pencil. Dig them up rather than attempting to yank them out of the soil, as they’re likely to break with pulling.
For a tastier white stalk, blanch the leeks. The most common blanching method is to transplant leeks into a V-shaped trench 4-6 inches deep. Place leeks in 3-4-inch holes, spread the root hairs, cover with a half inch of soil, and water. As the seedlings grow, gradually return the soil to the trench a little at a time to below where leaves begin to branch. When the trench has been filled, soil can be mounded up around each plant.
Onions may be grown from sets, seeds, or transplants, with sets (small bulblets) being the easiest method. Time of planting and harvest will vary based on onion type and growing method.
Space at least 4 inches apart for larger produce and close enough to touch for green onions (plants can also be spaced 2 inches apart with every second plant harvested early as green onions to create space). Green onions can be harvested when they reach 6 inches in height, though the flavour will increase with their size.
Onions do well in small spaces and raised beds, and they prefer a full-sun location (at least 6 hours of sun per day). Walla Walla Sweets and Sweet Winter are good varieties for cold-season growing.
For more information, see Onions: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Growing, Storing, and Cooking.
The parsnip, a relative of the carrot, takes 120-180 days to mature. Like carrots, parsnips taste better if eaten before they reach their full size. The best flavour is usually obtained by harvesting in January or the beginning of February, as parsnips turn sweeter after heavy frosts. Parsnips are ideal cold-weather crops because they can tolerate freezing temperatures.
Like other root vegetables, parsnips are quite versatile and can be roasted, boiled, or sautéed. Two easy ways to prepare this vegetable include:
- Baking with orange juice and/or butter combined with a little nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and/or allspice and brown sugar (the flavour is similar to that of a candied sweet potato)
- Baking with broth and herbs for a savoury option
Full sun is ideal for parsnips, but they can also be grown in partial shade.
Potatoes can be planted in late fall or even during early winter for a spring crop because they like the cool season and can tolerate not only cold soil, but even a light frost. However, it’s important to add a layer of mulch to protect them over the winter.
Radishes are very low in calories and provide folate, potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. A tasty addition to salads and sandwiches, winter radishes take between 50 and 70 days to mature, depending on the variety (spring varieties mature in under a month), and are harvested when they reach much larger sizes. Winter varieties include China Rose, Chinese White, Round Black Spanish, and Tama Hybrid. Winter radishes tend to be larger, more pungent, and better able to maintain their crispness when stored than their spring counterparts.
Radishes are easy to grow and frost-tolerant. Plant in late summer for a fall crop, or even fall for a winter crop in places where winters aren’t to harsh. Once harvested, radishes can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
For information on growing radishes, see Radishes: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Growing, Storing, and Cooking.
Rutabagas and Turnips
Turnips and rutabagas are good source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin C.
Plant turnips and rutabagas in a full-sun location. Turnips mature in approximately 30-60 days and rutabagas, a cabbage/turnip cross, require 60-90 days.
Rutabagas can be pulled when they are around 2-3 inches in diameter, but will have a milder flavour and more tender texture if left to reach 4-5 inches.
Turnip greens, which taste a bit like mustard greens, are extremely nutritious as well. They’re an excellent source of vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K; folate; dietary fiber; and calcium. Rutabaga greens, though less popular, are also edible.
Other Vegetables That Grow Well in Fall and Winter
For more cool-season vegetables, see Vegetables That You Can Grow During Fall and Winter and Leafy Vegetables That Grow in Winter. For a list of all garden articles, visit the Gardening page.
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- University of Illinois Extension. (2011). “Onion” and “Radish” Urbanext.Illinois.edu.
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- Washington State University. (2002). “Garden Mastery Tips: In League with Leeks.” Clark.SU.edu.
- West Coast Seeds. (2011). “Vegetable Seeds.” WestCoastSeeds.com.