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Snow Tolerant Vegetables

Winter cabbageSnow on the winter vegetable garden does not mean the end of harvest. Snow will insulate winter crops from freezing temperatures and protect them until harvest. A killing frost or freeze will do more damage to winter vegetables than snow.

Carrots, turnips, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage, chard, and head lettuce can be harvested from under a blanket of snow. Scallions and fall leeks to the size of scallions can be harvested from under snow. Onions can remain in the garden under snow if a protective layer of mulch lies in between. Parsnips and Brussels sprouts will taste sweeter after being covered by snow.

If plant cell damaging freezing temperatures accompany snow, protect crops with mulch, plastic tunnels, or cold frames. Loose straw or fallen leaves can insulate plants from freezing temperatures as well.

The best time for harvesting cold-weather crops from under snow temperatures is when temperatures are in the high 20s or low 30s, especially if you are uncovering only a portion of the crop for harvest and leaving the rest for later harvest.

If freezing weather threatens to freeze the soil, all crops should be lifted from the garden. Frozen soil or sustained freezing air temperature will freeze plant cells and cause them to burst, ruin crops, and kill plants.

Crops that can survive under snow—but not sustained freezing temperatures or ice–include asparagus, rhubarb, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cress, rutabaga, spinach, endive, horseradish, kohlrabi, kale, leek lettuce, onions, parsley, parsnips, radishes, and turnips.


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  1. Hi. I planted gold beets in Ohio late this year. I planted in July. So I tried pulling one today and it was only the size of a nickel The leaves are about 2 feet high. How do I tell when to harvest. I’m thinking December if it doesn’t get below freezing.? Please help. Thank You

    • There are two ways to estimate root crops are ready for harvest, one is to mark the calendar when you plant and then count ahead the number of days the seed packet says the variety requires to mature, and add a week or so if the weather has been extra hot or extra cool; the second way is to lift a few roots (just like you did) to see how large the roots are getting. Beets can be harvested when they are large enough to eat. Large leafy growth may indicate the soil is too rich in nitrogen and perhaps lacks phosphorus. Small roots can also occur if the roots were not thinned and they grew in a crowded situation.

    • Brussels sprouts are biennials; they commonly produce sprouts the spring after a fall planting. They will survive to 20F/-6/7C. If temperatures stay above 20F, you can protect them with floating row covers or mounded straw. If temps go below 20F, you can place a plastic hoop tunnel over the plants–temps inside the tunnel will be about 10 degrees warmer than outside temps.

    • Here is a rough guide: A light frost hovers around the freezing point, at about 30° to 32°F (-1.1 to 0°C) for an hour or two. A hard, heavy, or “killing” frost is when temperatures dip down below 28°F (-2.2) for more than a couple of hours; what doesn’t die goes dormant. Crops that can tolerate light frost are arugula, Asian greens, beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, endive, lettuce, corn salad (mâché), parsnips, peas, radicchio, Swiss chard. Crops that can tolerate a hard frost and bounce back are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, leeks mustard greens, onions, parsley, radishes, spinach, and turnips. If you expect temperatures in the low 20sF, it is best to protect them under a plastic tunnel or very heavyweight row covers.

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