Get started growing cool season crops

Gardeners in the Pacific Northwest are lucky enough to be able to grow vegetables all winter long. Early planning and planting are essential.

This article will go over some basic guidelines, but the most important is to remember that gardening should be fun. With a little bit of planning ahead you can have a great winter garden and be eating home-grown veggies all year long!

Keep in mind that each winter is different, so is each winter’s harvest.

Saving space in your garden when you are planting in spring is one way to ensure space is available when it is time to plant your fall and winter crops. Sometimes you can harvest one crop and then use that space for something else, but many fall crops will need to be planted during the time when your summer garden is in full abundance. When you start thinking about your garden as a year-round space it may change what you choose to plant and when.

For example, many gardeners wait and plant their broccoli and Brussels sprouts in fall rather than spring because the starches turn to sugar after a hard frost so the veggies taste better.

Here at Portland Nursery, we carry vegetable varieties that we expect to perform well in the Portland area. There are also catalogues and seed companies that offer a wide selection of other varieties for our climate.

Our job is to help you be successful, so if you have any questions please ask!


The biggest challenge to winter gardeners is timing. Many seeds must be planted when our summer gardens are at their fullest, and our minds are furthest from winter.

The average first and last frost dates in Portland are October 15 and April 15. Between these dates plants grow slowly. Vegetables you grow in this period will need to be established enough to survive the cold and shorter day length.

There are three main ways to extend your season of harvesting:

  1. Plant a second crop of squash, beans, lettuce, etc. in June for a fall harvest.
  2. Plant fall crops so that they ripen by November 1 to harvest through March.
  3. Get overwintering varieties in so that you get a head-start in spring!

Start planting seeds in July for your fall & winter harvest.

Often there isn’t space in the garden to plant your seeds in July. You can either set aside space when first planning the garden and seed directly, or you can start seeds indoors to be planted after summer crops are gone. Starting seeds indoors also makes it easier to keep the seedbed moist for germination, which can be difficult outside in July.

If you choose not to direct seed, using starts that you bought or grew allows you to transplant outside four to six weeks later.

Site Preparation & Location

In the northwest, abundant rain can drown winter crops. Make sure your planting area is well-amended and drains thoroughly – no crops succeed in waterlogged soil. Consider “mulching” around your crops with a cover crop that will help absorb the abundant moisture, but wait until October to plant it, or else it may outgrow your crops.

Carefully consider where to plant your winter garden based on sun, protection from wind, and convenient access. You are unlikely to make a long, dark, muddy hike out to your plants, and your summer vegetable patch may not receive any of the low rays of winter sun.

Surprisingly, winter veggies can also suffer from too little water. Plants need to be well-hydrated before cold weather, since our cold snaps are usually dry. In the event of a forecasted cold front, make sure the ground is moist, and water if it is not.


Many gardeners enhance their winter growing capabilities with plant protection. Cold frames, cloches and frost blankets all provide some protection; greenhouses provide a lot. For best results, plan on using one of these methods. You may enjoy the increased growth rates that come with these tools, or you may prefer seeing what succeeds without any protection at all.

winter kale