10 Best Vegetables to Sow in Late Winter

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Which Vegetables to Start Before Spring

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Winter feeling like it’s grinding on? Some vegetable seeds actually grow better when started in late winter with a little protection! There’s no reason to wait! See 10 of the best vegetables to sow or plant in February.

You do not need any special greenhouse or equipment. All of the vegetables mentioned below are best germinated on a warm windowsill indoors (no extra heating required). Once germinated indoors, the cool-season veggies can be immediately moved into a cold frame outside! They can even withstand light frosts. Then, they’re read to go into the ground in early to mid March, possibly under row covers to help them transition. This is advice for zone 8 and either side (zones 7 or 9), so it’s ideal for a Pacific Northwest kind of area (temperate maritime climates) or climates where you can at least protect plants from hard, penetrating, weeks-on-end perishing cold.

Which Vegetables to Sow in Late Winter

Let’s start with alliums: onions, shallots, leeks and, of course, garlic! And guess what? They can all be started right now!

Sowing Onions

First up are onions. Onions can be planted three ways: as sets (which are small, immature bulbs that continue growing once they’re planted), as young plants (sold as ‘starts’), or as seeds. If you start them now with seed, there’s less chance of the plants bolting, or flowering prematurely, which renders the bulbs tough and inedible. Seed is also cleaner; there’s little risk of introducing diseases such as white rot into your garden. And it’s cheaper too! 

If temperatures are below 40°, saw seeds outside in a plastic container with a fitted top. Drill holes in the bottom for drainage. Fill the container with about a few inches of seed-starting mix. Don’t use garden soil! Scatter seeds on the soil and gently cover with ½” of the seed starting mix and water the entire container well. Allow it to drain and cover tightly. Find a sheltered place in your yard that will remain in the shade throughout the winter and spring. No need to water. When you see the seeds germinate in warm weather, remove the container top and water them as needed over the next  4 to 8 weeks. Trim the tops to keep the seedlings at 3” tall. When the soil in the garden can be worked, gently tip the container on its side and use a fork to tease the seedlings apart. Plant each seedling about 6” apart for globe type or 3 to 4 together for bunching types.

If you are sowing indoors, you can sow a pinch of seeds (4 to 6) directly into a tray plug inside. Then once it’s warm enough, gently remove from the tray and transplant each cluster into the ground about 10 inches (or 25 cm) spacing each way.

See our full guide on growing onions in the garden

To see how ALL of these vegetables seeds are winter sown in this article, check out Ben’s video below.

Starting Shallots

Shallots are a bit like miniature onions. They seem to keep for ages – months at a time – making them a really handy addition to the chef’s pantry because they’ll still be good to use long after you’ve used up all of your stored onions.

Like onions, you can start shallot sets from seed, but in this instance, sets win out because each set should produce a new cluster of bulbs rather than just the one or two you’ll get from each seed. Get them in from late winter, planting them about 6 inches (or 15 cm) apart each way so that just the very tips are left showing. Pesky pigeons and other birds may mistake the tips for juicy worms, so if you find they’re lifted out by prying beaks, just push them back in or cover them over with some sort of row cover or something like a low wire mesh tunnel. Of course if it’s still very cold where you garden, wait until the soil is workable in spring.

Both onions and shallots – and garlic, which is up next - love a sunny spot and fertile soil – this has been improved with an earlier topping of good-old compost.

Starting Garlic

I planted my garlic in the autumn, but don’t worry, you haven’t missed the boat. If you haven’t got yours in yet, get on and plant them now! If it’s very cold – perhaps your soil’s still frozen solid or under snow – plant them into pots of potting mix, keep them under cover, then plant them outside once the soil’s workable. 

See our full guide on growing garlic.

Sowing Fava/Broad Beans

If the ground is too frozen, you can start bean seeds inside on a window sill or under grow lights in February. Our favorite technique is to fill recycled toilet paper tubes with soil, and then just sow one chunky seed down an inch. Then water. Once the seedlings are 2 to 3 inches tall, they will be transplanted outside! Space about 8 inches or 20 cm apart in both directions. That’s it! Not only can you can sow while it’s still cold, fava beans and peas offer superb ground cover, and the shelled beans are superb in everything from a beany hummus to a hearty stew.

Sowing Peas

It’s not too early to wake up a planting of peas! Choose a variety suitable for early sowing – usually the smooth-seeded type. As long as the ground is workable, you can sow outside using a milk jug for protection. Cut off the top of the jug, put your seed-sowing mix in the bottom, plant your seeds, and cover the top of the jug again. Do not soak the seeds if planting this way; they’ll rot in winter snow. Uncover in spring and plant about 4-6in or 10-15cm apart. You can also try planting seeds right in the ground if it’s workable, and cover with a plastic cup that you push an inch into the ground so it doesn’t fly away in the wind.

Pea Shoots 

Peas are great for pods, but they’re just as good for eating as a leafy green, particularly when you consider how quick and space-saving growing peas this way can be. In just a week under grow lights indoors, pea shoots will sprout! Just fill a tray with potting mix, then spread the pea seeds over the surface about an inch or a couple of centimeters apart. Cover them over then water well.  

See our full guide to growing peas.

Other leafy lovelies to try under grow lights include lettuce, spinach, and general salad leaf mixes for fresh cuts of goodness at a time when fresh greens are scarce to say the least.

Sowing Lettuce Seeds

It’s also worth pushing the envelope and starting off some salad seedlings that will eventually end up either outside, or in containers. Lettuce is a prime candidate for this treatment. Sow the fine seeds into pots then cover them with the slightest suggestion of potting mix. Then pop a sheet of glass or secure a polythene bag over the top to up humidity and hasten germination. Germinate them indoors on a windowsill or under grow lights if you have them, then transplant the seedlings into plug trays once they’re big enough to handle. Grow them on in a bright, protected environment till it’s time for them to head out in another month or so in milder areas, or early spring elsewhere.

See our full guide to growing lettuce.

Sowing Cabbage Seeds

Another leafy staple is cabbage, and summer cabbages can be sown – you guessed it – right now! Summer varieties produce satisfyingly chunky, round heads, packed with nutrient-dense leaves. Sow them into plug trays, two seeds per plug. If two seedlings germinate, remove the weakest to leave just one per plug. 

 The young plants will go out in about six weeks’ time in early spring, around 20in or 50cm apart each way. I have this area of moisture-retentive soil set aside for them, which I’ve improved with plenty of organic matter courtesy of a recent delivery of beautifully crumbly, well-rotted manure. Hmm, mmm… it’s beautiful stuff!

See our full guide to growing cabbage.

About Fruiting Vegetables

Warm-weather vegetables can not be started outside at this time, but if you do have somewhere warm and protected from the cold and most definitely frost-free, then late winter is a great time to start off fruiting vegetables like peppers and eggplant. Let us emphasize – having somewhere protected from the cold to grow on the seedlings and young plants is very important, otherwise there’s little to be gained from such an early start and best to wait till spring.

Sowing Peppers and Eggplant

If you’re ready to sow some chili peppers and eggplant inside, here’s how to do it:

Take your potting mix and just space the seeds individually across the surface so they’re at least a thumb’s width apart. Then a little more mix to cover. And then, just like lettuce, over goes some polythene held in place with an elastic band. These will go onto a warm, indoor windowsill to germinate – no need for a heated propagator. Eggplant on the other hand really does love it extra toasty, so if you do have a heated propagator, these are the seeds to use it for.

Once the seedlings are big enough to handle, carefully tease them apart then pop them into their own pot to grow on – first on a sunny windowsill indoors, then out here in the greenhouse. When frosts threaten, just gather up the tender seedlings and move them indoors for the night. 

See our complete growing guide to peppers and guide to eggplant.

It will feel great to have a host of goodies sown and planted already! If you have any questions, please ask below and our Almanac community of readers and editors will chip in to help you out.

Here is more information about when to start seeds indoors.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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