A Guide to Colorful Winter Gardening

Get planting now to add some homegrown nutrition and color to cool-weather meals.

Like a flashy star quarterback, the summer garden usually gets all the glory; the congratulatory confetti falls on the juicy red tomatoes, cool cucumbers, tender squash and other warm season vegetables. How easy it is to forget about the winter garden, a tried-and-true staple of the Gulf Coast growing season, lingering in the shadows like some unsung lineman.

To be sure, there’s plenty about the fall and winter gardening season to make greenthumbers jump for joy. Besides more comfortable gardening conditions, such as less humid weather and fewer nagging insects, the crops are some of the most flavorful (and colorful) your garden will produce all year. And believe it or not, the Bay area’s most bountiful period is from September through March; vegetables planted now could realistically yield six months of harvest.

The season provides a golden opportunity to test out your green thumb — literally — with healthful leafy green favorites, such as kale and arugula, as well as unusual choices — komatsuna, for example. The trick to making the most of this growing season is not to fall behind! The window for planting begins closing in October, so if you plan to make the most of this growing season, it’s time to get started. We’re here to help you do just that.

What to Plant

This Japanese mustard spinach is one of the more hardy greens. The turnip relative is very cold tolerant and can be sown directly into the ground. In other words, you have no excuse for leaving it out of the garden. Mix the leaves with other salad greens or do the Japanese origins proud by dropping into a stir-fry.

- Sponsors -

This garden staple with pizzazz loves October. Set out young plants this month about 12 inches apart, and don’t skimp on the compost and water. Arugula is a near-instant gratifier, requiring just a few weeks before leaves are ready for harvest. If short on space, don’t be afraid to grow in a container.

Here’s a kind of kale with a sweeter taste than its also delicious curly cousin. The  plant got its name because of its dark, bumpy leaves, said to resemble dinosaur skin. Sow seeds at least 18 inches apart in composted soil mixed with leaves, and water well. The leaves are ready for harvest when they’re about the size of your hand. This plant doesn’t shy away from the cold; some say a light frost actually improves its flavor.

Golden Beets

Want to add a little pop of color to spruce up dishes this winter? Go with a rainbow of chard selections. Luckily for us, once established, chard is fairly frost tolerant and can be grown well into April. If tight on space, chard can be successfully grown in containers.

This root vegetable is an easy and rewarding option for fall planting. Sow seeds in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. By planting consecutively every few weeks, you can ensure a continuous harvest. Different radish varieties yield vegetables of varying size, color and flavor, so experiment with what each has to offer!

Anyone who’s ever cooked with beets knows how easily the fuscia veggie can stain just about everything it touches. Behold the golden beet, a variety of the taproot vegetable that lacks the notorious red pigment. Grow this beet as you would any other — sow seeds 1 – 2 inches apart in a sunny spot, and thin out when seedlings are 2 inches tall. This potassium-rich gem is worth its weight in gold.

Also referred to as Romanesco broccoli, this psychedelic-looking delicacy is actually an edible flower bud in the cauliflower and cabbage family. Like its cauliflower kin, it likes full sun, well drained soil and consistent watering. It has a similar but slightly nuttier taste than cauliflower. Steam it, blanch it, roast it or throw it in a salad.

Set out broccoli seedlings in October and, with any luck, you could be harvesting for the next several months. Give yourself greater odds of success by covering your budding plants on the coldest nights (or when temperatures threaten to drop below 28 degrees).

As temperatures begin to dip, you’ll want to sow your fava beans (also known as “broad beans”). Expect four or five months from planting to harvest, but it’s well worth the wait. Many gardeners like using the fava bean plant as a cover crop, meaning it adds nutrients back to the soil in preparation for spring planting.


Now this is a fun one. When setting out plants this month, make sure to space your Brussels sprouts almost 2 feet apart on account of how large the plant will get. As it grows, sprouts emerge from a stalk at the plant’s center. Harvest heads when they are 1 – 2 inches in diameter. And don’t neglect the plant’s beautiful leaves, which can be cooked like collards.

Indigenous to Japan, this green looks similar to spinach but has a distinctive mustard-like flavor. Include it in your salad for some flavor variety or drop it in a stir-fry. This one is a fast-grower and can be sown directly into the garden.

If your cool-season garden doesn’t include garlic, you aren’t doing it right. In our area, this is the best time of the year to give garlic a try, but finding the right variety can be a challenge. Mobile Botanical Gardens is a great resource for determining which garlic variety is worth the effort.

October 20 – 22: Fall Plant Sale

Mobile Botanical Gardens • mobilebotanicalgardens.org

9 a.m. – 4 p.m. F / Sa. 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Su. Stock up on a selection of plants ranging from trees and shrubs to the perfect veggies for your winter garden.

Get the best of Mobile delivered to your inbox

Be the first to know about local events, home tours, restaurant reviews and more!