Winter Vegetables: Time to Plant

Laura Lee Rose, Extension Agent - Associate
Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service

HTG 0117

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One strategy for optimizing garden harvest is to plant early. A soil test will help take the guess work out of your fertilizer purchases. Don’t guess, do the test. Follow the recommendations for application of lime, because vegetables like the soil pH to be around 6 - 6.5. Potatoes are an exception, as they require acidic soils with a pH of 5.0 - 5.3 to prevent potato scab disease.

Check the planting dates for the appropriate hardiness zone when planting asparagus crowns, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, and onion sets or plants. Peas and carrots taste good together and are good companion plants. Another hint is to mix in radish seeds with carrots seeds, because the radishes germinate very quickly and will help mark the row; carrots can take longer to sprout. Radishes should be planted sparsely, as they will easily overgrow the weak and slow growing carrot seedlings.

‘Packman’ broccoli.
‘Packman’ broccoli.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2016 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Other leafy greens that enjoy cool weather are spinach, turnips, collards, kale, lettuce, and mustard. You can grow turnips for greens and roots. Some folks prefer rutabagas as they tend to be larger with a smoother flavor than turnips.

‘Red Giant’ mustard.
‘Red Giant’ mustard.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2016 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Sweet and snap peas can climb up on a trellis, and there are also bush varieties. Use a soil inoculant when planting to help beans and peas to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a usable form and reduce the amount of fertilizer needed. In general, legumes add nitrogen to the garden and may be used as cover crops and in crop rotation before plants which are heavy “feeders”.  

Sweet peas.
Sweet peas.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2016 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Mixing herbs such as parsley, cilantro, and chives along with flowers such as snapdragons, calendula, and pansies in the vegetable garden beds will add color and encourage beneficial insects which help with pollination and pest control.


Italian parsley.
Italian parsley.
Joey Williamson, ©2016 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Vegetables need a well-drained sunny spot, and adding compost will help soil to hold moisture and nutrients. Sunlight and consistent moisture are very important to most garden varieties. A minimum of 4 - 6 hours of sunlight and at least one inch of rainfall or irrigation weekly is required. Mulch will help keep weeds down, hold moisture, moderate soil temperature, and add organic matter to your garden. The best mulches are shredded leaves, pine straw, compost, cardboard, and shredded paper. If you are using layers of newspaper or shredded paper, it should be kept moist and covered with leaves or pine straw to keep it from blowing around.

‘Yukon Gold’ potato plants well-mulched with pine straw.
‘Yukon Gold’ potato plants well-mulched with pine straw.
Joey Williamson, ©2016 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Timing is also important. For direct seeding in the ground or in flats for transplanting you will want to plant according to the first frost (fall) or last frost (spring). It is important to consider whether the plant is cold hardy, half-hardy, or tender. Soil and air temperatures are factors in the equation. If you want to put out tomato, peppers, or eggplant, you should plant your seed flats about 6 weeks before the date of the average last frost in your zone as warm season seed crops will not germinate until the soil temperature is 60 °F. 

While many of the leafy greens and root crops can take some frost, most don’t want to freeze.  Temporary frost protection can be accomplished by mulching with pine straw or hay, light row covers, or fabric sheets. Plastic sheeting should not be used on top of plants or allowed to touch leaves.

The last tip is to practice good sanitation. Remove and destroy troublesome weeds or diseased plants. Use clean sharp tools, clean germinating mix, fresh seeds, sanitized trays and pots, and keep benches and tables wiped off with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. 

Vegetable gardening information is available at the Clemson Home and Garden Information Center website:

Home and Garden Information Center
HGIC 1256 Planning a Garden

HGIC 1652 Soil Testing

Page maintained by: Home & Garden Information Center

This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.