In the first couple of very hard freezes of this fall/winter garden season, I covered my garden with spun row covers to protect the crops from the cold. However, in the most recent freeze, about a week and half back, when temperatures dropped to the low-to-mid-20s three nights in a row, I left the garden uncovered. The plan was to confirm which garden greens were most winter-hardy.
The afternoon before the first of those three very cold nights, I harvested a basketful of greens (and some root veggies), in case the whole garden turned into a mushy brown mess. At least I would have those pre-harvested greens to enjoy!
Why does cold-hardiness matter now, in mid-winter?
Seed catalogs are piling up in my house. If you, like me, are contemplating the coming gardening year, having information about cold-hardiness might be helpful as you choose crops for next fall.
During a freeze, all of the greens in the garden will look wilted. This is normal. As the temperatures climb back above freezing, the hardiest greens perk back up and look completely unaffected. For gardeners who are short on time or energy in the winter months, keeping a garden full of very hardy greens can be a real benefit.
Some gardeners are happy to provide protection for their less cold-hardy crops and can easily manage the spun row covers and structures to support those covers. Other gardeners may not be able to cover their crops ahead of each freeze, either because they travel or have other time-restrictions, or maybe because of a more limited budget.
Regardless, the more information we have as we plan the next round of crops, the more likely it is that we can make the best choices for our gardens.
My greens crops, after exposure to the hard freeze
After the most recent series of very cold nights, all of my unprotected garden greens are still alive, but some came through better than others. I took pictures, so you can see for yourself which crops did best through the freezing weather.
Cold damage shows in a couple of ways. Mushy brown areas are the most easy to spot, but thinner, silvered places are also evidence of cold damage.
The frisée, ‘Full Heart’ escarole, and ‘Perpetual spinach’ Swiss chard show the most cold damage of all the greens included here. The heading types — radicchios and the Sugarloaf, show a little cold damage on the outer leaves, but the leaves inside the heads seem to be unaffected.
Some greens show no damage at all. These include the spinach, kale, cilantro, and parsley. The best news is that even the most damaged greens look as though they will survive to resume growing.
If your garden greens look like heck
If the unprotected greens in your garden are the kind that suffered from cold damage in that last round of cold weather, you have a couple of options.
One option is to trim away the “bad leaves” to reduce the odds of a fungus taking hold and rotting away entire plants. Then, when new leaves grow in the stretches of warmer weather that we get here in the Southeastern US, you will be able to resume harvesting leaves for use in the kitchen.
Another option, that can be put into practice along with the first option, is to bring in some wild greens to supplement your garden greens.
Right now, chickweed and dandelion greens are at their peak in my lawn and garden. If you can identify those with confidence, and you know that the plants are growing in uncontaminated soil (not by a busy road or in a “treated” lawn), they are good wild greens to try, either added to salads, mixed with other cooked greens, or wilted before adding to a pizza.