13 Ways to Make the Most of Your Short Growing Season

One of the most challenging parts of gardening in a cold climate is dealing with the short time between the last spring and first fall frost. While you can’t change your climate, you can take steps to work with your limited frost-free days. Join former vegetable farmer Briana Yablonski as she shares 13 ways to make the most of your short growing season.

short growing season. Krupnyy plan pripodnyatoy gryadki s rastushchimi buryakami i morkovkoy ryadom s gryadkoy rastushchikh ogurtsov v solnechnom sadu. Beets obladayet kruglymi, gladkimi korneplodami purpurno-bordovogo ottenka. Beets have leafy green stems, featuring deep green, slightly crinkled leaves attached to reddish stems. Carrot leaves, attached to the edible root, are feathery and fern-like in appearance, growing in a rosette from the top of the root. Carrots are root vegetables with a distinctive appearance characterized by their long, slender, tapering shape and vibrant orange color, although they can also be found in shades of yellow, purple, red, or white, depending on the variety. The smooth skin is typically glossy and may have fine root hairs, while the flesh is crisp, crunchy, and ranges from pale orange to deep orange. Carrot leaves, attached to the edible root, are feathery and fern-like in appearance, growing in a rosette from the top of the root. Carrots are commonly cultivated for their sweet flavor, crunchy texture, and versatility in culinary dishes, making them a popular ingredient in salads, soups, and side dishes. Показати більше ​ 1 150 / 5 000 Результати перекладу Результат перекладу short growing season. Close-up of a raised bed of growing beets and carrots next to a bed of growing cucumbers in a sunny garden. Beets has round, smooth, purple-burgundy roots. Beets have leafy green stems, featuring deep green, slightly crinkled leaves attached to reddish stems. Carrot leaves, attached to the edible root, are feathery and fern-like in appearance, growing in a rosette from the top of the root.


If you live in an area with less than 120 frost-free days, you’re dealing with a short growing season. With a maximum of four months without frost, accomplishing all your gardening goals can seem almost impossible. But cold climate gardeners can still grow delicious, juicy tomatoes and harvest multiple rounds of greens and roots. You just need some savvy planning and season-extension tricks.

While you can’t change the last spring frost or first fall freeze date, you can take steps to protect your plants from the inevitable cold. But that’s not the only way to make the most of your limited frost-free days! Choosing the right crops and cultivars also has a big impact on the success of your gardening season.

Keep reading to learn the best ways to make the most of your short growing season.

Start Seedlings Indoors

Close-up of young seedlings in starting peat trays on a light windowsill. These trays have deep square cells filled with soil. One seedling grows in each cell. The seedlings have thin, upright stems and a pair of oval, smooth green cotyledons.
Start cold-sensitive crops indoors for early planting.

If you want to grow cold-sensitive crops like tomatoes and peppers in an area with a short growing season, get a jumpstart by starting seeds indoors. Even if outdoor temperatures are still dipping below freezing, you can create a cozy indoor environment that allows seeds to germinate and flourish. When outdoor temperatures are warm enough for crops, your plants will be a few weeks old and ready to head outdoors.

Starting warm-weather crops like tomatoes and peppers indoors is practically essential if you live in an area with a short growing season. Additionally, you can start cold-weather crops like broccoli and cabbage indoors. Even if these cold-weather crops can survive subfreezing temperatures, most seeds won’t germinate at these low temperatures. Starting seeds indoors allows for uniform germination, earlier harvests, and a more productive garden.

Pay attention to your seeding date regardless of what type of seeds you’re starting. Sowing seeds too early means you’ll have mature transplants with nowhere to go, and starting too late means your seedlings won’t be ready in time for planting. If you’re not sure when to start seeds indoors, pay attention to your seed packet and your last frost date. Most seed packets will instruct you to plant seeds indoors X number of weeks before your predicted last frost date.

When the weather has warmed up outdoors, do not move your seedlings directly from their indoor home to the ground! Instead, help acclimate them to wind and sunlight by slowly increasing their time outdoors.

Grow Quick-Maturing Crops

Close-up of a man's hand holding freshly picked radishes against a blurred garden background. Radish is a fast-growing, cool-season root vegetable with a distinctive appearance characterized by a round root that comes in pink-red color. The root itself has a smooth skin with a crisp, crunchy texture and a mildly peppery flavor. Above ground, radish plants feature lobed or serrated leaves arranged in a rosette pattern.
Plant quick-maturing crops for multiple harvests.

If you live in an area with a short growing season, it’s easy to believe you can only plant one crop in each area of your garden. After all, a single tomato plant takes multiple months to produce fruit! But don’t think this means you need to write off multiple harvests.

Planting quick-maturing crops allows you to grow and harvest multiple crops from even the smallest garden. Just think—arugula is ready to harvest in as little as three weeks!

Let’s say you live in an area with a 100-day growing season. One option is to fill your garden with long-season crops like peppers and winter squash that take the entire season to mature. Another option is to grow quick-maturing plants like arugula, radishes, and turnips. Since these crops are ready to harvest in about a month, you can succession plant and enjoy multiple harvests from the same growing area.

Of course, you don’t have to choose one or the other. Filling one section of your garden with long-season crops and another with quick-to-mature plants will provide you with a continuous and diverse harvest.

Choose Short-Day Varieties

Close-up of Indigo Rose tomato in a sunny garden against a blurred green background. This type of tomato is characterized by purple deep to black skin color. The tomatoes are small to medium-sized, round in shape, and grow in clusters on indeterminate vines.
Choose tomato varieties with shorter maturity for earlier harvests.

If you’ve spent time browsing through seed catalogs, you know you can find handfuls of tomato, pepper, and eggplant varieties. While you may want to choose the most beautiful or productive option, pay attention to the days to maturity. This is usually listed at the top of the seed packet. When it comes to long-season and warm-weather crops like peppers and tomatoes, choosing the right variety can be the difference between a prolific and disappointing harvest. Let’s look at cherry tomatoes as an example.

If you grow an Indigo Rose’ plant, expect to pick your first ripe tomato about 80 days after transplanting. So, if you transplant a seedling outdoors on June 1, you’ll pick your first ripe fruit around August 20. That means you may not be able to enjoy many tomatoes before the first fall frost arrives. However, if you opt to plant Patio Choice on June 1, you can start harvesting around July 16! ‘Patio Choice’ only takes 45 days to mature from transplanting, while ‘Indigo Rose’ takes 80 days.

Along with choosing short-day varieties for popular summer crops like tomatoes and peppers, pay attention to the days to maturity of fall crops like broccoli and carrots. Although these crops aren’t as concerned about cold temperatures, they still require adequate light to mature. Autumn brings shorter days and less sunlight. Choosing varieties with a short time to maturity increases the odds that the plants will be ready to harvest before reduced daylight stalls their growth.

Implement Interplanting

Close-up of a girl picking arugula in a bed of tomatoes. Arugula is a leafy green with a distinctive appearance characterized by elongated, serrated leaves arranged in a rosette or loose cluster. The leaves are typically deep green with slender stems. The tomato plant features a central stem with alternating, pinnately compound leaves that are serrated along the edges and covered in fine hairs.
Interplanting boosts yields and provides various gardening benefits like pest control.

Why grow one crop when you can grow two? Interplanting involves planting multiple types of crops in the same area. This allows you to grow more plants in a single space and can provide additional benefits.

For example, sowing radish or arugula seeds around your tomato plants helps suppress weeds as the larger plants grow. By the time the greens start crowding out the tomato plants, the smaller crops will be ready to harvest. Plus, the tomato plants provide a bit of shade and protect the greens from heat. Other benefits of interplanting include pest control, improved soil nutrition, and decreased water use.

Some popular ways to utilize interplanting include:

  • Planting small, quick-growing crops like baby greens alongside taller, slow-growing plants like peppers and eggplant
  • Training pole beans to vine up sturdy corn stalks
  • Planting nectar-rich flowers next to pest-prone vegetables

Utilize High and Low Tunnels

Close-up of two tunnels in a sunny garden with various crops growing. Two grow tunnels were built with hoops and covered by netting to protect vegetable plants. Cabbage and Kale grows in the beds.
Extend the growing season with high and low tunnels.

Let’s face it: if you live in an area with a fleeting frost-free season, it’s easy to yearn for warmer weather at least a few days of the year. Fortunately, you use high and low tunnels to increase your garden’s air and soil temperatures! Both structures use plastic to trap solar energy—the only difference is their size.

I like to use these structures to jumpstart the growing season in the spring and extend the season in the fall. Since they help increase the temperature during the unpredictable shoulder seasons, they’re great for growing warm-season crops like basil and cucumbers. Plus, tunnels help limit overhead moisture that wets the leaves and can lead to fungal diseases.

While unheated tunnels help you extend the growing season, adding heat further increases their usefulness. Many farmers put their heaters on temperature-controlled timers so they only kick on when the air temperature dips below a certain threshold. This allows them to continue producing cold-sensitive crops without racking up a high heating bill.

Protect Your Plants with Row Covers

Close-up of lettuce beds covered with row covers to protect against insects and frost. Lettuce is a leafy green vegetable with a distinctive appearance characterized by a rosette of loose, crinkled, or smooth leaves arranged around a central stem.
Row covers provide versatile protection for crops in various weather conditions.

I can’t overstate how much I love row covers. I use them to protect mature crops from early fall cold snaps, acclimate spring transplants to their new homes, and speed up the germination of direct sown seeds. In short, I can’t imagine gardening without them.

While you can lay row cover directly over your plants or seeds, I recommend propping the cover up with metal or plastic hoops. Hoops keep the cover off the plants and help trap more heat. Just make sure to secure the edges of the cover to the ground!

Another reason I love row cover is that it’s more forgiving than high and low tunnels. While plants prefer if you remove the cover on warm, sunny days, you don’t have to worry about rushing home to vent your plants when the clouds unexpectedly break.

Before you purchase row cover, be aware it comes in multiple weights. Lightweight options provide some cold protection but are better suited to protect plants from insect damage. Heavy covers provide more cold protection, so they’re the best option if you want to extend your growing season.

Choose Cold-Tolerant Crops

Close-up of a bed of cabbages growing in a garden. Cabbage is a leafy vegetable with a distinctive appearance characterized by a dense, round or elongated head composed of tightly packed leaves. The leaves are broad, slightly crinkled, and have a blue-green color. The outer leaves are typically larger and darker in color, while the inner leaves are lighter and more tightly packed, forming the dense head.
Extend the gardening season by planting cold-tolerant crops and frost-resistant flowers.

One of the main concerns with a short growing season is the first fall frost. And while this event will signal the end of plants like tomatoes, zinnias, and basil, it’s not a catastrophic event for every plant! Planting cold-tolerant crops will allow you to continue gardening once it’s cold enough to warrant wool socks and cozy sweaters.

Many plants withstand cold, and some even benefit from below-freezing temperatures. Cold-tolerant vegetables include carrots, kale, spinach, cabbage, and beets. When looking for crops that can tolerate frost, pay attention to the variety. Varieties bred to tolerate cold temperatures are the best option if you hope to grow crops past your first fall frost date.

When it comes to flowers, you can grow frost-tolerant annuals like violas and alyssum. However, don’t forget about cold-hardy perennials like asters, yarrow, and coneflower.

Experiment with Indoor Growing

Close-up of Red sorrel in hydroponic with LED Light Indoor. Red sorrel is a striking plant with a distinctive appearance characterized by deep red stems and calyxes contrasting against green leaves. The plant grows upright with a bushy habit.
Grow plants indoors to continue gardening during colder months effectively.

While utilizing cold frames, row covers, and hoop houses will help you protect your outdoor plants from cold, these practices won’t improve the lack of light during the colder months. If you’d like to continue planting and harvesting new successions of greens and roots throughout the winter, try growing indoors. That’s right, you can grow more than herbs indoors!

If you’re new to indoor growing, it can initially seem intimidating. But when you think about it, plants growing indoors and outdoors require the same elements to thrive: light, water, nutrients, and a suitable growing environment. As long as you supply plants with these elements, they’ll thrive.

Indoor growing can be as simple as planting a few lettuce seeds in a pot and placing them under a grow light or as complex as designing a complex hydroponic system. Don’t forget you can extend the lives of potted plants by moving them indoors when temperatures drop.

Construct a Cold Frame

Close-up of a cold frame garden under the sun. Eggplants, tomatoes and lettuce grow in these beds. A cold frame garden is a simple yet effective structure for extending the growing season and protecting plants from frost and harsh weather conditions. It consists of a low, rectangular frame made of wood with a transparent lid or cover, made of glass, that can be opened or closed to regulate temperature and humidity.
Build a cold frame efficiently for plant protection from temperature fluctuations.

A cold frame is another way to protect your plants from cold temperatures. Constructing a cold frame can be as simple as placing a glass panel over the top of an existing raised bed. However, working with the landscape will lead to a more efficient structure.

If you’re starting from scratch, angle your frame so the opening faces south. This will allow the frame to capture the most sunlight. If possible, set the frame against a south-facing wall. You can also insulate the sides of the frame with straw or leaves to protect your plants from cold air.

While you may be worried that your cold frame won’t trap enough heat to protect plants from low temperatures, remember that these frames can also trap too much heat! If you fail to vent them on warm and sunny days, the sudden temperature change can stress your plants. Therefore, remember to open your cold frame when necessary.

Utilize Microclimates

Close-up of green and red oak lettuce in a raised bed in a sunny garden. Red oak lettuce, also known as oakleaf lettuce, is a variety of loose-leaf lettuce with a distinctive appearance characterized by its oakleaf-shaped leaves. The leaves are burgundy, deeply lobed and have a delicate, frilly texture, resembling the shape of oak tree leaves. Another type of lettuce has large, wide, oval leaves of bright green color with slightly wavy edges.
Use microclimates for earlier planting and frost protection in gardens.

When we think of climates, we usually think of major differences. There’s the cold climate of the Northern Plains and the warm climate of the South. But have you ever thought about the small differences in temperature and humidity within a single yard? These are known as microclimates.

Learning about microclimates can help you start plants earlier in the season and protect them from late-season frosts.

Warm microclimates often occur next to south-facing structures since these walls often trap and hold heat. You can also try planting sensitive crops next to east-facing walls since these areas are protected from prevailing west winds. Avoid planting frost-sensitive crops in low-lying areas where frost settles.

Incorporate No-Till Methods

Close-up of a man in blue jeans and blue-gray sneakers tilling the soil with a broad fork. A broad fork is a manual gardening tool with a distinctive appearance characterized by a wide, forked head and long handles. The head consists of multiple tines arranged in a U-shape, spaced apart to allow for efficient aeration and loosening of soil.
No-till methods allow earlier gardening without waiting for soil drying.

If you’re growing on a larger scale and using tillage equipment, one of the biggest challenges is waiting for the soil to dry out in the spring. Even if temperatures are above freezing, melting snow and spring rains can delay your field prep and planting by weeks. The solution? Practice no-till methods!

One of the great things about no-till is that you don’t have to wait for the ground to dry to start gardening. You can prep the ground in the fall, cover it with a tarp, and remove the covering when it’s time to plant in the spring. Another option is to wait until spring, then use a broadfork to loosen the soil.

Transitioning to a no-till garden can take some time, so don’t be discouraged if your soil is compacted and hard to plant into the first spring. As long as you keep adding organic matter and disturbing the soil as little as possible, you’ll eventually end up with nice soil that’s ready for planting as soon as the ground thaws. Getting your plants into the ground ASAP will allow you to make the most of your growing season.

Use a Combination of Raised Beds and In-Ground Growing

View of the community garden. The garden has several wooden raised beds growing cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, strawberries, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, beans and others.
Combine raised beds and in-ground gardens for extended growing seasons.

Both raised beds and in-ground gardens offer unique advantages for gardeners with a short frost-free season. Utilizing both of these planting methods will help you plant your garden earlier in the spring and enjoy it later into the fall.

Raised beds are one way to deal with soil that is slow to dry and warm up during the spring. Filling the beds with a well-potting mix creates an environment that drains more quickly than native soil. When the soil is dry a few weeks earlier, you can plant your garden a few weeks earlier!

However, raised beds aren’t the best option for growing in the fall and winter. Since the soil in raised beds is exposed to the surrounding air more than soil in the ground, it freezes more quickly. That means fall crops growing in raised beds experience cold damage earlier than those growing in the ground.

Plant Storage Crops

Close-up of freshly picked beet, potato and carrot in a wooden box. Beets have round-shaped root bulbs. These bulbs have smooth skin ranging in color from deep red to purple. The leaves of the beet plant, known as beet greens, are also edible and have a similar appearance to spinach or Swiss chard, featuring deep green, slightly crinkled leaves attached to reddish stems. Potatoes are starchy tuberous vegetables with a distinctive appearance characterized by their round to oblong shape and smooth, thin skin. Carrots are root vegetables with a distinctive appearance characterized by their elongated, tapering shape and vibrant orange color.
Extend harvest through winter with storage crops like root vegetables.

Living in an area with frigid winters and a short season doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy home-grown crops year-round. Planting storage crops is a great way to enjoy your bounty even when the outdoor world is frozen solid.

When you think of storage crops, you probably imagine roots like carrots, beets, and rutabagas, as well as cured crops like winter squash and onions. And you’re not wrong! However, not all carrots or cabbages have the same storage properties.

If you plan to harvest them in the fall and enjoy them into the winter, look for varieties that are bred for long-term storage rather than fresh eating. Once you harvest your crops, handle them to improve storage. Properly cure garlic and winter squash, and leave a thin layer of soil on root crops like carrots and beets. Washing them can actually reduce storage time and lead to premature rotting.

Final Thoughts

You can still grow a productive garden if you live in an area with a short growing season. Choosing suitable crops and varieties, altering the environment with row covers and high tunnels, and trying indoor growing will all help you reach your gardening goals.

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