21 Best Vegetables For Gardeners With a Short Growing Season

If you grow in an area with a short growing season, have no fear! There are so many high-quality and delicious crops you can successfully grow. Join organic farmer Jenna Rich for a list of 21 vegetables you can grow in a short season.

Assorted pots display vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes and hot peppers, bursting with color and flavor. The cherry tomatoes gleam with a rich red hue, while the hot peppers add a fiery touch, promising a tantalizing culinary experience.


I’ve grown vegetables in Illinois, North Carolina, and New Hampshire, and I’ve seen what a difference zones make when it comes to which vegetables grow well in different parts of the season. In North Carolina, summer crops start producing when New England spring crops just begin to thrive.

It’s easy to envy others’ long growing seasons. Instead, find what grows well in your region and climate. There is plenty to choose from! 

What’s a Growing Season? 

In a nurturing environment, tiny seedlings emerge from the dark, fertile soil of a black seed tray. Bathed in sunlight, they embrace the warmth and energy it provides, a testament to the cycle of life and renewal.
The US continental growing season usually runs from April to early October.

There is conflicting information about what exactly a growing season is. These days, we have access to hybrid cultivars specifically bred to help us fight climate change, extend our season, and deal with new strains of disease and regional pests.

The average growing season in the continental US begins with a last frost date in April and runs through early October. The average summers are warm with occasional high temperatures, and winters are cold with potentially heavy snow. Generally, any location with less than 120 frost-free days is thought to have a short season.

Growers with short seasons don’t necessarily have to grow short-season vegetables, especially if they have protected growing areas like high tunnels and can start crops from seed indoors. 

In this article, I’ll focus on starting vegetables from seed and will indicate whether it’s best to direct sow or start them indoors. Let’s get started. 


An arugula plant flourishes in a garden, its verdant leaves sprawling gracefully. Bathed in sunlight, the arugula's long, lobed foliage glistens, hinting at the vitality and abundance of nature's embrace.
Plant arugula and radishes together due to their similar maturity timings.

DAYS TO MATURITY: Baby leaves in 21-25, full size 32-55

Argula is a peppery, delicate short-season vegetable that’s surprisingly tolerant of light frost. Direct sow arugula outdoors at ¼ inch deep in rows six inches apart, about one seed per inch. Continue to sow every four to six weeks for a continuous supply. Row cover should be used in the early spring to avoid frost damage and yellowing. If you’re expecting a heat wave, provide shade to decrease the risk of bolting or tip fry

Select mild ‘Astro’ if you’re new to arugula or don’t love the intense peppery flavor of some others. It has wider leaves and is slower to bolt than others. Choose ‘Arugula/Rocket’ for a classic mustardy flavor that can be grown in containers or outdoors.  

Arugula has similar maturity timing as radishes. Try sowing a garden bed with half of each for easy bed transitions.  


Bright red radishes, plump and fresh, nestle atop rich soil. The leaves, lush and green, spread out gracefully, showcasing their delicate veins and textured surfaces, a testament to the plant's vitality and health.
Successively sow radish seeds every few weeks starting in March.

DAYS TO MATURITY: 25-35, for certain varieties; up to 65 for others

Radishes are quick to mature and thrive in cool weather, so you can get several successions in before the heat of summer kicks in. Start direct sowing them in March and again every few weeks for a continuous supply.

Sow seeds ½ inch deep in a two-inch band or single rows two to three inches apart. Cover them with soil and tamp it down gently, then water them in. Cover with insect netting right away if you struggle with flea beetles in your area. Lightly sprinkling wood ash will deter them, too.

French Breakfast varieties prefer the soil a bit drier, so don’t water them nearly as much. Globe radishes become pithy and woody if they have to search far for water and can’t find it. These short-season vegetables will become spicier as summer heat kicks in.

Green Beans 

Long, slender green beans hang gracefully from stems. Leaves intermingle with the beans, adding a verdant contrast to the scene, creating a lush and vibrant display of nature's bounty.
Plant the green beans outdoors once they develop true leaves.


Green beans are excellent short-season vegetables because they mature quickly. Several successions can be grown each season. While you can direct sow them outdoors, starting them indoors will keep hungry critters from consuming the seed. 

You can’t go wrong with ‘Provider,’ aptly named for its prolific yield. These beans have incredible flavor when eaten fresh and are perfect for canning as they remain crisp and juicy. Lightly blanch and freeze them for winter use. 

Beans germinate in 6-12 days, so prepare your garden plot. Transplant them outdoors once they have a few true leaves and the risk of frost has passed. Remove them from their containers and transplant them gently, as they’re sensitive to root disturbance. High temperatures will slow bean production. 


Rows of green spinach thrive in nutrient-rich, dark soil, their delicate leaves unfurling gracefully under the sun's warm embrace. Each leaf boasts a rich, emerald hue, showcasing the plant's robust health and promising a bountiful harvest ahead.
Sow spinach seeds in cold climates before the last frost.


Spinach is known for its cold hardiness and frost tolerance, so it makes a great short- season vegetable. If you live in a northern region, you can sow seeds as soon as the ground can be worked. A bonus of growing spinach in colder climates is it becomes sweeter after a frost! Overwinter the ultra-sweet ‘Matador’ by heavily mulching it in the fall. 

Spinach quickly peters out in extended heat and will not germinate in temperatures over 85°F (29°C). Seeds may take a bit longer to germinate in the cold, but the quality and flavor of the crop will be better. Directly sow seeds when soil temperatures exceed 40°F (4°C), about four to six weeks before your last frost. Sprinkle seeds in rows six inches apart and thin to one plant every four to six inches. Harvest often, taking outside leaves first. 

Freeze spinach for use later in soups, egg bakes, smoothies, or sautés. Wash it and leave it to fully dry, then put it in an airtight bag, remove all the air, and seal it tight. Alternatively, add blanched and blended spinach to ice cube trays and then bag them up. Cellular walls break down during freezing, so the spinach will not have the same consistency as when it’s fresh. But it will have practically the same flavor.

Baby Greens Mix 

An assortment of tender baby greens fills a pot, their delicate leaves unfurling in shades of green and earthy brown. The delicate leaves form a lush tapestry, creating a visually appealing and harmonious blend of colors.
Harvest baby greens mix using the cut-and-come-again method for a continuous supply.


There are many blends of various greens available from seed companies today. They may include mustard, brassicas, tat soi or bok choy, mizuna, cabbage, or arugula, offering different textures, colors, and flavors. You can create your own based on your personal preference, space, and climate.

Don’t like spicy greens? Mix kale varieties and direct sow them as baby greens. You make the rules! Just ensure varieties have similar days to maturity and frost tolerance levels. 

Depending on your mix, sow them according to the packet for baby greens. Typically, you’ll want to sow them in one-inch bands, about five to ten seeds per inch at ¼ inch deep. Cover them with soil and water them in. Don’t allow the soil to dry out. You should see emergence in a few days. 

Most mixed greens can be harvested using the cut-and-come-again method. Sow every few weeks for a continuous supply. 

YouTube video

Baby and Full-Sized Kale 

Curly kale leaves unfurl gracefully, their edges adorned with delicate ruffles and twists, resembling miniature green waves in the wind. Each leaf showcases intricate contours, creating a captivating display of nature's artistry and verdant beauty.
Transplant kales outside once they have true leaves for efficient growth.


Kale is a great short-season vegetable because it can be harvested in early spring as baby leaves, and the same plants will last you all season as they grow into full-sized plants, offering large, robust leaves. If you can’t decide between dinosaur, Russian, or curly, try Botanical Interests’ ‘Premier Blend’ for a mix of them all. 

Direct-sown seeds will germinate best in soil temperatures of 65°F (18°C) or above. Start these indoors in cell trays and transplant them out when conditions are ideal. A heat mat will help provide consistent temperatures. Water them regularly so the soil doesn’t dry out. 

Once each seedling has a few sets of true leaves, harden them off and transplant them outside.

Pro tip: Space them closely in the spring and harvest them as baby greens. As they grow, thin plants out to allow more space for them to grow into full-size plants. The final spacing should be three rows with 12 inches between plants. 

Bok Choy/Pak Choi

Green bok choy leaves stretch towards the sunlight, basking in its warm glow. The leaves are crisp and sturdy, with thick white stalks supporting them, showcasing the plant's healthy growth and vitality under the sun's nurturing rays.
Plant bok choy seeds in early spring and late summer.


These short-season vegetables emerge and mature fairly quickly, making them perfect to directly sow outside. Sow seeds two to four weeks before the last spring frost and again in late summer for a fall harvest. Space about 15 seeds/foot in rows at 12 inches. Thin plants to one every six inches. You may follow the planting and thinning noted above to harvest as baby greens until they grow into full-size plants. 

Bok choi is a mild, crisp Asian vegetable perfect for kimchi, stir-fries, or grilled with tender, uniform leaves and stems.  

Grow ‘Choko’ if you experience some extreme heat during the summer. This variety tolerates heat well and performs well all season long. ‘Baby Choi’ is our recommendation for baby bok choi and does well in containers. Flea beetles can be excluded with insect netting or row cover. 

Hakurei Salad Turnips 

A close-up reveals a white Hakurei Salad Turnip with green stalks and leaves, showcasing their freshness and appeal. In the background, additional turnips create a picturesque display of abundance and natural beauty.
These unusual turnips require protection from pests like flea beetles and slugs.


These turnips are not your grandma’s turnips. Hakurei turnips are a Japanese variety that are crisp, buttery, slightly peppery, and can be used raw and cooked. 

Direct sow these outdoors two to four weeks before your last frost date or several weeks earlier in a greenhouse using row cover. Sow them in rows about six inches apart from one another and thin to a small bunch every four to six inches. Give them enough space to produce a full, round globe. 

Water them consistently until maturity, or they’ll become dry, roots reaching down into the soil for moisture. The greens are edible, too, but watch out for flea beetles and slugs. Use insect netting to exclude them. 

Sprouting Broccoli 

Tender broccolis display slender stems and petite leaves, basking in the warm glow of sunlight. The verdant, flourishing foliage evokes a sense of freshness and health in this thriving garden.
‘De Cicco’ broccoli yields small main heads and continuous side shoots.


Full-size broccoli may not be attractive to home gardeners because they take up lots of space and are in the ground for a long time. But ‘De Cicco’ grows a small main head, then sprouts all summer into fall. It offers classic broccoli flavor and tender leaves and is great for freezing

Sow seeds indoors in cell trays four to six weeks before your last frost. Step them up, harden them off, then transplant them outdoors with 18 inches of space between plants. Harvest the central head in the summer to encourage side shoots and harvest as they’re ready. Blanch before freezing to retain the bright green shade. 

Pro tip: Don’t waste the leaves! Cook them the way you do chard leaves. 

Cherry Tomatoes 

A cluster of ripe cherry tomatoes glistens in the sunlight, showcasing a palette of reds and yellows. The delicate green vine gracefully intertwines, providing a visually pleasing contrast to the plump, juicy tomatoes.
Many cherry tomatoes are bred for disease resistance and small spaces.

DAYS TO MATURITY: 45-70 from transplant

With lots of varieties to choose from, cherry tomatoes are constantly being bred to offer new disease-resistance packages, heat and cold tolerance, and small space growing. Try ‘Patio Choice Yellow Bush’ for a sweet cherry tomato perfect for containers. They’re ready just 45 days from transplant

Start seeds indoors just before your peppers and in the same fashion. Sow them in a strip tray in a moist seed-starting mix and allow them to germinate on a heat mat set to 70-90°F (21-32°C). Keep the soil moist and put seedlings under light as soon as you see germination to avoid legginess. Step them up once they have a few sets of true leaves, and transplant them out once the weather allows. Use row cover when hardening off and when newly transplanted to avoid transplant shock. 

Tomatoes are tropical plants and perform well in a greenhouse. Space them at least 18 inches apart and trellis them appropriately. Sucker and prune them weekly, paying close attention to browning or leaves under an empty truss. This will provide better airflow and decrease the risk of fungal diseases. 

Determinate Slicing Tomatoes

A close-up of ripe cherry tomatoes nestled among green leaves. Tiny droplets of dew cling delicately to the surface of the cherry tomatoes, accentuating their luscious red hue and highlighting the verdant leaves surrounding them.
Consider determinate tomatoes with a limited maturation window for efficient canning.

DAYS TO MATURITY: 70-80 from transplant

Plans to make a lot of salsa, sauce, or stewed tomatoes for canning or freezing? Determinate tomatoes will mature within a limited window and then peter out, a perfect vegetable for homesteaders and short-season growers. 

Start seeds indoors, along with cherry tomatoes, as noted above. If you’d like to harvest them later in the season, count back about 75 days, taking into account the additional time they’ll spend germinating and growing in the greenhouse. 

Try blue ribbon winner ‘Red Pride’ for consistently delicious, disease-resistant slicing tomatoes, great for all your preserving needs. 

Hot Peppers

A cluster of hot pepper plants displays a mix of ripe red and vibrant green peppers, each promising a fiery kick. Lush green leaves elegantly accompany the peppers, enhancing the natural beauty of the plant.
Growing hot peppers is a fun and easy endeavor for home gardeners.

DAYS TO MATURITY: 60-75 from transplant

If you like a little spice in your dishes or adding a bit of heat to your pickled goods, growing hot peppers is fun and easy for home gardeners. Hot peppers are smaller than bells or sweet Italians and mature two to three weeks sooner. 

Choose from jalapeños, cayennes, Thai, habañero, serranos, and more. Depending on your zone, these tropical, frost-sensitive plants should be started indoors around March or April. Sow seeds in organic, moist seed-starting mix using a strip tray.

Place the strip tray on a heat mat set between 70-90°F (21-32°C) and keep the soil moist until germination, which may only take a few days. Step them up into larger pots and allow them to grow several sets of true leaves indoors or in a greenhouse. 

In northern regions, the last frost date is around May 20th. Wait until that date passes and soil temperatures increase. Harden them off outside for a week, then transplant them into a well-draining, full-sun area with 18-24 inch spacing outside. Stake or trellis as needed. Peppers love the extra heat of greenhouses and hoop houses and will perform well under cover. 

Patty Pan Summer Squash 

A close-up reveals several white patty pan summer squashes, their smooth surfaces reflecting light. Nestled amidst green leaves, the vegetables exude freshness and vitality, promising delightful flavors and culinary inspiration for summer dishes.
Consider starting squash indoors in biodegradable pots to minimize transplant shock.


Many home gardeners grow zucchini and yellow summer squash, but have you tried patty pans? Their scalloped fruits remain thin-skinned, smooth, and buttery and they have few seeds when harvested young. Grill, sauté, or add them to soups.  

Cucurbits don’t love to be transplanted, but since squash are frost-sensitive, starting this vegetable indoors in short-season growing regions is recommended. Start them in biodegradable pots to avoid transplant shock, or transplant them gently once the soil has warmed up to 60°F (16°C), disturbing the roots as little as possible. 

Pro tip: Get two crops from one space by sowing radishes alongside young squash plants. They’ll mature quickly before the squash can shade them out; the perfect companions!

Swiss Chard

Fresh Swiss chard features purple stalks contrasting beautifully with lush green leaves, creating a visual feast of color in the garden. The glossy, crinkly texture of the leaves reflects sunlight, adding to the plant's allure and vitality.
Begin Swiss chard seeds indoors after frost-tolerant greens and thin them post-germination.


Start Swiss chard seeds indoors a few weeks after your frost-tolerant kales and greens and transplant them a few weeks later. Seeds are multigerm and should be thinned to one after germination by using sharp, clean shears rather than tugging stems out to avoid unnecessary damage to others. They can tolerate some cold weather but are susceptible to frost damage. 

Select ‘Celebration’ for a stunning blend of pink, coral, white, and yellow stems with dark green, glossy leaves. Get more bang for your buck by planting Swiss chard densely, like kale and bok choi, and thin it out as it matures

Swiss chard is excellent when grilled, sautéed, or blanched and frozen for winter use. You’ll hardly know it was frozen! 

Head Lettuce 

A close-up captures the crisp, emerald green leaves of a fresh lettuce head. The delicate, intricately veined lettuce leaves form a symphony of shapes, creating a visually appealing pattern that highlights the vegetable's wholesome and nutritious qualities.
Choose lettuce varieties based on their seasonality and storage viability.


No home garden is complete without fresh, crisp head lettuce, and there are plenty to choose from! Seed viability of head lettuce remains high for several years in ideal storage conditions, so you can alternate your varieties each season or try out a few new ones each year.

Most seed catalogs indicate whether a variety is best grown in the early, mid, or late season based on their cold and heat tolerance, disease resistance, and days to maturity. Select one for each part of the season for the best results in a short growing season. 

If you have particularly wet soil, grow an upright variety like ‘Vivian Romaine’ or ‘Rouge d’Hiver Romaine’ to avoid bottom leaf or stem rot. 

Green Onions 

Green onions, also known as scallions, grow erect, displaying vibrant green hues against the rich, dark soil. Their slender stalks stand tall, gracefully swaying in the gentle breeze, a testament to their freshness and vitality in the garden.
Sow green onions every 3-4 weeks for a continuous supply.


If you have a short growing season, vegetables like full-size bulbing onions might not be your best use of space. But if you love cooking with onions, select a bunching variety, also called scallions or green onions, instead.

Some cultivars have been bred specifically for their tops and won’t bulb out at all. Green onions focus all their energy on creating flavorful, above-ground green onion stems.

Sow three to five onion seeds per cell in a small celled tray. Tuck the whole cell into the ground when transplanting and harvest the same way when the time comes

Try ‘Tokyo Long White’ or ‘White Lisbon’ seeds. Sow them every three to four weeks for a continuous supply. Intercrop them with tomatoes, kale, and Swiss chard. 


Earth-kissed orange carrots peek through the soil, their surfaces adorned with traces of moist earth. A cluster of green carrot leaves rises elegantly, showcasing their lush and feathery texture under the sunlight.
Succession planning for carrots is crucial for short-season gardeners.


Carrots take a long time to mature, so short-season gardeners should plan successions so they can enjoy these vegetables all season. Select an early, mid, and late-season storage carrot. Always direct sow carrots outdoors. They take 10-25 days to emerge, so it is crucial to ensure the garden bed is weed-free. 

If you have heavy soil or want to try carrots in a container, select ‘Tonda di Parigi’. This French heirloom’s roots are round and juicy and just one to two inches at maturity. 

Pro tip: Add a few beet seeds at the end of your carrot bed on the same day. As soon as you see beet germination, flame weed the bed to kill any tiny weed seeds that have emerged. Carrots should germinate a few days after the beets. Cultivate regularly with a wire weeder until the carrot tops can shade out new weeds. 


Tall garlic stalks stand boldly against a vibrant backdrop. The background hints at the serene beauty of a sunset, casting a warm glow over the landscape, as the slender stalks reach proudly toward the darkening sky.
Guarantee the success of your garlic cultivation through soil testing.

DAYS TO MATURITY: about 290 days from fall planting

I think everyone should grow a little bit of garlic every year because there’s just nothing more satisfying than sticking cloves in the ground, mulching them, ignoring them all winter long, and then watching them sprout and grow in the spring and summer. Garlic has been grown for over 5000 years, so just trust the process and give it a shot.

Garlic is a heavy feeder, so test your soil before selecting your patch. Fertilize as needed and mulch heavily, especially in cold regions. Too little may allow weeds to germinate and bulbs to freeze and fail to sprout in the spring, so don’t be shy with the mulch. Keep your eye on the weather before sowing. Too early and it will begin to sprout, and too late and it may not have time enough to set roots and establish before the winter. 

In the spring, pull back the mulch, weed if needed, and fertilize once again. Cover them back up until the risk of frost has passed. They’ll grow all summer, and hard-neck varieties will produce scapes around late June or July, which should be snapped off. Harvest in late August once about ⅓ of the tops have died back and hang them to dry for about four weeks. Then, cut the tops off and store them in a cool, dry place for several months. 


Several ripe cucumbers hang gracefully from a lush green vine. Leaves sway gently in the breeze, providing a verdant backdrop to the dangling cucumbers, promising freshness and flavor in each bite.
Start cucumber seeds indoors 2-4 weeks before the last frost.


Cucumbers are quick to germinate and grow indoors, so don’t start seeds too soon. Two to four weeks before your last frost date will suffice. They despise cold, so putting them on a heat mat will make them happy and healthy. Sow seeds in large cells, a 50-tray, or larger containers. Cucurbits are sensitive to root disturbance. Dig a hole just deep enough for the seedling, gently place it in, then surround it with native soil and tamp it down. Space plants at 12-18 inches.

Cucumbers can be grown in succession every few weeks for a continuous supply. While new cultivars are bred constantly for disease resistance, most peter out in peak summer heat or succumb to pests. ‘Marketmore’ is a long-time reliable slicing cucumber and ‘Spacemaster 80’ can be harvested small and pickled. 

Pro tip: A delayed spring planting may cause the first generation of cucumber beetles to fly off to another garden. Try this, or cover your transplants with insect netting immediately to exclude them. 

Sugar Snap Peas 

A close-up of sugar snap peas showcases their plump pods, brimming with crisp sweetness. Surrounding the peas, leaves unfurl, providing a verdant backdrop that highlights the freshness and vitality of the vegetables in this wholesome scene.
‘Sugar Daddy’ snap peas produce stringless pods on compact bushes.


Sugar snap peas are a fan favorite here in New Hampshire. They’re one of the first things we can sow in our cool soil and are highly productive. ‘Sugar Daddy’ produces stringless, medium green, three-inch pods on a compact bush, so no support is needed! Sugar snap peas add crunch to salads and are great for dipping or served as a healthy snack. 

Sowing snap peas outdoors is recommended four to six weeks before your last frost date. They can tolerate cold, wet soil, but it should be at least 40°F (4°C) for ideal germination. 

Dig a trench an inch deep using the handle of a rake or similar tool and sow the seeds at two inches. Tamp the soil down after filling the trench in. Watering right away may not be necessary if you receive spring rain and have snowmelt. Production will slow when temperatures exceed 85°F (29°C). 


Purple beets emerge from the soil, their hue contrasting against the earthy backdrop. Their slender purple stalks stand tall, adorned with veiny green leaves that sway gently in the breeze.
Space one beet every four inches in a 30-inch bed.


Rounding out our list is the super earthy, nutritious beet! Packed with iron and antioxidants, beets will mature in an average of just 60 days. Most growers direct sow their beets, but starting your first one to two successions indoors with some warmth will jumpstart the season. Sow three rows in a 30-inch bed and thin to one every four inches. Alternatively, transplant them to the same spacing after thinning the multi-germ seed to one per cell and soil temperatures are at least 45°F (7°C). Soak your seeds for a day before sowing.

Detroit Dark’ is an heirloom variety that’s been around since 1892. It produces 2 ½ – 3-inch globes with tender, edible leaves. 

Pro tip: If your beet greens have spots on them several weeks before maturity, you may have a boron deficiency. Combine one ounce of borax with water in a garden sprayer. Coat all surfaces of the leaves about four weeks after transplanting for the boost they need to finish maturing.

Final Thoughts 

Don’t shortchange yourself just because you garden in a short growing season. There are plenty of amazing cold-tolerant vegetables and others perfect for succession planting to make your garden the best it can be, no matter how short your season!

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