Southwest Cool-Season Vegetable Gardening – Tips & Tricks

Days are cooling off in the Southwest and that means it’s time to get your winter vegetable garden going! You need to plan and plant before any frost comes along, and this year we have been getting some beautiful autumn rains to soak the ground and encourage growing.

The reason for doing this now – is that some vegetables need warm soils to germinate, but then grow better in cool temperatures (lettuce and cole crops are two examples) and such plants are ideal for an autumn garden. Most of the crops in the winter vegetable garden are from northern or eastern Europe or other similar cool parts of the world. Genetically they are well adapted to our cool season, but they may still struggle with our low humidity. [[See the list at the end of this post]]

Soil for Winter Vegetables

Seed-starting mix is worth the money to help insure gardening success. A dark seed-starter mix helps warm the seeds in the cool months. Seed-starter soils are also lighter weight that garden soil, which makes it easier for sprouting vegetable seedlings to emerge.

Water your Winter Vegetables

Keep seeds moist when they are sprouting. This seems a no-brainer, but is critical in our arid climate. Twice a day water is not out of line if its a hot day and seeds are sprouting. Once young vegetables have two to three sets of true leaves, they can stand a less frequent watering.


Some¬†vegetables are easier to grow from transplants due to soil temperatures, others due to space. Think about how much of a crop you want and how much space you have available. I could freeze and use about a quarter acre of broccoli, but I don’t have that much space, so 4-pack from the nursery has to suffice. Finally, some plants are easier to grow from transplants due to their nature. Onions grow best from “sets” (but wait until January here in the Southwest).


Most vegetable crops are ready at a specific time, as indicated by their “days to maturity” on the seed package or nursery label. Save this data! It will help you planning your succession planting and harvest time (beets or radish left too long are woody).

Continual Harvest

If you plan and plant with attention, you can harvest your cool season vegetables over a long period of time. Radishes are a good example of a crop you want only a few of at a time! Succession planting is the key. Succession planting is the process of planting the same plant, in successive weeks, through the growing season. Beets, carrots, chard, choy, kale, and lettuce join radish on the list of good candidates for succession planting.

Crop Rotation

Some plants need to be moved where they grow in the garden each year. This is because these crops are highly susceptible to soil-borne diseases. By moving where you plant them from year to year you avoid ever having the problem develop. Or grow these susceptible crops in large pots and provide them with new potting soil each year.

Good Luck! and watch this blog as well as my other site for more information on individual crops.

Cool Season Garden Crops

arugula (Eruca sativa, also sold as Eruca versicaria)
beet (Beta vulgaris, Crassa Group)
carrot (Daucus carota var. sativus)
celery (Apium graveolens var. dulce)

celeriac (Apium graveolens var. rapaceum)

chard (Beta vulgaris, Cicla Group)
chickpea or garbanzo (Cicer arietinum) posted about that here

Cole or Brassica Crops

(these are the ones to not plant in the same soil each year, also note that many will easily cross, thus saving seed needs some care.)
broccoli (Brassica oleracea, Italica Group)
leaf broccoli (Brassica oleracea)
raab broccoli (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa )
Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea, Gemmifera Group)
cabbage (Brassica oleracea, Capitata Group)
cauliflower (Brassica oleracea, Botrytis Group)
Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa, Pekinensis Group)
choy or choi cabbages (Brassica rapa, Chinensis Group)
kale (Brassica oleracea, Acephala Group)
kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea, Gongylodes Group)
mizuna (Brassica rapa var. japonica)
turnip (Brassica rapa var. rapa)
rutabaga (Brassica napobrassica)
tatsoi (Brassica rapa var. narinosa)

fennel, bronze (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce)
fennel, bulbing (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum)

garlic (Allium sativum varieties)
onions & scallions (Allium species)
bulbing onions (Allium cepa var. cepa)
Japanese bunching onion (Allium fistulosum)
multiplier onions (Allium cepa var. aggregatum)
scallions (Allium cepa var. cepa)
shallots (Allium cepa var. aggregatum)

parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
pea (Pisum sativum)
potato (Solanum tuberosum)
radish (Raphanus sativus)
radish, Daikon (Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus)

Greens for Cool Season

upland cress (Barbarea verna)
curly cress (Lepidium sativium)
watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
European spinach (Spinaceia oleracea)
lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
mache (Valerianella locusta) also called corn salad or lambs lettuce
mesclun mix: mixed seed of these greens
microgreens: mixed seed of these greens
mizuna (Brassica rapa var. japonica)
mustard (Brassica juncea)
orach (Atriplex hortensis)
sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
tatsoi (Brassica rapa var. narinosa)

Want to learn more? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press).  This is an Amazon link and if you buy the book there I get a few pennies.

© Copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. No stealing photos!

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