9/26/2022 | By Kari Smith

Gardens are for spring and summer, right? They don’t have to be! Imagine working with your outdoor plants with no hot sun beating mercilessly on your back, no sweat dripping in your eyes, no sticky layer of sunscreen and bug spray. Cool weather gardening sounds pretty incredible, right?

It’s entirely possible! Not only are there cool-weather plants, you can find plenty of useful cool weather gardening activities to keep you engaged, active, and outdoors in fall, winter, and early spring.

Depending on your area, there are plants that are cold hardy and can survive the colder temperatures. If you do not know your zone, check the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (enter your zip code, then click on the right arrow that appears in the top right of the box). Once you know your zone, you can search for plants appropriate for cool weather gardening in your area. If it is late in the season and you have not started plants from seed in the late summer, you can always visit your local nursery for well-established plants to put into the ground.

Cool weather gardening plants


Depending on the type and how well established your plants are, your perennial herbs may come back year after year. In Zone 7a, where I live in Virginia, I have had great luck with rosemary, thyme, chives, oregano, parsley, and more. (Parsley, however, should usually be sown earlier in the year, and is a biennial.)


Man gardening in long sleeve flannel shirt. Image by Mytha, Dreamstime. Cool weather gardening offers the chance to benefit from light outdoor work while adding pretty plants to your garden and living areas.

How convenient is it to have access to fresh vegetables all year long? Although you won’t be growing tomatoes and other warm weather produce outdoors during the fall and winter, many lettuces are cold hardy, such as kale, spinach, endive, arugula, and chard. Other veggies that fare well in cooler weather include brassicas, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, and many more. Radishes and many pea varieties also fare well when planted in late summer or as part of your early fall cool weather gardening.

For guidance on what to plant in your area, check with your local cooperative extension office. In my area, the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s office publishes a chart that lists each zone and what the recommended planting and harvest dates for many different vegetables, based on the first and last killing frost dates for the region. Or plant garlic, which needs to be planted around Halloween, and must be in the ground even through the coldest part of winter, and then isn’t harvested until the next spring.

Related: 6 big benefits of gardening for seniors

Ornamental plants, trees, and shrubs

Your efforts at cool weather gardening can result in beautiful ornamentals to grace your yard – immediately or when the warmth returns. For example:

  • Pansies and violas grow well in the fall – and they may re-bloom in the spring. Just insulate them with a thick layer of mulch if the soil freezes.
  • Did you know that your spring bulbs need a period of cold to bloom? Now is the time to get them into the ground!
  • Trees, shrubs, and turf grasses should also be planted in the fall while the soil is still warmer and before the ground freezes.

Nervous about leaving your plants outside, or do you want to extend your growing season? You have options!

  • I feel very lucky to have a 17’x17’ greenhouse in which I start seeds, keep plants growing through the winter, and start plants early in the season using a heater. Not everyone has the space for a full-sized greenhouse, but even small greenhouses that you erect yourself offer your plants a little protection from wind, frost, and snow.
  • If you’re concerned that a plant isn’t thriving, use available interior space such as a windowsill or a plant shelf in front of a sunny window to keep plants alive in your house until warmer weather. Make sure you water it regularly, but do not overwater!
  • Use grow lights turn your garage, basement – or even a corner of your living room – into a mini greenhouse without the fear of freezes. Tip: use full-spectrum grow lights to combat seasonal affective disorder blues, too!
  • Cold frames are a great option for leaving plants outdoors because they can easily be closed to protect plants from harsh winds and heavy snows. Cold frames resemble a small arched greenhouse that is placed above the earth. This means that once your plants’ roots have reached the bottom of the dirt in your cold frame, they will still be able to go down into the earth under the frame – there is typically no barrier such as plastic, fabric, gravel, etc.
  • Row covers, aka plant covers, are another way to extend your growing season by protecting your plants from frost.

Although many conventional gardening activities take place in the spring and summer, there are still plenty of cool weather gardening activities. For example:

Cool weather gardening can get you outside even when flower fade and leaves fall. It will help you continue to benefit from the exercise, fresh air, and sunshine of outdoor work!

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith