Warning: These Vegetables Will Not Survive a Frost

frost hardy spinach from the garden

The two most important dates to know about your garden is when your average first and last frosts occur. (If you don’t know, you can enter your zip code here to find out.

Why is this important?

Well, there are two big categories of vegetable plants – the ones that can survive a frost in the garden (frost tolerant vegetables) and the ones that will get killed by a frost.

In spring, if you plant the vegetables that aren’t frost tolerant too early and you get a late frost, well, you might come out to your garden one morning to find a bunch of dead seedlings. (Ouch!)

As our gardens head into fall, many of our hot weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, are pumping out lots of fruit for our dinner tables. Unfortunately,these three vegetables are all in the category of not frost hardy, so if the temperatures dip to around 32 F one night, you can expect to find lots of dead plants in your garden the next morning.

If you’re like me and get tired of all of the food coming out of your garden in fall, you might be secretly wishing for an early frost. (I know, it’s terrible.)

Or, you might just be getting into the groove of eating and cooking with your hot weather vegetables. Either way, it’s important to know your frost tolerant vegetables from the ones that are as good as gone once the frost hits your garden.

frost hardy kale from the garden

Which Vegetables Will Not Survive a Frost?

So we’re all on the same page, a freeze or frost is when the nighttime temperature is between 28-32 degrees F. A hard or killing frost is when it drops below 28 degrees F. Plants cells are filled with water, so as the temperature hovers around freezing the water turns to ice and bursts the cell walls. This is why plants will often look wilted on the morning after a frost.

Which vegetables won’t survive a frost?

All of the vegetables we think of when we think of summer – tomatoes, basil, summer squash, peppers, and eggplant will not survive low temperatures. If it hits 32 degrees F in your garden,  these plants will be brown and dead in the morning. (Note: basil can start getting frost damage at 38 degrees F.)

That’s why in the spring you need to wait until your average last frost date has passed before planting these seedlings in your garden.

the garden after a frost

If you have a patchy frost, or it doesn’t quite get down to 32 F, there might be dead spots on the plant, but overall it will still be partially alive. Unfortunately, because the water in the fruit freezes as well, it’s usually not very tasty after it’s been frosted.

In the fall I recommend checking your 10-day forecast on a regular basis. If you see a frost warning coming up, make sure you either harvest anything you want to save before the frost or cover the plants with plastic or row cover to try to extend their life.

Personally, I’ve been found out in my garden the night before a frost gathering up any last vegetables that are harvestable. It usually not worth it to me to protect the plants because by this time they’re very diseased (tomatoes and basil) or not producing much anymore (peppers and eggplant).

Here’s a list of vegetables that won’t survive temperatures below 32 F: 

Basil

Beans

Corn

Cucumbers

Edamame

Eggplant

Melons

Okra

Peppers

Potatoes

Pumpkins

Rosemary 

Summer Squash

Sweet Potatoes

Tomatillos

Tomatoes

Winter Squash

 

dill with frost from garden

Get to Know Your Frost Tolerant Vegetables

Luckily, many of the vegetables we have planted in our gardens in early spring and fall are frost tolerant. And in fact, they even thrive in the cooler temperatures of these seasons.

In the spring, this means you can plant the below list of vegetables before your average last frost, for most of them about four weeks before.  In the fall, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how well these crops are doing. In fact, I find it much easier to grow arugula, cilantro, and spinach in the fall because they don’t bolt like they do in the spring.

A few of these vegetables, like kale, leeks, carrots, collards, and brussels sprouts, actually get sweeter after a few frosts. The cold weather causes them to convert their starches to sugar, which makes them even more delectable.

Once the temperatures dip into the lower 20’s and teens F, most of the plants will eventually die without the added protection of row covers, cold frames, and low tunnels. But, spinach, the super vegetable, can survive the harsh winters of northern climates with no protection and will start growing again in spring. (Read all about that here.)

Anything that’s frost tolerant doesn’t need to be harvested before your first frost, it’ll stay just fine in the garden for a while.

Vegetables that can withstand a light freeze/frost (28—32 F):

Bok choy

Cauliflower

Celery

Chinese Cabbage

Lettuce (depends on variety)

Peas

frost tolerant spinach from the garden

Vegetables that can withstand a hard frost (below 28 F):

Arugula

Broccoli

Brussels sprouts

Beets

Cabbage

Carrots

Cilantro

Collards

Kale

Kohlrabi

Leeks

Lettuce (depends on variety)

Mache

Mustard

Onions

Oregano

Parsley

Parsnips

Radishes

Sage

Scallions

Spinach—can survive all winter

Swiss Chard

Tatsoi

Thyme

Turnips

**Download a printable list to keep with your garden records – Which Vegetables Survive a Frost.

Remember, keep your eye on your 10-day forecast around the time of your average last frost in spring and average first frost in fall. This will ensure you don’t get caught unaware one morning when you come out to check on your garden and are met with mass devastation!

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Comments

  • It seems like frost comes so early for you up there; I certainly admire all the hard work you put into your gardens. thanks for sharing!

    • It’s true! We usually get a frost during the first two weeks in October, although the last two years had very late frosts. We’re used to it!

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