How to Grow Salad Greens in the Winter

One thing I hate paying full price for at the grocery store is salad greens. They are so easy to grow and come to maturity in just a few weeks. I want to have fresh homegrown salad greens for my table all winter long too. No matter where you live, every home needs a small garden for growing greens and herbs year-round. Are you with me?

Microgreens growing in a bag of compost.

What are Baby Greens?

Baby greens are much-loved tender and tasty bite-sized salad greens. They contain polyphenols which are strong antioxidants loaded with healthy benefits. 

Baby greens are not a specific variety of plants, but they are leafy greens that you cut and harvest young instead of waiting for them to grow to maturity. For example, if you plant chard seeds, they’ll grow into big chard stalks as you see in grocery stores. However, if you cut them off when they are just a few weeks old, you would call that a baby green. 

You may find seed packets labeled baby green mix or mesclun mix; those are a variety of seeds of larger plants that they advise you to sow densely and harvest much sooner. However, if you were to spread those seeds out and give them ample space and time to grow into full-size plants, they would. 

Baby greens are often called “Cut and Come Again Greens” because you can harvest these salad greens more than once and they continue to grow back. Which means you can enjoy these all year long.

Salad greens growing in a Greenstalk Vertical Garden planter.

Why Grow Your Own Food

There are so many benefits to growing your own food that I don’t know where to begin. 

Gardening is a great way to cut food costs and ensure that your family is eating the freshest, healthiest foods you can give them. I love serving meals to my family that comes entirely from our farm. 

If you have a desire in your heart to grow food, please just start. Even small things like this project make a big difference in the long run because, while this isn’t going to make a huge dent in your food bill, it will be incorporating food that you grew in your diet. 

It will be encouraging that you are able to do something to maintain any level of food sustainability. It is an enjoyable hobby that the whole family can be involved in. And whenever I am eating that salad here in a couple of months, I’m going to be so glad that I planted it today. 

If you are intimidated by growing your own food, I encourage you to embrace the mindset that gardening is a journey and a classroom that is going to mold you in the process. I am still learning and I am still growing too. I have a lot to say to the beginner gardener in this video, Dear First Time Gardener, You CAN Grow Food.

Upclose photo of greens growing in a vertical tower garden.

Best Overwintering Plants

In August, about 10 weeks before the first frost, I begin planning for it. I start thinking about the plants I want to be growing in my garden that survive the cold, like garlic and potatoes. 

Some of those plants need to be started inside around September. But some mature plants will survive a freeze like collards, radishes, and peas. While they may not grow much more, you can continue to harvest them into the winter months. I have even harvested kale from under the snow before! 

The lettuces we are planting in this project are frost hardy down to about 15° F. Watch my video, November Garden Tour to find out which plants survive freezing temperatures and more.

A woman crouched in the garden with a large plastic bin and a bag of soil.

Resources to Grow Food For Under $20

I want to show you how to make this small winter “greenhouse” container garden that is great for growing frost-hardy plants. You can grow greens, herbs and a lot of other things in a container like this. 

It works great for lettuces, but not for carrots or other plants that have deep roots. I also don’t recommend it for tender plants like peppers or tomatoes. I planted Flashy Butter Oak Lettuce and Mizuna Red Streaks Mustard in my container. Here are my top picks for buying my heirloom seeds, as well as my must-grow heirloom varieties

Other frost-hardy greens varieties you could try include kale, arugula, butter crunch, romaine, spinach, and chard. 

You can do this project in less than 10 minutes for under $20 and have fresh salad greens all winter.

Banner ad for the book "The First Time Gardener" by Jessica Sowards.

Supplies Needed to Make this Overwinter Container Garden

  • A bag of potting soil (1 ½ cubic feet of soil)
  • Clear plastic container – approx. 90 quart (I found this one at Wal-Mart for about $7)
  • Lid for the plastic container (optional) – the lid allows you to move your greenhouse later on if you desire. However, placing the bag directly on the ground will keep the soil the warmest.
  • Tools – a screwdriver, hand cultivator, and a box cutting knife are handy.
  • Seeds – refer to the list above for the best cold-weather crops.
Woman cutting through a bag of potting soil.

Steps to Make A Winter Container Garden

If you like to see something done before you try it, watch my video on how to make this container garden below.

Step #1 – Poke holes in one side of the bag of potting soil several inches apart using a screwdriver. This will allow water to drain out from the bottom.

Step #2 – Turn the bag of soil over and place it on the lid of your container or on the ground where it will get full sun. 

Placing it on the lid allows you to be able to move it later. Putting it directly on the ground allows the soil to stay the warmest. Just remember, putting the bag on the lid on a patio or even on a table will cost you some soil temperature. You’ll just have to make adjustments as needed for your climate.

Step #3 – Now use the box cutting knife to cut a large panel out of the top of the bag of soil. Leave the sides good and intact so they will hold up the soil. 

Step #4 – Use a cultivator tool to break the soil up if it is compacted in the bag. You want the soil to be nice and loose. Remove any extra soil that doesn’t fit comfortably in the bag after it is broken up.

A hand sowing seeds in a bag of potting soil.

Step #5 – Now it’s time to plant! 

Lettuce seeds are very tiny. When you are growing baby greens, sow the seeds close together. Simply sprinkle the seeds on the surface of your soil and rub your hand over the top of the soil gently so that the seeds are barely covered. If you cover them too much, the seeds won’t germinate.

Step #6 – Give them some water. Water your new baby greens garden with a watering can or another light stream of water. Don’t use a hose or anything that will displace the seeds and soil.

A woman crouched behind a bag of potting soil covered in a plastic tote.

Step #7 – Finish off this project by placing your clear container upside down over your soil bag garden

The container will act as a mini-greenhouse for your plants. If you have some warm days or are getting a lot of condensation in the container, try propping up one side just barely enough to allow airflow for the day. Then watch them grow!

Image of microgreens growing in a bag of potting soil.

How Often Should You Water

Don’t forget to continue to water your seedlings! You will need to water because they will be protected from the rain, however, because of the Tupperware container over the top, you may not need to water as often or as much as during the summer months. 

If you are growing these plants in the winter months, it’s likely not hot enough to evaporate much water. I watered mine about once a week. A good rule of thumb to follow is if the soil looks dry, water it. 

If you are the type of person who forgets to water their plants, you may want to place this in a location you see often, like by your front door, so that you remember to water it.

A hand picking some baby greens.

How to Harvest Baby Greens

Baby greens will usually be ready to harvest in just a few weeks after planting. If you are growing them in the winter, it will probably take longer because there is less light. 

When your greens are ready to harvest, don’t clear cut, taking every single leaf. You need to leave about 25% for the plant to continue to photosynthesize and grow. If you cut all the leaves off, the plant may or may not grow back. If it does grow back, it will take a long time. 

Also, pick your salad greens from throughout the whole container instead of grabbing a bunch from one area. That way the plants continue to grow and you continue to harvest throughout the season.

How Cold Is Too Cold To Grow?

A lot of people have asked me how cold can it be for this growing method to still work. As I mentioned before, leafy greens are frost hardy down to 15° F. If it gets colder, like in the single digits, mound up leaves, hay or straw around the edges of your container. This should protect the plants through the cold spell. 

I’ve had good success with this trick in my region. But the truth is, I just don’t know for sure how cold you can go. There is limited light in the winter and success will vary depending on the region and the weather. But it’s a fairly inexpensive project to test to see if you can really grow greens all year round.

I really hope people from all over will try this and let me know what their results were in the comments section!

Image of a bag of potting soil and a seed packet.

You CAN Grow Food Anywhere

I used this growing method when I lived in town before I had a lot of garden space, and whenever I wanted to grow food on my back porch. 

No matter where you live, you can use this great trick to grow some food, even through the winter months. Whether you live in town or on a farm, in an apartment, or in a rental with no garden, this quick and affordable trick can be done anywhere. 

You might even have a garden but want to grow a little food right on your patio or porch for quick and easy harvesting in the winter, this method works great.

More Fall & Winter Homesteading Posts & Videos

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