Growing Cold Hardy Vegetables: Tips On Vegetable Gardening In Zone 4


By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Vegetable gardening in zone 4 is a challenge for sure, but it’s definitely possible to grow a bounteous garden, even in a climate with a short growing season. Read on to learn the basics of zone 4 vegetable gardening, along with a few good examples of delicious, nutritious, and cold hardy vegetables.

Best Vegetables for Cold Climates

Here are some suitable vegetables for zone 4 gardening:

Swiss chard is an attractive vegetable with shiny, arrow-shaped leaves. This plant isn’t only nutritious and delicious, but it can tolerate temps as lows as 15 degrees F. (-9 C.).

Leeks are remarkably cold hardy vegetables and darker varieties are even more cold tolerant than pale green leeks.

Carrots are one of the best vegetables for zone 4 because the flavor gets sweeter in cooler temperatures. You may need to plant short or dwarf varieties that don’t take as long to mature.

Spinach is super easy to grow and absolutely packed with flavor and nutrients. Most importantly, this is one vegetable that thrives in cool weather.

Broccoli is a frost-tolerant vegetable that you can actually plant three or four weeks before the last spring frost.

Lettuce is a versatile cool season crop and you can plant a small patch of lettuce seeds every week for several weeks of freshly picked salad greens.

Cabbage is ready for picking in a couple of months, which is plenty of time in a zone 4 garden. Visit your local garden center and look for starter plants labeled “early cabbage.”

Radishes grow so quickly that you’ll be able to plant several succession crops with no need for starting seeds indoors. This definitely makes radishes one of the best vegetables for cold climates.

Peas are fun to grow and the blooms are pretty. Plant peas against a fence and let them climb.

Zone 4 Vegetable Gardening

Read seed packets carefully and choose cold hardy varieties that mature quickly. Cultivar names like “early,” “winter,” or “speedy” are good clues.

Many vegetables can be planted indoors about six weeks before the last expected frost date. Be patient. Often, it’s easiest to purchase small plants. Either way, don’t transplant tender vegetable plants outdoors until you’re sure the ground is warm and all danger of frost has passed.

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I. Square-Foot Gardening Layouts

Square-foot gardening ( SFG ) makes efficient use of space spaces. Normally, an SFG garden is made of multiple 4 x 4 foot “boxes” (deeply-raised beds) that can be densely planted for multiple harvests. A lattice is laid across the top to clearly separate each square foot. By getting rid of traditional rows, you weed less, too. SFG is an especially helpful method for beginner gardeners.

See free square-foot garden layouts—plus, beautiful garden photos!

II . Backyard Garden Layouts

A backyard often has many family demands placed upon it. It may be a place to relax and unwind, a space for children and/or pets to play, and an area for growing as well as fruits,vegetables and flowers – all at the same time! Backyard gardens can be grown in traditional in-ground rows, raised garden beds or a mixture of both. Because of the multi-use requirement for the garden, it’s worth considering how plants can be protected from trampling, stray footballs, boisterous dogs and so on!

See free backyard garden layouts—plus, beautiful garden photos!

III . Raised Bed Garden Layouts

Raised beds are often framed with wood, bricks or other materials, then filled with mixture of high-quality potting soil, compost and/or leaf mold. They drain well and are excellent for otherwise difficult areas such as stony, compacted, contaminated, very wet, or nutrient-poor soils. Raised beds are also useful for gardeners with limited mobility as they reduce the need to bend and can even be built on raised platforms for wheelchair access.

IV . Kitchen Garden Layouts (Potager)

Many fresh herbs and vegetables taste much better when they’re freshly harvested and what could be more convenient than having them just outside the back door?What gives the kitchen garden its charm and appeal is the blend of vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers that are grown together like a living tapestry. Kitchen gardens are planted and replanted throughout the season for a continuous supply of fresh food for the kitchen.

See free kitchen garden layouts—plus, beautiful garden photos!

V. Homestead Garden

A homestead garden is usually larger than a typical backyard garden and is grown as either a self–sufficient lifestyle choice or a market garden where excess produce can be swapped, bartered or sold. While homestead gardens may have some raised beds nearer to the house, most crops are grown in traditional in-ground rows. Homestead gardeners may keep a few chickens or bees within the garden too.

VI . Small Gardens

If your garden is small it’s important to make the best use of the space you have with clever planting techniques and the right crops. Prioritize crops by choosing to grow only those that you really enjoy eating or which are expensive to buy.

See four small garden plans—plus, beautiful garden photos!

VII . Dry Gardens or Drought-Resistant Gardens

Gardening can be challenging when water is at a premium, but there are many ways for resourceful gardeners to grow gardens that flourish even when water is scarce.

Raised garden beds, irrigation, companion planting, mulching, and water-efficient crops are all important for gardening in dry climates.

See free layouts for gardens in dry climates—plus, beautiful garden photos!

VIII . Flower Garden

Flower gardens may be grown for cut flowers for use indoors, or simply for the enjoyment and relaxation gained from growing and tending the plants. Flowers also provide food and habitat for beneficial insects, and can help improve pollination of fruit and vegetable crops.

See free flower garden plans—plus, beautiful garden photos!

IX . Companion Planting Garden

Companion planting is the practice of growing together plants for a beneficial effect such as protection from pests. Larger vegetables may also be used to protect smaller plants and seedlings from harsh winds or as a climbing support, while sprawling crops such as squashes can be used to suppress weeds around tall crops like corn.

See free garden plan layouts using companion planting techniques.

X. Partial-Shade Gardens

While most vegetables are sun-lovers, there are a handful which do tolerate some shade. Not all of us have a sunny spot, but we can still have fresh greens and other garden goodies.

See our list of shade-tolerant vegetables plus sample garden plans located in partially shady spots.

Discover Hundreds More Free Vegetable Plan Layouts

We have highlighted sample plans here, however, you can now find over 800 garden plans using our Almanac Garden Planner tool—curated over 10 years!

Free Online Gardening Guides

We’ve gathered all of our best beginner gardening guides into a step-by-step series designed to help you learn how to garden! Visit our complete Gardening for Everyone hub, where you’ll find a series of guides—all free! From selecting the right gardening spot to choosing the best vegetables to grow, our Almanac gardening experts are excited to teach gardening to everyone—whether it’s your 1st or 40th garden.


Gardening Tips

In order to have a successful garden, the gardener must follow a few guidelines. The following tips may help to prevent some common garden problems from occurring, or help overcome those that do arise:

  • Sample soil and have it tested every three to four years.
  • Apply fertilizers in the recommended manner and amount.
  • Add organic materials such as yard waste compost or composted manure to improve soil organic matter.
  • Use recommended varieties.
  • Thin plants when small.
  • Use mulches to conserve moisture, control weeds and reduce fruit rots.
  • Avoid excessive walking and working in the garden when foliage and soil are wet.
  • Examine the garden often to keep ahead of potential problems.
  • Keep the garden free of weeds and diseases.
  • Control only those insects in the garden that are known to be pests.
  • Wash and clean tools and sprayers after use.
  • Rotate specific crop family locations each year to avoid insect and disease buildup.
  • When possible, harvest vegetables during the cool hours of the day.

Avoid the Following Mistakes:

  • Planting too closely, which prevents walking or working in the garden, may favor diseases and interferes with normal plant development.
  • Placing fertilizer directly in contact with plant roots, stems, or seeds.
  • Cultivating deeply, resulting in injury to plant roots.
  • Planting varieties not recommended for your area or the season however, do try newly released varieties.
  • Watering frequently or excessively so that the soil is always wet and soggy.
  • Allowing weeds to grow large before elimination.
  • Applying home remedies, fertilizers or pesticides in a haphazard manner, or without reading and following product instructions. (Remember, these materials are being applied to your family’s food!)
  • Using chemicals not specifically recommended for garden crops.
  • Storing leftover diluted spray.

Table 1A. Garden Planning Guide, Cool Season.

Vegetable Time to Plant Feet of Row Per Person Days to Harvest Method of Planting Spacing Between Rows
Cool Season
Asparagus Fall or Spring 10-20 _ Crowns 4 ft.
Beet March 10-20 50-70 Seed 1 1/2 ft.
Broccoli March 10 80-90 Plants 3 ft.
Cabbage Feb.15 to March 10 10-20 60-90 Plants 3 ft.
Carrot Feb.15 to March 10 20 70-90 Seed 1 1/2 ft.
Cauliflower Feb.15 to March 10 15 70-90 Plants 3 ft.
Chard, Swiss Feb.15 to March 10 10 40-60 Seed 1 1/2 ft.
Kohlrabi Feb.15 to March 10 10 50-70 Seed 2 ft.
Lettuce, Head Feb.15 to March 10 20 60-90 Seed or Plant 1-1 1/2 ft.
Lettuce, Leaf Feb.15 to March 10 20 40-70 Seed or Plant 1-1/2 ft.
Onion Feb.15 to March 10 25 60-120 Sets 1-1 1/2 ft.
Onion Feb.15 to March 10 25 60-120 Plants 1-1 1/2 ft.
Peas, Green Feb.15 to March 10 30 60-90 Seed 3 ft.
Potato, Irish Feb.15 to March 10 50 90-120 Tuber pieces 2-3 oz. 3 ft.
Radish March 1 to April 15 15 25-40 Seed 1 ft.
Rhubarb Fall or Spring 12 _ Crowns 4 ft.
Spinach Feb. 15 to March 10 35 50-70 Seed 1 1/2 ft.
Turnip Feb. 15 to March 10 20 50-60 Seed 1 1/2 ft.

Table 1A. Garden Planning Guide, Cool Season. (cont'd)

Vegetable Spacing Within Rows Depth to Cover Seed Quantity Needed Per Person Frost Tolerance
Cool Season
Asparagus 2 ft. 6 in. 3-5 Hardy
Beet 4 in 1 in. 1/8 oz. Semi-Hardy
Broccoli 1 1/2 ft. 6-7 plants Hardy
Cabbage 1-1 1/2 ft. 6-15 plants Hardy
Carrot 3 in. 1/2 in. 1/8 oz. Semi-Hardy
Cauliflower 1 1/2 ft. 6-8 plants Semi-Hardy
Chard, Swiss 3 in. 1/2 in 1/2 oz. Semi-Tender
Kohlrabi 6 in. 1/2 in. 1/8 oz. Hardy
Lettuce, Head 1 ft. 1/4 in. 1/8 oz. or 20 plants Semi- Hardy
Lettuce, Leaf 3 in. 1/4 in. 1/8 oz or 40 plants Semi-Hardy
Onion 4 in. 1 in. 1/4 qt. sets Hardy
Onion 4 in. 1 in. 1/8 oz. or 75 plants Hardy
Peas, Green 2 in. 2 in. 1/4 lb. Hardy
Potato, Irish 1 ft. 4 in. 6-8 lbs. Semi-Hardy
Radish 2 in. 1/2 in. 1/8 oz. Hardy
Rhubarb 2 ft. 3 in. 3-4 crowns Hardy
Spinach 2 in. 1/2 in. 1/4 oz. Hardy
Turnip 3 in. 1/2 in. 1/8 oz. Hardy

These dates indicate planting times from southeast to northwest Oklahoma. Specific climate and weather may influence planting dates. For cool season vegetables, the soil temperature at the depth where the seeds are planted should be at least 40°F.

Table 1B. Garden Planning Guide, Warm Season.

Vegetable Time to Plant Feet of Row Per Person Days to Harvest Method of Planting Spacing Between Rows
Warm Season
Bean, Lima April 15-30 20 90-120 Seed 2-3 ft.
Beans, Green or Wax April 10-30 40 50-60 Seed 1 1/2 ft.
Beans, Pole April 10-30 20 60-90 Seed 3 ft.
Cantaloupe May 1-20 20 80-100 Seed or Plants 3-5 ft.
Cucumber April 10-30 or later 5-10 50-70 Seed or Plants 3-5 ft.
Eggplant April 10-30 5-10 80-90 Plants 3 ft.
Okra April 10-30 or later 20 60-70 Seed 2-3 ft.
Pepper April 10-30 or later 10 90-110 Plants 3 ft.
Pumpkin April 10-30 or later 30 90-120 Seed 5 ft.
Southern Pea May 1- June 10 20 85-100 Seed 3 ft.
Squash, Summer April 10-30 or later 10-20 40-60 Seed or Plants 4 ft.
Squash, Winter May 15-June 15 30 110-125 Seed or Plants 5 ft.
Sweet Corn Mar. 25-April 30 50 80-100 Seed 3 ft.
Sweet Potato May 1- June 10 25 100-120 Plants 3 ft.
Tomato April 10-30 10-20 70-90 Plants 4ft.
Watermelon May 1-20 10-20 90-120 Seed 5-8 ft.

Table 1B. Garden Planning Guide, Warm Season. (cont'd)

Vegetable Spacing Within Rows Depth to Cover Seed Quantity Needed Per Person Frost Tolerance
Warm Season
Bean, Lima 6 in. 1 in. 1/8 lb. Tender
Beans, Green or Wax 4 in. 1 in. 1/8 lb. Tender
Beans, Pole 8-12 in. 1 in. 1/8 lb. Tender
Cantaloupe 2-3 ft. 1/2 in. 1/8 oz. Very Tender
Cucumber 2-3 ft. 1/2 in. 1/8 oz. Very Tender
Eggplant 1 1/2 ft. 3-5 plants Very Tender
Okra 1 1/2 ft. 1 in. 1/4 oz. Very Tender
Pepper 2 ft. 5 plants Tender
Pumpkin 3-4 ft. 1 in. 1/8 oz. Tender
Southern Pea 4 in. 1 in 1/8 lb. Tender
Squash, Summer 3 ft. 1 in. 1/8 oz. Very Tender
Squash, Winter 4 ft. 1 in. 1/8 oz. Very Tender
Sweet Corn 1- 1/2 ft. 1 in. 1/8 lb. Tender
Sweet Potato 1 ft. 25 plants Very Tender
Tomato 2-3 ft. 4-5 plants Tender
Watermelon 5-8 ft. 1 in. 1/8 oz. Very Tender

**These dates indicate planting times from southeast to northwest Oklahoma. Specific climate and weather may influence planting dates. For warm season vegetables, the soil temperature at the depth where the seeds are planted should be at least 50°F.

Table 2. Common Garden Problems

Symptoms Possible Causes Corrective Measures
Plants stunted in growth yellow colored foliage. Improper soil fertility or soil pH Use fertilizer and correct pH according to soil test. Use 2 to 3 pounds of complete fertilizer per 100 square feet in absence of soil test.
Plants growing in compacted, poorly drained soil Modify soil with organic matter, coarse sand. Provide surface drainage.
Insect or disease damage Root Knot Nematode Use recommended control treatments.
Iron deficiency Apply iron to soil or foliage. Correct soil pH.
Plants stunted in growth purplish colored leaf veins. Low temperature Plant at proper time. Do not use light-colored mulch too early in the season.
Inadequate phosphorus Apply phosphorus at soil test recommendation.
Holes in leaves leaves yellowish and drooping or distorted in shape. Insect infestation Identify the insect pest and use recommended control measures.
Plant leaves with spots: dead, dried areas or powdery or rusty areas. Plant disease Identify the cause of the symptoms to determine recommended control measures. Disease resistant varieties may be needed.
Plants wilt even though sufficient water is present. Soluble salts too high Have soil tested.
Soil is too wet Add organic matter ridge soil for surface drainage. Plant in raised beds.
Insect, disease, or nematode damage on roots Use recommended varieties and recommended treatments of insecticides and fungicides, and soil insecticides or nematicides.
Plants tall, spindly, and unproductive. Excessive shade Relocate to sunny area. Keep down weeds.
Excessive nitrogen Reduce applications of nitrogen.
Blossom drop (tomatoes). Hot winds, dry soil Use mulch and water. Plant heat tolerant varieties.
Low night temperatures Avoid early planting.
Overwatering or disease Reduce watering, use recommended disease control treatments.
Tomato leaf roll. (Leaf roll may not necessarily affect productivity) Excess nitrogen and water Withhold nitrogen, reduce watering.
Beet curly top disease Remove plant if diseased.
Downward cupping and curling of tomato leaves. Damage from 2, 4-D or similar herbicides Don’t spray on windy days or when temperature is above 80 F. Herbicides used at distant locations may affect tomatoes and other vegetables due to movement in air currents
Leathery, dry brown blemish on the blossom end of tomatoes, peppers, and watermelons. Blossom end rot Maintain uniform soil moisture and apply mulch. Avoid overwatering and excessive nitrogen. Select tolerant varieties. Protect young flowering plants from windy conditions.

Other OSU Extension Gardening Publications

BAE-1511 — Trickle Irrigation for Lawns, Gardens, and Small Orchards
HLA-6005 — Mulching Vegetable Garden Soils
HLA-6007 — Improving Garden Soil Fertility
HLA-6009 — Fall Gardening
HLA-6012 — Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden
HLA-6013 — Summer Care of the Home Vegetable Garden
HLA-6032 — Vegetable Varieties for Oklahoma
HLA-7313 — Home Garden Insect Control
HLA-7625 — Common Diseases of Tomatoes, Part I: Diseases Caused by Fungi.
EPP-7626 — Common Diseases of Tomatoes, Part II: Diseases Caused by Bacteria, Viruses, and Nematodes
EPP-7627 — Common Diseases of Tomatoes, Part III: Diseases Not Caused by Pathogens
EPP-7635 — Diseases of Cucurbits (Watermelons, Cucumbers, Cantaloupes, Squash, and Pumpkins)
EPP-7640 — Solar Heating (Solarization) of Soil in Garden Plots for Control of Soil-Borne Plant Diseases
EPP-7646 — Diseases of Asparagus in Oklahoma

Extension Consumer Horticulturist

Brenda Sanders
Horticulture Extension Assistant


Lettuce

This salad staple comes in a variety of sizes, colors and shapes. The compact growth habit makes lettuce suitable for hillside areas. Plant bib lettuce, head lettuce and leaf lettuce late in the fall to enjoy fresh produce in the late spring. In areas with hard freezes, such as climates in Zone 4 and cooler, plant lettuce in the spring. Plant these small seeds under a fine layer of mulch to help hold in soil temperatures and adequate amounts of moisture. Keep the soil slightly moist, applying about 1 inch of water when the surface of the slope shows signs of dryness.

  • Although many gardeners select flat, level areas for vegetable gardening, many of the plants they love can grow well on slopes and hillsides.
  • While some vegetables display characteristics that limit their growing options and make them unsuitable for hillside gardens, others thrive and flourish on sloped areas.

Fertilization

Proper fertilization is another important key to successful vegetable gardening. The amount of fertilizer needed depends upon the soil type and the crops you are growing. Texas soils vary from deep sands to fertile, well-drained soils to heavy, dark clays underlaid by layers of caliche rock or hardpan. Crops grown on sandy soils usually respond to liberal amounts of potassium, whereas crops grown on clay soils do not.

Heavy clay soils can be fertilized much more heavily at planting than can sandy soils. Heavy clay soils and those with lots of organic matter can safely absorb and store fertilizer at three to four times the rate of sandy soils. Thin, sandy soils, which need fertilizer the most, unfortunately cannot be fed as heavily without burning plants. The solution is to feed poor, thin soils more often in lighter doses. For accurate recommendations regarding fertilizer rates, contact your county Extension agent and request a soil test kit.

In general, if your garden is located on deep, sandy soil, apply a complete preplant fertilizer such as 5-10-10 or 6-12-12 at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet. If your soil has a high percentage of clay, a fertilizer such as 10-20-10 or 12-24-12 applied at 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet should be suitable.

Make the preplant fertilizer application a few days before planting. Spade the garden plot, spread the fertilizer by hand or with a fertilizer distributor, and then work the soil well to properly mix the fertilizer with the soil. After the fertilizer is well mixed with the soil, bed the garden in preparation for planting.

On alkaline soils, apply 1-20-0 (superphosphate) directly beneath the intended seed row or plant row before planting. Apply the superphosphate at a rate of 1 to 1½ pounds per 100 linear feet of row. Make sure the nitrogen material will be 2 to 4 inches below the seed or transplant roots so it won’t harm them. Later in the season you can apply additional nitrogen as a furrow or sidedress application. For most soils, 2 to 3 pounds of 21-0-0 (ammonium sulfate) per 100 linear feet of row, applied in the furrow and watered in, is adequate. For crops such as tomatoes, peppers and squash, make this application at first fruit set. Sidedress leafy crops such as cabbage and lettuce when they develop several sets of character leaves.


Summer and Winter Garden

Plant these crops in May and harvest in September. Replant the garden in August and harvest is January.

Tomatoes: Big Girls, widely spaced and well staked, allow room to set out the new crop in August. Prune for rapid ripening. Replanted for Chinese Cabbage: In early June, we plant Michihli seeds in flats. Seedings are transplanted among tomatoes in early August.

Green Beans: We like ( and inoculate) Tendercrop and Blue Lake. Tear plants out without hesitation to make room for the new crop. Replanted for Corn Salad and Lettuce: Sow half a bed of each. Maches Corn Salad from Nichols is tasty and productive. Oak Leaf is the hardiest lettuce.

Lettuce: Salad Bowl and Black-Seeded Simpson are our summer favorites. Shade the maturing plants with a snow fence to preserve sweetness. Replanted with Carrots: Hybrid Danvers has been best for our winter garden (it can last until April!). Water the plants often the first three or four weeks.

Summer Squash: Harvest crookneck or zucchini when they're young and tasty, because huge ones such out plant energy. Replanted for Turnips: The best bet is Purple-Top White Globe. They're still sweet, under heavy mulch, in February and March.

Swiss Chard: A great green! Cut it back to make room for interplanting the brussels sprouts. Fordhook's our choice. Replanted for Brussels Sprouts: Jade Cross Hybrid always produces well for us. Plenty of hay is needed to cover-mulch it!

Sweet Peppers: We transplant a hybrid variety when all frost is gone. Its fuzzy nature demands critical care. Replanted for Kale: Start seeds in June, and transplant among the peppers in August. Use young leaves is salads, mature one cooked.

Cantaloupe: We love Ambrosia. Gentle tie vines up on trellises. Near harvest, prune vines to make room for beets. Replanted for Beets: Lutz are extra-good for winter. Beet roots tend to get woody after January thaw, but then produce new greens.

Cucumbers: Here again, use several short trellises and prune the lower leaves so sun can shine on the next crop at the proper time. Replanted for Spinach: We go with Winter Bloomdsle. Sprout seeds on paper towels and keep them well watered for first weeks in ground.


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