According to Joe W. Willis, AgCenter horticulture agent in Orleans Parish for the LSU AgCenter, there are certain vegetables that grow better than others during the winter in New Orleans. “They like cool or cold nights and sunny, warm days — nothing hot,” he says. “Vegetables that fit this category are carrots, turnips, rutabagas, kohlrabi, beets, radishes, mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, spinach, lettuce, chard, kale, celery, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, garlic, onion and sugar peas. Also, many of the perennial herbs continue to grow and produce fresh kitchen herbs all winter. Cilantro and parsley are cool-weather-loving herbs that are annuals or biennials. They do great during our cool season.”

All of these vegetables like a lot of light, so they should be planted in an area that receives at least eight hours of sunlight per day. Additionally, all vegetables need supplemental nutrients added to the soil. “Any well-balanced fertilizer works well for our vegetable gardens,” Willis says. “A soil test will tell you what your soil already contains and will give recommendations on what you need to add. An example of a well-balanced fertilizer would be one with a label analysis of 8-8-8 or 13-13-13. Do supplemental fertilization for the vegetables following timing as outlined in the Louisiana Vegetable Planting Guide, available from the LSU AgCenter (lsuagcenter.com). You don’t need specialty vegetable fertilizers. They are usually more expensive and don’t really give your plants an added advantage.”

Willis also says that winter vegetables need regular irrigation, especially in cooler weather if there are periods of little rain. However, be sure to plant your garden in an area that has good drainage. “Vegetables hate wet feet,” Willis says. “It’s also a good idea to plant short-cycle crops (such as lettuce, radishes and spinach) together. That way, you can harvest the whole area at once and then come back in with a second crop.”

Meanwhile, the best way to avoid pests is to keep your plants healthy. “Healthy plants have their own defense systems that work pretty well,” Willis says. “Providing them with the ideal growing conditions (soil, water, nutrients, sunlight) is the best way to keep them healthy. You should also check your garden daily whether you are harvesting or working in it or not. That way, you can see early on if there are insects or diseases showing up. You can then remove diseased plants to stop the spread or handpick pesky insects to slow down their infestation. Also, remove plant debris that falls to the ground, and old leaves as they yellow and die. This plant debris can be a source of disease. Removing it is good hygiene.”

Of course, weeds also need to be removed. Not only are they unsightly, but they compete with vegetables for nutrients and water, and they can often harbor pests and diseases. “Keeping your garden weed-free helps the vegetables you are currently growing do better and keeps down the production of weed seeds that will be a problem in the next growing cycle,” Willis says. 

Anyone interested in growing new varieties of vegetables should try hybrid varieties offered through seed companies. “Hybrids usually have better production, more disease resistance, and more heat or cold tolerance,” Willis says. “Planting some new varieties along with tried-and-true varieties is a good way to see if you want to plant the new varieties every year, while making sure you get to harvest something by also including varieties that always perform well for you.”

For those who may not have space to plant a full garden, Willis suggests planting in containers. “Most all of our winter vegetables grow well in containers if it is large enough to accommodate a healthy root system, has excellent drainage, gets regular watering, periodic fertilization and eight hours (or more) of sunlight per day,” he says. “Vegetables that offer continuous harvest instead of one-time harvesting are great if you can only grow a few containers. Examples include lettuce, kale, mustard and collard greens, Brussels sprouts, spinach and sugar peas.”