Alberta’s winters may be harsh enough to freeze your eyelashes! But in the summer, attentive gardeners can still grow a breathtaking backyard bounty worthy of bragging rights. We’re going to show you how.
Let’s discuss the do’s and don’ts for cool-climate gardening and some of the best vegetables to grow in Alberta.
Sound like fun?
- Alberta’s Climate
- Best Vegetables to Grow in Alberta
- Ways to Maximize Your Harvests
- Alberta Gardening FAQs
- Best Vegetable Seeds for Alberta and Other Short-Season Climates
Understanding your climate is vital. Prairie life comes with stunning sunsets, breathtaking cold, and gale-force winds. When designing your garden, choose spots that get sheltered from the strongest gales. Your plants will thank you!
If you’re a numbers person, Calgary is in Zone 4a, and Edmonton is 3b. Interestingly, these numbers got adjusted in 2016 to account for rising annual temperatures due to climate change.
Alberta Planting Schedule
Alberta’s growing season is relatively short, at 115 days. Most gardening takes place between May and September.
Generally, cool-season crops can get planted in May. Many gardeners use May Long Weekend (Victoria day) as a guide. For warm-season crops, wait until June, when the chance of frost has passed and the nights are warmer.
Alberta’s weather can be fierce, making it difficult to know when it’s safe to transplant frost-tender crops into the ground. If an unseasonably late frost arrives, don’t panic – head to the linen closet. A bedsheet spread over tender seedlings will prevent frost damage.
Best Vegetables to Grow in Alberta
Here are some of the best vegetables to grow in Alberta. Most of these vegetables can handle a bit of cold weather and mature quickly.
Let’s also analyze our 10 favorite crops for Alberta in more detail.
I’m always surprised by how quickly this powerhouse vegetable outgrows its trellis and starts exploring the garden on its own. Beans come in an incredible variety, and even a tiny patch of beanstalks can produce more beans than your family will want to eat. Direct sow the seeds in June when the soil is warm.
Beets are doubly delightful because the roots and the tops can get eaten. Beets will tolerate some frost, making them an excellent crop for early spring and fall. Sow beets in early May for a July harvest.
The trick to growing carrots is getting them to germinate. Carrots take their sweet time coming up – up to 21 days! Use this as an opportunity to cultivate patience.
Once the seeds germinate, they’ll steadily truck through whatever Mother Nature throws your way. Some years, I’ve even harvested carrots with a dusting of snow on the ground. Direct sow seeds in June.
Plant garlic in the fall before the ground freezes. When spring finallycomes, your garlic will be one of the first crops to shoot up stalks. Hardneck garlic grows best in colder climates. It’s perfect for the Canadian gardener. Don’t forget to cut off the scapes in the summer to encourage massive bulb growth. The scapes make a killer pesto!
Kale is a superfood in more ways than one. Yes, it’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but it’s also gloriously forgiving. This hardy green will survive frost, snow, and drought. Plant kale in early spring, and pick through the summer and fall.
Lettuce grows fast and enjoys brisk weather, making it the perfect crop for early spring and fall. Plant densely for baby greens or provide more space to grow full-sized heads. If growing food through the winter months interests you, baby lettuce will fit well within the confines of a cold frame.
To me, peas are the taste of spring. Depending on your preference, snow, snap, or shelling peas can be grown. Purple pod varieties like Sugar Magnolia are a flashy addition to the garden. Plant peas in early May and then begin to harvest pods a few weeks later. (They mature quickly – usually within three weeks.)
If you happen to be someone who enjoys a bit of kick, I strongly suggest that you grow radishes. They develop quickly in the cool weather, and they take up so little space. I use them between rows of other veggies. Plant in early spring.
Summer squash such as pattypans and zucchini develop more quickly than most squash cultivars. Their fast-growing rate makes them ideal for shorter growing seasons. Squash are devout sun worshippers, so you want to give them plenty of warm weather and direct sunlight. Plant in late spring when the soil is warm.
If you choose to grow winter squash like butternut or acorn, it’s best to start your seeds indoors a few weeks before the last frost date. Starting them indoors will give them a better likelihood of reaching maturity.
What’s a garden without homegrown tomatoes? But – tomatoes like it hot, so it can be tricky to ripen tomatoes in cool climates. Cherry tomatoes and early-maturing varieties ripen more quickly.
As a general rule, determinate-type tomatoes are better for colder climates because the plant will not focus energy on pushing out foliage after a certain point in development.
Plan on transplanting four-week-old seedlings in the garden once the risk of frost has passed.
Ways to Maximize Your Harvests
Because time is of the essence, consider implementing a few of these strategies to maximize your harvest.
Take advantage of the space between rows and sow smaller veggies that don’t require much space. Radishes, baby lettuce, and onions can be good row-fillers.
Choose Early-Maturing Varieties
As the name suggests, some varieties get strategically bred to mature quickly. Thank you, science! In our article on Best Vegetables to Grow in Ontario, we include a list of early-maturing varieties of common vegetables. Check it out for more information!
Jumpstart your garden by using transplants. Grow your own indoors, or visit your local garden center.
Extending Your Growing Season
During the spring and fall? I encourage you to think like a thief and steal back a little extra growing time. Ways to prolong your growing season include the following.
Perfect for keeping a small bed of salad greens alive through the winter. Cold frames are often (fairly) restrictive regarding height, so they are best for low-growing vegetables. There are many clever designs for DIY cold frames that use old windows or transparent patio roofing.
Ideal if you only need to keep a few tender seedlings protected. I have used transparent 4-liter milk jugs with the bottoms cut off as cloches. As long as they don’t blow away, they work great.
Floating Row Covers
Floating row covers are one of the most affordable methods for protecting considerable square footage from frost damage. I love the floating row cover because rain and wind pass through it. I have also used floating row covers to deter pests.
A hoop house is a simple structure made from a hoop frame and plastic sheeting. Some of the best designs I’ve seen use PVC pipes bent over framing materials set in the ground. Plastic sheeting can get purchased on a roll.
The most expensive option. But, it’s also the best. Greenhouses are not nearly as likely to collapse under a snow load, and they can be up to 15 degrees Celsius (30 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than outside.
Alberta Gardening FAQs
We know that gardening in Alberta raises unique challenges.
But don’t fret!
We put together the most helpful Alberta gardening questions and answers.
We hope these Alberta gardening FAQs help you!
Best Vegetable Seeds for Alberta and Other Short-Season Climates
The price of fresh vegetables has skyrocketed over the last few years!
So – the timing for starting a garden is right now. It’s never been better.
We put together this list of the best seeds for Alberta to help feed you and your family.
Hopefully – these seeds serve you and your homestead well.
We wish you luck!
- Cherry Belle Radish Seeds | Botanical Interests
- Nero Toscana Kale Seeds | Botanical Interests
We love radish for cold climates and cold growing seasons. The best part about cherry belle radish is that it matures in only 24 days. It's also frost tolerant - so you have tremendous flexibility, even if you live in a cold climate. Radish is the best if you love fresh garden salads, turkey sandwich wraps, or as a centerpiece on any vegetable platter.
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Kale plants mature quickly and provide a surprising amount of food for your pantry. You can harvest kale when it's still tender at around three weeks. You can also wait for up to two months for the plant to mature. They grow to two to four feet (not a typo!) and allow for generous harvests. These kale plants get big - you'll likely have leftovers. Try making baked kale chips or kale-topped pizza!
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The shortness of Alberta’s growing season is a challenge, but when you’re harvesting the first of the vegetables you’ve grown in your yard with your own hands, I think you’ll find that the effort was worthwhile.
Above all, don’t be afraid to fail!
The road to becoming a competent gardener is full of spectacular failures. I’ve killed hundreds of seedlings, stunted numerous plants, and inundated myself with dozens of zucchini. It’s a learning process rife with obstacles, but the joy you’ll find along the way is well worth the journey.
If you have questions or feedback in the meantime? Feel free to share them below!
We brainstorm gardening nonstop – and have a few short-season growers on our team who are always happy to help.
Thanks again for reading.
And – have a great day!