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Best Vegetables to Grow in Ontario and Other Short-Season Locations

Much like cherry tomatoes, the gardening season in Ontario is small but sweet. However, a well-organized gardener will find plenty of opportunities to grow abundant produce at home in Ontario.

So – which are the best vegetables to grow in Ontario and other cold climates? And – what do you need to know about the Ontario growing season?

These are our best insights.

Let’s dig in!

Understanding Ontario’s Climate

Good gardening comes down to understanding your climate. Even the most skilled gardeners can’t teach tomatoes to survive the snow. So, knowing when to plant each kind of veggie is the primary key.

On average, there are 160 frost-free days in the year in Southern Ontario. Depending on whether you live in Toronto, Ottawa, or Thunder Bay, you’re going to see some variation in that number. 

The majority of the GTA is Zone 6 or 7. Ottawa tends to be slightly cooler in Zone 5. Thunder Bay is colder still and is in Zone 4.

What do these zones mean? They refer to the lowest extreme temperatures an area experiences in a year. 

  • Zone 4: -34°C to -29°C (-30°F to -20°F)
  • Zone 5: -29°C to -23°C (-20°F to -10°F)
  • Zone 6: -23°C to -18°C (-10°F to 0°F)
  • Zone 7: -18°C to -12°C (0°F to 10°F)

Your zone will affect which plants can survive outside year-round. You would want to consider your hardiness zone when planting a fruit tree or something that will live year after year.

Did you know?

If you want to know for sure what plants grow in your region of Ontario, then you need your plant hardiness zone maps!

We always encourage our cold-weather gardening friends to consult their hardiness map. That way – you know for sure which plants prosper in Ontario, Canada.

So – here are the best Ontario, Canada plant hardiness zone maps that we can find. These are perfect for printing, saving, and storing for later. You can download a full-sized HD printable version. For free!

We’re hardiness zone fanatics because we know the future of your crops starts here. Good luck!

Ontario Vegetable Garden Planting Schedule

Because Ontario’s growing season is relatively short, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place. When the ground thaws (often in April), it’s time to think about cool-season crops.

Vegetables to Plant in Early Spring 

fresh rainbow swiss chard leafy greens
Add some rainbow chard to your Ontario garden for some fresh color – and baskets of yummy salad roughage! Chard leaves not only look beautiful in your garden – they also pack in loads of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Chard also tolerates light frosts. Perfect!

When the ground thaws and the risk of snow have passed, you can plant cold-hardy crops like:

The plants listed above will survive a light frost without any difficulty. Many can tolerate snow as well. Their tolerance to wintry climates makes them ideal crops for early spring when the weather is still unpredictable.

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Sowing for the Summer

Many gardeners consider May Long Weekend the perfect time to plant their garden. In truth, of course, gardening has little to do with holidays and more to do with temperatures being consistently above freezing.

Winter Gardening Guide
The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year!
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08/13/2022 07:36 am GMT

Plants to Direct Sow in May

plump orange carrots growing in soil
Carrots are one of the best cold-hardy biennial root crops for Ontario gardens. Carrot harvests pay off big time – and they’re easy to manage and harvest once you start growing them. They don’t require that much weeding either. But – they hate rocky soil!
  • Beans 
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Turnips 
  • Summer Squash

Read More – Can Trash Bags Protect Plants From Frost?

Talking About Transplants

Ontario has a relatively short window to grow plants. Starting transplants indoors is wise for crops that take over 100 days to mature.

It is much more affordable to germinate your transplants from seed than to purchase seedlings at a nursery. But if you’re a beginner gardener, give yourself the gift of an easy start and purchase seedlings. 

 Vegetables to start indoors include: 

  • Broccoli 
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower 
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant 
  • Kohlrabi
  • Melons
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Winter Squash

Most plants will need to be started 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date in your area, but the seed packet should provide exact information for the varieties that you’ve chosen.

Often your transplants will go into the ground on May Long Weekend, but if the nights are still below ten degrees Celsius (50° Fahrenheit), it’s a good idea to wait.

Best Vegetables to Grow in Ontario

Ontario’s climate allows many kinds of vegetables to thrive, but you may be wondering what the easiest vegetables to grow in Ontario are. 

Here are some of the easiest vegetables to grow in Ontario:

Salad Greens

Lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, and arugula are all examples of salad greens that are easy to grow and satisfying to eat. 

Garlic

Garlic is the perfect set-it-and-forget-it crop. Plant in October. Harvest in summer. It is that easy, my friends. 

Part of the fun in harvesting garlic is eating the scapes, the unopened flowers that come out the top. The flavor is a pleasant cross between a chive and garlic. Fantastic in pesto. Also, fun grilled on the BBQ.

Asparagus

I admit asparagus may not be the easiest perennial to establish. But asparagus happens to be native to Ontario, so give it a go and know that your climate is giving you a natural advantage to grow this high-end treat.

Once established, it should produce more and more each year. It should also get easier to grow every year. For those of you who are not big fans of green asparagus? Try planting the sweeter, milder white asparagus instead.

Carrot

Once carrots have germinated, they’ll take whatever the weather throws at them. Frost, snow, rain, drought, carrots won’t be too fussed by any of it. Some gardeners use a wooden plank to assist in the long germination process.

Potatoes

Potatoes are another easy garden favorite. If you have limited access to water or anticipate a drier summer, potatoes are a no-fuss crop that will survive inconsistent watering.

More water tends to mean more consistent shapes and larger potatoes. Growing your own provides you with a chance to steal new potatoes with tender skins.

Read More – Here’s How You Can Improve Garden Soil Over Winter!

Growing Vegetables in Ontario – FAQs

purple kale leaves in the garden
Kale is one of the heaviest-hitting cold-weather crops we recommend for all Ontario and short-season gardens. Kale tastes sweeter in cold weather. But if the temperature drops far below freezing – then cover the plants.

It takes time to learn to garden, and it’s good to have questions! 

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about gardening in Ontario.

What Are the Fastest-Growing Garden Vegetables?

The quickest veggies to grow in the garden include peas, radishes, beans, and salad greens. Their hasty growth rate makes them naturally perfect for a shorter growing season. Over the years, selective breeding has led to many early-maturing varieties. These plants produce fruit earlier than traditional varieties. In cooler climates, early-maturing cultivars are appealing because it is more likely that they’ll finish before the cold weather returns.

Here Are Some of My Favorite Early-Maturing Varieties of Common Vegetables:

Carrots

Nantes-type carrots are known for their fast growth. On average, they grow to be about 6-inches in length, and there are more than forty varieties. Of these, Scarlet Nantes, Bolero, Jerada, Touchon, and Napoli are some of our favorites.

Cauliflower

Attribute Hybrid matures in 60 – 70 days, and the heads can reach 7 inches across. Contrary to popular belief – cauliflower comes in multiple colors! You can find orange, purple, white, and green cauliflower. On the negative side – cauliflower is trickier to grow than other veggies on this list.

Cucumbers

Early Pride reaches maturity in 55 days and can grow over nine inches long! Other quick-maturing cucumbers include Sweet Success, Burpee Pickler, Sugar Crunch, and Tendergreen Burpless.

Eggplant

Applegreen has white skin and matures in 65 days. Early Black Egg is a more traditional-looking eggplant variety that matures in around 65 days.

Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are big, juicy, flavorful, and bell pepper plants produce baskets of peppers. Ace, King of the North, and Lady Bell take 70 days to mature.

Hot Peppers

Hot peppers contain an organic compound called capsaicin – the more capsaicin a pepper has, the hotter it is. Early Jalapenos mature in 70 days, and Anaheim matures in 80 days. Hot peppers – like jalapeno peppers are also the best for fresh homemade guacamole and salsa! 

Tomato

Early Girl is a very popular full-size tomato that matures in 50 days. On the whole, cherry tomatoes will ripen more quickly, making them a good choice for gardeners with limited summertime.

Winter Squash

Butterbush butternut squash, Goldilocks acorn squash, and Pinnacle spaghetti squash mature around 85 days. Winter squash is perfect for cold weather gardeners because they cure, store, and stay fresh for months.

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08/13/2022 01:41 pm GMT

What Should I Plant in My Vegetable Garden First?

Frost tolerant plants can be sown in early spring when the nights are still cool. The best cold-hardy crops to consider growing first include peas, radish, carrot, lettuce, and spinach. Also, consider your local hardiness zones so you can choose vegetables and crops that thrive natively if possible. When in doubt – consult your hardiness zone!

What Vegetables Should I Grow in My First Garden?

homegrown vegetables that save money
It’s easy to produce large and productive cherry tomato plants in Ontario, Canada – as long as you choose a cultivar that matures quickly! You can also buy tomato transplants from a local plant nursery for an early growing advantage.

Above all, you should grow foods that you love to eat. The following vegetables are great for beginners. They tend to be easy to grow. They’re also educational, and they usually offer a high yield, which is very satisfying (regardless of experience level)! 

Tomato

The flavor of a homegrown tomato really can’t be beaten. There are also many different varieties, many of which aren’t available in the grocery store. Barry’s Crazy Cherry is wildly prolific, and Sunrise Bumblebee is a rather charming striped variety.

Tomato-Growing Lesson – Tomatoes need to be started indoors from seed. You can also purchase transplants from a local nursery. Either way – it’s a great lesson learning how to germinate seeds indoors and transplant them outdoors later.

Zucchini

On the topic of prolific warm-season crops, everyone should have zucchini. Even two plants can provide a good supply of zukes for the kitchen! You haven’t lived until you’ve made your cheesy zucchini bread.

Zucchini-Growing Lesson – Squash is prone to powdery mildew. To prevent this disease (and many others), water from the bottom without wetting the leaves. You should also prune back dense growth to improve airflow.

Peas

Excellent for small spaces, peas are climbing plants that you can sow after the ground thaws. The tips of vines are delightful in salads. Gardeners can choose between snow peas, snap peas, and shelling peas.

Pea-Growing Lesson – Peas need to climb. Growing peas in your garden will teach you how to trellis plants. You can be inventive with what you use to support the plants. I like to secure my peas with jute because it’s compostable. You can also use plastic cups. But at the end of the season, you’ll need to collect them.

Lettuce

Lettuce is easy to grow, cold tolerant, and there are many different varieties! It’s also one of our favorite vegetables to harvest and eat. Garden salads rule!

Lettuce-Growing Lesson – Lettuce seeds are tiny! And this makes them tricky to sow with accuracy. As such, you will likely need to thin your seedlings to the correct spacing. You can plant baby greens quite densely. Full-sized heads will need more space. Don’t forget that you can eat the thinnings too! 

Every climate has its challenges, but with careful attention and good timing, it’s possible to grow a significant amount of food, even in a short amount of time. Ontario’s climate provides an opportunity to grow and harvest a wide variety of vegetables. Give it a try and tell us about it in the comments.

Conclusion – Baskets of Ontario Canadian Veggies!

We know that growing fresh garden vegetables is a lot of work – doubly so when you live in Ontario and other chilly climates.

We hope our guide helps you transform a less-than-ideal growing climate into an abundant crop!

Which Ontario vegetables are your favorite?

If you have more questions about Ontario gardening – don’t hesitate to ask.

We love to help when it comes to getting our hands dirty and will gladly brainstorm if you have gardening questions.

Thanks so much – and have a great day!

Read More – Best Vegetables for British Columbia and Cold Climates!

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08/12/2022 03:31 pm GMT

Author

  • Jack of all trades, master of some. Wild garden grower. Loves creating stuff. From food forests and survival gardens to soap and yoghurt. A girl on a farm with two kids and one husband (yep, just one - although another one would be handy). Weirdly enjoys fixing fences and digging holes. Qualified permaculture teacher and garden go-to.