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The Best Cool-Weather Veggies to Plant in Iowa

radish, beet, and carrots ted lare design & build
 “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” – Audrey Hepburn   

Hope for tomorrow. Isn’t that what we all need right now? What better way to show our belief in the future; our optimism for a better tomorrow, than by planting a vegetable garden?  There is nothing more satisfying than pushing that tiny seed down into the damp dirt and waiting, hoping for its green head to pop up and say, hello! 

However, we live in Iowa, and Iowans know we can have happy hopes of tomorrow bringing sunshine and ‘shorts weather,’ when it surprisingly brings frost and finds us back to parka-like temperatures. Living in a state like Iowa where it’s not uncommon to wear boots and sandals in the same week, our best chance at gardening success is to plant cool-weather veggies— especially at the beginning of spring when we are eager to get our veggies planted, but Mother Nature may not agree.

man and woman in the vegetable garden ted lare design & build

The Best Cool-Weather Vegetables to Plant in Iowa

There are a few steadfast vegetables that are hardy enough to withstand Iowa’s cool, and fluctuating temperatures. When one day presents 80-degree weather and the next a chance of snow, here’s are some of the best cool-weather vegetables to plant in your Iowa garden:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Swiss chard
  • Beets
  • Green onions
  • Lettuce
  • Arugula 
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage 
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Radishes (my personal favorite!)

All of these vegetables are cold hardy and can survive the unpredictable weather that Iowa brings. In fact, the cool Iowa spring weather brings out the best in many of these vegetables. Short bursts of colder temperatures can actually make some of these veggies, such as kale and spinach, slightly sweeter in taste.

seed pods ted lare design & build

How to Begin

If you plan to grow vegetables from seed (a worthy endeavor for any Iowa gardener!) our best piece of advice is to find a trustworthy seed source. Not all seeds are made equal, and it’s worth it to be picky when it comes to the food you plan to grow and put in your family’s mouths. 

Some very seasoned gardeners have the knowledge to harvest and store their own seeds from last year’s crop, but that’s not always realistic. If you are a beginner or you just want to keep things simple, your best bet is to visit a local nursery and speak to a specialist.  Planning, designing and building a dream veggie garden fits us pros as snug as a garden glove, and we are always happy to share our knowledge.  

If starting from seed doesn’t appeal to you, no worries, as many of these plants can be purchased as established, ready-to-grow seedlings.

raised gardening ted lare design & build

Pots or Plots

The next step will be choosing the best place to grow your vegetables. Do you have a plot of land that can become a designated vegetable garden? No worries if you don’t as many of these cool-weather veggies are ideal for growing in containers. 

In fact, veggies such as lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, and cauliflower are all lovely as garden accents, and their foliage provides a beautiful aesthetic when planted in pots around decks and outdoor patio spaces.

Some of the other vegetables on our list require something to climb on. Peas and beans in particular will do well in a container, but will also require a small trellis or deck railing to climb.  Again, imagine this as a natural and unique landscape accent—one that not all your friends will have.

Water, Watch, and Wait

It’s all planted, now what? We water as needed (general rule of thumb is one inch of water a week, but do the finger test to see how dry the soil is, and remember containers dry out quickly). We watch the beauty of nature do its thing as our vegetables begin to grow and develop, and we do our best to nurture our crops through the blissful Iowa summer until the day when we can harvest our bounty.

carrots growing in garden ted lare design & build

A Few Final Tips

While these are some of the best cool-weather veggies, some extreme weather can still put a damper on their success. We recommend keeping a keen eye on the weather forecast (I know, a bit of a joke for us Iowans) and watch for frost advisories. 

If there is a risk of a hard frost or that four-letter word (snow!), then it’s advised to cover your newly planted vegetables with a sheet overnight, or better yet, if you planted them in containers, move them into a covered area or garage overnight.

Besides that, simply hope for tomorrow, enjoying the satisfaction of growing your own veggies that nourish your body and soul.


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