Chicory is hardy down to USDA zone 3 and up to 8. It can withstand light frosts but heavily frozen ground that causes heaving can damage the deep taproot. Chicory in winter generally dies back and will spring anew in spring. This occasional coffee substitute is easy to grow and a fairly reliable perennial in most zones. Learn more about chicory cold tolerance and what you can do to help protect the plants.
Chicory Cold Tolerance
Whether you are growing chicory for its leaves or its huge taproot, the plant is very easy to start from seed and grows rapidly in nutrient rich, well-draining soil in a sunny location-- and there are various types to grow. Chicory is a perennial which can live three to eight years with good care. During the "salad days," young plants will go dormant in winter and return in spring. Winter chicory can withstand extreme below freezing temperatures, especially with a little protection. Chicory will start showing new leafy growth as soon as soil is warm enough to be workable. During the winter, the leaves will drop and growth slows down significantly, exactly like a hibernating bear. In areas with deep freezes, chicory is tolerant of temperatures down to -35 degrees F. (-37 C.). In areas that hold water, this kind of freeze can damage the taproot, but provided the plants are in well-draining soil, such cold poses no problem with a little protection. If you are worried about extremely deep freezes, plant winter chicory in a raised bed that will retain more warmth and enhance drainage.
Chicory Winter Care
Chicory that is being grown for its leaves is harvested in autumn, but in mild climates, the plants can retain leaves through winter with some assistance. Cold climate chicory in winter should have straw mulch around the roots or polytunnels over the rows. Other protection options are cloches or fleece. Production of leaves is greatly reduced in freezing temperatures, but in mild to temperate climates, you can still get some foliage off the plant without harming its health. Once soil temperatures warm up, pull away any mulch or covering material and allow the plant to re-foliate.
Forced Chicory in Winter
Chicons are the name for forced chicory. They look like endive, with slender egg-shaped heads and creamy white leaves. The process sweetens the often bitter leaves of this plant. The Witloof type of chicory is forced from November to January (late fall to early winter), right at the peak of the cold season. The roots are potted up, foliage removed, and each container is covered to remove light. Roots that are being forced will need to be moved to an area of at least 50 degrees F. (10 C.) during winter. Keep the pots moist and in about three to six weeks, the chicons will be ready for harvesting.
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Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.
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