Winter gardening is not as difficult as most people think. There are fewer weeds to worry about than during other seasons. Winter vegetables also require less water than their summer counterparts. Low light levels from the shorter days cut down on evaporation and can even eliminate the need for watering from mid-November to mid-February in most areas of the country.
Winter Protection Devices
Should winter gardeners grow different crops depending on their climate? Not necessarily. You can grow the same crops if you use a winter-protection device, such as: a cold frame, a greenhouse, the quick-hoop system, or just a layer or two of floating row cover, often called Reemay. All of these devices capture some of the earth’s natural warmth, especially at night, and block the chilling, drying effect of wind. Many winter gardeners said that growing in a greenhouse had been their best garden investment.
No matter where you live, you can grow cold-hardy winter vegetables that have proven they can take biting temperatures. Interestingly, many of the vegetables need that snap of cold weather to deliver their unique taste. Winter vegetables sweeten with the cold. If you’ve ever tasted a winter-pulled carrot or winter-cut spinach, you’re familiar with the treasures winter gardening can bring.
Experiment with these winter crops to see which ones grow best in your garden:
Artichoke, Arugula, Asian Greens (such as Tatsoi , Mei Qing Choi, Mizuna and Tokyo Bekana), Asparagus, Beets, Berries, Broccoli, Carrot, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Claytonia, Collards, Dill, Fava Beans, Garlic, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leek, Lettuce, Mâche, Mustard, Onion, Parsley, Parsnip, Potatoes, Radish, Snap Peas, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Turnip
Winter Gardening Tips
The following tips will help your plants survive the winter season:
- Grow in a greenhouse.
- Cover crops heavily with straw or leaf mulch. It will help keep root temperatures stable.
- Use low tunnels made of plastic pipe bent over beds and covered with plastic sheeting.
- Cover crops with blankets, old sheets or row cover draped over stakes.
- Put hay bales on the sides of a planting bed and cover the area with old windows.
- Continue to plant — as long as the ground is soft enough to dig a hole.
- Make lots of compost to give your crops an extra boost. It supplies organic nutrients to the soil (but no more than three inches thick).
- Remember to vent cold frames, quick hoops and greenhouses on sunny days, lest you trap hot air inside and then prematurely “cook” your greens.
- Water when the ground isn’t frozen. If the ground is becoming solid, try watering with some lukewarm water to loosen it up. Whatever you can do to get water to those plants in the coming weeks will help. On the plus side, most plants won’t be using much water because they are dormant.
- Watering in advance of a predicted freeze helps plants, especially potted plants and annuals, make it through a hard freeze because it allows plants to take up moisture before the ground is frozen and prevents water from reaching the root zone. Be sure to hydrate above-ground shoots as well as the roots.
- During dry periods when the ground isn’t frozen or covered with snow, a once-a-week deep watering is beneficial. New plantings especially need to be watered in.
- Consider using a raised bed. In a raised bed, the soil warms quicker and will stay warmer because of its limited space. Additionally, protection becomes easier because of the clearly defined areas around your garden. For the same reasons, the overall management of the bed becomes simpler.