Gardening has its own set of challenges, even in the best of times. In wintertime, when the ground freezes and snow piles up, it may seem impossible to keep your green thumb going. However, with the right techniques and tools, you can still have gardening success even in the dead of winter! Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
Start Planning Your Vegetable Garden Early
Planning your vegetable garden early is the best way to ensure success. If you plan to start in late fall, do so as soon as the weather starts to cool. As winter nears, start planting hardy vegetables that can survive a light frost, such as radishes, kale, and beets. And don’t forget to plant some lettuces too—not only are they delicious eaten fresh, but they’ll be perfect for salads when summer rolls around again.
Lettuces can tolerate a lot of cold, which makes them excellent candidates for winter gardening in northern climates. The hearty greens will even keep on growing through the snow! Winter also means lots of time indoors, so this is the perfect time to get started on any crafts or projects you’ve been meaning to get done.
A greenhouse doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated. A large, sunny window will suffice if you use an unheated basement or garage for storage space. Heating cables and mats can also provide warmth under the soil without using any electricity. You can also use lights instead of heating lamps during winter days when it’s not dark enough outside for plants to thrive. One last trick: Keep your windows well-cleaned so that as much sunlight gets through as possible.
Before You Plant, Add Some Organic Matter to your Soil
Adding organic matter to your soil before planting not only helps it stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but also encourages plant growth. Organic materials like manure, compost, and wood chips will work, just be sure to mix them with the top few inches of soil because they are heavy. They will also release nutrients into the soil as they decompose.
Organic Matter Provides Cooling and Heating Properties According to studies by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, compost can hold up to a whopping 100 pounds of water per cubic yard of material, which provides excellent cooling properties when applied in thick layers over landscape beds prior to planting or filling pots. It also warms quickly in spring, making it an ideal medium for new gardeners who don’t want to wait weeks for their plants to get off the ground. In addition, old hay has been shown to keep plants warmer during cold weather periods and cooler during hot weather periods.
Protect Yourself from Slugs
Though snails and slugs can be found all year, winter is an especially good time to protect your plants from them because they’re less active during the colder months. Many gardeners choose to use copper wire or slug barriers because these are supposed to deter slugs by poking them, but there’s no scientific evidence that these actually work well enough to repel any substantial number of slugs.
The best defense against slugs is simply learning how to identify their favorite hiding spots. As tempting as it may be, never pour salt on a slug! Salt can damage the soil and create salt burn, a condition that makes plant roots rot quickly. You should also make sure you water properly. Lastly, in order to have fresh herbs in the wintertime, consider keeping pots indoors near a window with bright sunlight. Herbs like cilantro, parsley, dill, and mint grow best when given about six hours of light each day.
To Hoe or Not to Hoe?
If you’re an avid gardener in the fall and winter months, then you might be wondering how to keep your plants alive without making too much work. The answer is that there are many options out there, but as a newbie gardener, some might be more challenging than others. To make things easier, here are four different tips to help you start a green thumb today.
1) Keep watering your plants once or twice a week–depending on their size–to keep them fresh and alive. A good rule of thumb is to soak the soil in the planter at least one inch deep when doing this. Don’t forget to water the leaves too if it’s dry outside.
2) Replant your dying plants! It’s always best to plant these in containers with plenty of room so they can grow properly. Remember: the bigger the pot, the bigger and healthier they’ll grow!
3) Prune branches from larger plants like bushes or trees if they have started growing into nearby branches and leaves. You’ll want to prune back any dead branches first before removing any live ones just in case it takes a while for them to grow back again.
Cut off only what you need so that your plant stays healthy and strong-looking! For example, with apple trees, cut off any large shoots near the ground (or suckers) to encourage growth in areas where apples will be harvested. When dealing with perennials and shrubs, remember to thin out weaker branches by cutting them right below the node (the spot where two stems meet).
4) Mulch over the top of any container gardens or small plant pots using about three inches worth of wood chips or mulch around each container. I recommend using a hay bale because it lasts longer and has a better appearance. Just lay down sheets of newspaper before pouring in your mulch to prevent weeds from popping up through tiny holes in the hay bale.
Every few weeks, flip the hay bale upside down to expose the wet side. Weeds won’t grow on damp paper and they’ll decompose within about six months! Be sure to give the lawn another good mow after placing your hay bales for maximum coverage. Your plants will thank you!
Watch the Weather Forecast
Always be sure to check the weather forecast before venturing outside in the winter, and dress appropriately. Layering is key and dressing in what you think will work best is always a good rule of thumb. A hat, gloves, and scarf are must-haves when dealing with cold weather, as well as some warm socks or booties for your feet.
Finally, go out at sunrise or sunset so that you are not tempted to linger too long. If you know you’re going to be spending time outdoors for more than an hour, bring a thermos full of hot water or tea (or another beverage). It’ll keep your hands from freezing and give you something to sip on. Just don’t forget about it.
Dig in Even If it’s Cold Outside
It’s tempting to wait until the snow melts and spring arrives before we start to garden, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start a little earlier than that. Take it slow this winter by planting some seedlings or cuttings in pots now and then taking them inside when frost hits. You could also fertilize your soil with fresh manure at the end of November and plant what you can out there.
If possible, try putting down straw mats in any garden spaces you’ll use for this winter so you don’t have to bother with shoveling when winter is over. With a few tweaks to your normal gardening routine, you’ll be set for next year.
- Plant corn kernels in a heated container (such as an overturned clay pot) and watch them grow indoors. The heat will stimulate growth and produce ears for harvesting in early summer.
- Consider purchasing cold-hardy roses or flowering shrubs, such as rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, or junipers, which should survive outside all winter long if they’re watered occasionally.
- Once leaves fall from deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves every year), rake up leaf litter and store it under benches to create a mulch blanket that will decompose over time. Leaves are great because they’re readily available—you don’t need to purchase anything new.
Support Budding Seedlings with Stakes and Tepees
Your seedlings have been busy soaking up the sun and getting their roots ready to provide nourishment. And now it’s time to keep them from freezing off at night. If you live in a cold climate with harsh winters, it’s essential that you protect your plants from the cold. The best thing you can do is build a snow wall around them, but if that’s not an option you can use this method to stake and tepee your plants for some added protection.
Take metal rods or stakes and pound them into the ground about 3-4 inches away from your plant. Plant another stake or rod vertically on top of each of these stakes, weaving them through to form a teepee shape. You’ll need about 6-8 stakes or rods total for this method depending on how big your plant is. When winter rolls around, put mulch over these structures so they won’t be exposed to the cold air underneath when it freezes during the night hours.
Keep an Eye on Potatoes & Onions
Potatoes and onions are staples in many winter meals. Both can be kept in a cool dry place, so long as the potatoes have enough air circulation (e.g., under another type of produce) to prevent them from getting moldy. I recommend placing your onions and potatoes at the front of your fridge or up high on a shelf.
If you’ve got something special planned with your vegetables this winter, wash them before storing them in a clean container with minimal moisture (so they don’t get gross).
You may want to let the roots dry out, but this isn’t necessary if you’re growing sprouts—most plants will continue to grow no matter what season it is! All that’s left is to water them when their soil becomes completely dry. Another option is to use self-watering containers, which give your plants an automated watering system.
Save Tomato Seeds for Next Year
The first step to preparing for next year’s garden is starting off with healthy plants that are free of disease and pesticides. In order to do this, look through your plants to find those which are healthiest, then select the strongest and best-tasting tomato in your crop. Cut it in half with a sharp knife, scoop out the seeds into a pot of water and start mixing them around so they all sink to the bottom.
Once they’ve all sunk, pour off the excess water into a bowl and set the pot on the kitchen counter. Leave the seeds there overnight (or until they’re fully dry). The next day, pack them up in an envelope or old bread baggy with plenty of fresh air. Write down what variety you planted as well as any other notes you might want to remember such as seed date or date grown. Store these seeds in a cool place away from light – your refrigerator works great.
Now that you know some of the basics of winter gardening, it’s time to put your knowledge into practice. Keep these things in mind as you plan this year’s garden: make sure your soil is loose, amending it with manure or compost if needed; make sure your plants have enough water, but not too much; and finally, mulch to protect those plantings from winter’s harsh conditions. Once these steps are completed, you’ll be on the right track to a beautiful springtime.
Hi I’m Bilal Malik, a digital marketing and blogging expert holding years of experience.