You’ve diced the last tomato from your garden, assigned each implement to a nail along the garage wall and handed the lawn boy his notice. But, the onset of cooler winter weather doesn’t mean you have to completely give up gardening for a season. Why not turn over a new leaf by making the coming winter months work to your advantage?
As winter gardening grows in popularity, more green thumbs are finding ways to make their favorite pastime a year-round endeavor, using the post-harvest months to plan, protect and nurture plants through until spring – when Mother Nature picks up where she left off. Following are some ideas on winter gardening.
How to maintain your garden in winter
Consider planting in autumn: If you live in an area where winters are somewhat mild, you can give ground covers, shrubs, trees and even certain varieties of annuals, vegetables and perennials a head start on next year if you plant during fall, when the soil is still warm.
Later, when it’s a tad nippy above the ground, warm soil and rainwaters will nurture your plants through the cool-weather months. Varieties to consider include strawberry, chamomile, camellia, rhododendron, pansy, primrose and, fittingly, Iceland poppy and ice plant.
If you live in cold country, be sure to stick with varieties known for their abilities to weather the plunging temperatures. Prepare for frost: Chilling frosts can be curtains for unprotected plants, but you can take action right now to ensure that damage will be kept to a minimum.
When landscaping, be sure to build a strong foundation with unquestionably hearty plants, such as shade trees, hedges and screening, then fill in with more fragile varieties. Planting more tender plants and flowers in sheltered areas, such as entryways or courtyards, or in containers that can be moved indoors, can help them survive the winter months.
Not sure which plants have staying power or when the first frost will hit? Recruit the help of a landscaper or professional gardener, who can help you choose the best plants for your area, chart the weeks when temperatures habitually dive and make your yard’s microclimates work to your garden’s advantage during cooler winter weather.
Another way to help your plants survive winter is to turn on the water and spread the fertilizer during late spring and early summer growth spurts, then taper off as the weather turns cooler. This will help discourage new growth that, if allowed, would never have a chance to mature before the onset of rough winter weather.
Provide protection from the winter cold: When Jack Frost finally makes his debut, you can cover plants at risk in a variety of shelters. When covered correctly, your garden spot should look something like a Boy Scout camp – every delicate plant should be lovingly enclosed in its own tent-like structure.
With their paraffin-treated covers, hot caps allow some sun to penetrate garden soil during the day, while trapped heat keeps plants warm at night. Ditto for cloches which, when constructed as portable tunnels, can provide protection for an entire row of tender plants.
Ready-made or do-it-yourself plant tents combine flexible stakes made of bamboo or plastic with sheets of polyethylene for instant insulation and protection. And, When the soil freezes and the snow finally flies, protect plants from the ravages of winter by literally bundling them up.
Shelters of burlap, lath sheets of plywood placed on the windward sides and Styrofoam rose cones, along with the dozens of do-it-yourself techniques that can be found in gardening books, can keep your plants snug and cozy throughout the winter while protecting them from sunburn and windburn.
Consider climate-controlled options: Cold frames, hot beds and greenhouses all dare to defy the season and, in most cases, are successful in providing a consistent climate even when the weather outside is frightful. Thus, if you’d like to putter around in the garden all winter long, one of these options might be for you.
Do-it-yourself plans and materials or professional contractors can provide you with a unit that suits both your plants and pocketbook. A passive solar energy collector and reservoir that looks much like a tiny geometric greenhouse, the basic cold frame provides shelter from frost, rain, snow and wind, prevents dramatic rises and drops in temperature, minimizes water loss through evaporation and keeps plants toasty warm. Hot beds are simply cold frames with auxiliary heating systems.
Greenhouses offer all of the above on a much larger scale. Often equipped with sophisticated heating and cooling systems, greenhouse options range from install-them-yourself greenhouse windows to full-blown freestanding units that take up half the yard. A temporary, simple greenhouse can be constructed by covering an open-ended frame with heavy plastic or burlap.
Winter Indoor Gardening
Houseplants enjoy new importance when cold weather sets in. When winter’s in full swing, there’s no better time to coddle the container plants sequestered in the solarium, or pamper the philodendron that hardly gets water during the busy summer months. With houseplants, surviving or succumbing depends largely on location and, in most cases, indirect or north light is best.
You can perch them on a pedestal, hang them in a doorway or set them on a shelf, but keep houseplants away from dry heat, hot sun or dark corners. It’s also important to monitor individual watering needs and to fertilize houseplants regularly with the numerous products available in tablet, liquid or powder form.
So there you have it. Winter gardening can be easy if you follow the right procedure.