Gardening: Start gardening in the winter for spring
During the winter months, avid gardeners start counting down the days until they can begin their spring planting. It’s disappointing for some when fall comes because that means putting the yard to bed for the winter, hanging up the gardening tools, and closing the shed door.
But, instead of biding time until the first hint of spring, it’s possible to start gardening in the winter. Surprisingly, some vegetables can survive cold temperatures, even in states that have snow in the winter months.
For instance, some gardeners plants spinach and corn salad (a green, leafy vegetable, also known as “mache”) in the late fall or winter. The seeds lie dormant during the winter and are ready to sprout after the snow melts in the spring. Also, some seeds with hard shells can hold up under the cold because the freezing and thawing softens them while the change in temperature causes them to sprout.
The trick to winter planting is to get the seeds in the ground before the ground freezes. So, the ideal time to plant is when the soil is still dry and workable. This means that you can even plant in January if the ground isn’t frozen. If the soil is overly wet and muddy, the seeds could rot before germinating.
The goal is to have the plants well-established before the frigid weather arrives.
What to Plant and How to Plant Them
What you plant will primarily depend on your “hardiness zone,” which is the geographical area in which you live and the type of plants that will grow best based on climate conditions. There are zone maps that show what zone you live in and what you can plant throughout the year.
For instance, Zone 5, which includes the Midwest and the Northeast, can experience cold winters. However, the key to winter planting in those states is to choose hardy seeds that are known to grow in cold conditions. Some vegetables that thrive in cold weather include:
- Corn salad (mache)
- Mustard greens
- Snow Peas
- Swiss chard
- Turnip greens
Once planted, lightly cover the seeds with a winter mulch, such as bark chips, straw, shredded leaves, evergreen boughs, or even a grow tunnel with a polythene cover. The purpose of the mulch is to protect the plant roots from heavy freezing and to conserve water that is in the ground. Keep in mind that seeds need watering up until the frost.
Place a bed sheet or some type of frost cloth or fabric plant cover over the mulch to prevent the mulch from blowing away. Then, make sure to weigh the cover down with staples, rocks, or hoops. Clamps or hoops keep down polythene covers used with a grow tunnel.
You may also want to place markers along the garden beds so that you can locate the plants after it snows. You can also plant seeds in a raised garden bed with a lid if you do not want to plant them directly into the ground.
Winter Gardening Indoors
Growing veggies indoors is an alternative to planting produce outside. But, just like certain seeds cannot thrive in a freezing cold ground, not all vegetables grow well indoors. For instance, some plants, like cucumbers and tomatoes, flower before they produce fruit. The flowering parts may shade out the other plants and outgrow the containers. While tomatoes love heat, some types are better suited for the outdoors because of their large size.
Some of the vegetables that grow well in indoor gardens are green, leafy vegetables, such as cilantro, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, spinach, and Swiss chard.
You can grow your vegetables in wooden planter boxes, plastic or clay pots, tubs, or other containers. Placing the containers on counters or tables makes it easier to manage. Remember to position your container where it can get direct sun.
Besides containers, other tools you will need for your winter gardening project include:
1. Potting soil. Keep the potting soil below the rim of the container to prevent soil from flowing over the top when it’s time to water. Do not use soil from your garden because it may have weeds or a disease, and it may not drain water properly in the container.
2. Grow lights. These low-energy, low-heat, artificial lights help plants grow and come in handy on dark and cloudy wintry days.
3. Fertilizer. Some fertilizers are already mixed into the soils, but some gardeners prefer to mix their own fertilizers or use compost. The point is to make sure the plants receive nutrition on a regular basis.
When watering the plants, make sure the potting soil gets wet, but do not overwater. Any excess water should be drained through the container. You may choose to use an automatic plant watering pump.
If you are passionate about gardening, you don’t have to wait until spring to start planting. Gardening helps to drive away the winter doldrums and provides you with fresh veggies just in time for spring.