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The Ins and Outs of Winter Gardening – What You Need to Know

A lot of people find gardening to be a relaxing chore. Pulling the weeds, caring for the crops, and being outside is like a therapy for many people. But what do you do during the cold months? During the winter, gardeners often shut down their garden and wait until it is spring again before they plant any veggies. While this is an option, a newer trend that many gardeners are enjoying is starting a winter garden. If you are interested in winter gardening, you have come to the right place. There are many tips that you must know before planting your winter crops.

Winter gardening isn't as simple as planting some vegetables out in your summer garden. You will need to provide protection for your vegetables so that the winter weather doesn't damage your crop. That said, winter gardening is fairly easy. All you need is some sort of protection, such as a cover or greenhouse, and, of course, the right kinds of plants. In this article, I'll go over everything you need to know about planting a winter garden. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will be inspired you start a winter garden of your own. Let's begin!

How to Start a Winter Garden

Know What to Plant for Winter Gardening

During the summer, you may enjoy growing vegetables like tomatoes and peppers. While it is fine to grow these plants during the summer, they will not grow as well during the winter. It is important that you plant vegetables that can handle the colder weather. Here is a list of some winter vegetables that you can grow during these cold months.

1. Kale

Kale is one of the hardiest vegetables to grow. They can withstand temperatures as low as 10 degrees and is also noted for improved sweetness after frost. A very hardy vegetable, kale not only tolerates the cold, but it has no problems with insects like cabbage can have. In addition to being easy to grow during the winter, kale can give you the nutrients that you need during the winter. If you are wanting a little bit of color in your garden, you can also opt for flowering kale. Flowering Kale has pink, purple, and white leaves, which are edible just like regular kale.

2. Brussels Sprouts

Similar to kale, brussels sprouts do well in the cold weather. The cold weather and frost actually make brussels sprouts taste better. Frosts will increase the sugar content, effectively eliminating the bitter taste that is often experienced in summer sprouts. Due to their hardiness, brussels sprouts are often harvested throughout the winter.

3. Peas

While peas are usually not grown during the winter, they can be planted four to six weeks before the last expected frost date in the spring. Peas can tolerate light frosts with temperatures from 31 to 33 degrees. Remember to water your peas well and to provide something for the vines to climb on once they emerge.

4. Spinach

Spinach does very well in cold weather and can tolerate temperatures as low as 20 degrees. It can also be an early spring crop if you grow it under a row cover or cold frame to protect it from extremes.

5. Turnips

Turnips are another vegetable that improves in flavor with a frost. They can be planted in very early spring or late into fall in southern climates. The top leaves will die back if temperatures drop below 10 degrees or so, but the root itself will still be good to eat. As long as the ground doesn't freeze, you can continue to harvest turnip roots throughout the winter.

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6. Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi, also called German turnip, is a biennial vegetable, a low, stout cultivar of wild cabbage. It is the same species as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, and Savoy cabbage. Kohlrabi does not like hot summer temperatures. During the cold weather, this vegetable will produce sweet bulbs that taste great raw or cooked. Transplants can be put out six weeks before frost with an expected harvest in only a few short weeks. Make sure you harvest them young, about two inches or so in diameter. You can also cook the leaves.

7. Cabbage

Cabbage likes cool temperatures as low as 26 degrees, depending on the variety. It actually grows better in the fall and winter than it does during the summer. A light frost is thought to improve the sweetness of cabbages. Watch for insects because insects can damage your crop.

8. Carrots

Because carrots grow underground, they are protected from the winter weather and grow very nicely in a winter garden. Cold winter temperatures stimulate sugar accumulation in carrots, acting as a natural antifreeze that protects the roots from freeze damage. Green carrot tops are hardy to at least 18 °F (-8 °C), but the roots can withstand even colder temperatures. To make harvests easier, either heavily mulch carrots when really cold temperatures arrive in zones 5 and above, or cover them with a low tunnel or cold frame.

9. Leeks

Because leeks are not sensitive to day length, like many other alliums, they will continue to grow well during the shorter days of winter. Although most leeks are very cold-tolerant, the darker, blue-green varieties are most likely to survive temperatures as cold as to 0 °F (-18 °C).

10. Chard and Collards

Just like kale, chard and collards are very hardy. They are often described as the "new kale", and are sometimes believed to grow better than kale during the winter. Although a popular vegetable grown for fall, chard is also remarkably cold-tolerant, surviving temperatures to 15 °F (-10 °C) without protection. Some people have noticed that green or white chards are more cold-hardy than the popular multicolored variety, but this will depend on where you live. Overall, chard and collards are both two winter vegetables that are perfect for your winter vegetable garden.

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Use the Right Materials to Protect Your Plants

Once you choose what plants you want to grow, you'll need to find a way to protect them from the cold weather. While some plants grow well when exposed to the elements, they usually grow better when protected from the snow and frost. That said, try to begin by providing the least amount of protection as you can. If your plants still don't grow well, add some more protection. Here are some winter garden ideas to try this year.

Cold Frame

A cold frame is a planter box that has a glass lid on top of it. The lid can be propped up with a stick for proper ventilation. This is a great way to be able to protect your crops from frosty temperatures.

Row Covers

Row covers are often used to protect plants in early spring from a random frost, or from unwanted bugs on your plants. You can also use them during the winter to keep frost and snow off of the plants. What's nice about row covers is that you can continue to use them during the summer to protect your crops from insects, wind, and even overheating.

Hoop Tunnel

A hoop tunnel is a hoop made of PVC pipes. It is then covered with plastic. Hoop tunnels either go over the plants as a whole or over the rows.

Greenhouse

If you happen to have a greenhouse, this is one of the best ways to protect your vegetables from the cold weather. Even if your greenhouse isn't heated, it will still block out the wind and protect your plants from the snow. For ideas and tips for building your greenhouse, click here.

Hotbed

A hotbed is a cold frame or a greenhouse that has either been coated in manure or has artificial heat in it. This can generate enough heat to keep your plants from freezing.

Blankets

You don't always need some large structure to keep your plants protected. Sometimes all you need are some blankets. Just like blankets keep you warm during the winter, they keep your plants from freezing during the cold temperatures.

Hay and Mulch

Hay and mulch will protect your plants from the cold weather. While they don't actually cover your plants, they keep your vegetable warm during the cold weather. If you don't have hay, some straw will work well too.

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How to Harvest a Winter Garden

The best way to harvest a winter garden is the cut-and-come-again method. This means that you cut the leaves and then come again in a few weeks to cut them again. Leave the roots in the ground and clip leaves off as necessary. This method allows for new growth and extends the life of greens. Cold-hardy plants usually withstand freezing and thawing as long as they’re in the ground, but should only be harvested when thawed. The best time is usually mid-afternoon when temperatures are above freezing, even in cold climates. Bring a covered basket or bucket to the garden to protect greens from freezing on the way back to your house. Plants do not tolerate freezing once they’re out of the ground.

Final Thoughts

Winter gardening is fairly easy and allows you to harvest fresh veggies even during the winter months. However, there are some important things you must know before you begin winter gardening. In this article, I went over some easy tips for starting a winter garden. Make sure you choose the right plants, as not all plants do well in the cold temperatures. Also, make sure you have some sort of protection ready for your plants. A greenhouse, covers, or even blankets are all great options for your winter garden. I hope this article has answered all your questions about how to start a winter garden. Happy gardening!

Mariann Foster

I am one of our content writers for Everything Backyard. I am a mother and business owner of Big Horn Mountain Alpacas in Wyoming. I love farm life, cutting my own firewood in the mountains, and participating in local trail run races.

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