It is not a drill. Winter has come! It is the most-hated season for many gardeners, as many plants end up under a thick pile of snow cover. Spring- and summer-blooming plants and various perennials drop their leaves and switch to dormancy mode. If warm crops could speak, they would have denounced Elsa's famous line, 'the cold never bothered me anyway.'
Even though the deep freeze is detrimental to many plants, you can still enjoy gardening. The secret is to work with cold-tolerant crops. Ready for the off-season planting? We covered the top winter gardening ideas, freeze-hardy plants, and easy tips to try and practice at home.
Can We Garden in Winter?
Tilling your garden soil in winter is possible, thanks to cold-hardy plants that are a product of modern plant breeding and millennia of evolution. Solid and rich flavors are developed for crops with storage roots during the cold spell. A few flower species, including cyclamen, and pansies or violas, have also adapted to flourish in unconventional weather, unlike most spring or summer annuals.
Even if you decide to work with species not bothered by the cold, you would still need to pamper your garden in the winter, as icy winds, hard freezes, or heavy snowfall may inflict damage to some extent. Safeguarding gardening installations like plastic covers, heat-preserving mulches, and warm greenhouses are gardeners' best companions.
When to Start Gardening in Winter?
Most gardens don't have the protective structures to function in winter. For this reason, cultivating your backyard outside needs to start as early as fall – before the frost permeates the soil or the snow blanket makes small-scale farming impossible. Cole crops, or the cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower family, can be sown as late as mid-fall. They will have enough time to flourish before the cold weather grips your region.
However, if you are among the elite gardeners with extra labor and financial resources, building a heated greenhouse or a low-cost, insulated protective structure buys you plenty of time to postpone your gardening in the winter. If you live in regions situated farther from the north pole, experiencing shorter winters, you can start as late as November to December.
Top Winter Gardening Ideas — How-to Tips
Whether you have a heated greenhouse or are a humble hobbyist with a bare backyard, you will find the following tips on how to garden in the winter useful:
- Uncovered raised beds. Winter-hardy plants like cole crops, including cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, can be planted in raised beds. Bare, raised beds are recommended for zones that are not usually engulfed with thick piles of snow. Just pile up a heap of garden soil at least 9 inches (25 cm), and it's ready to grow saplings.
- Low-cost hoop tunnel protection. Snow can precipitate unexpectedly, and this arched installation is your savior. The transparent plastic cover is spread over your garden and would function in two ways: trap the heat and avoid mechanical damage caused by the snow. The trick works best with petite and low-lying crops.
- Large-scale hoop tunnel. An upgrade of the previous plant trick will allow you to extend the cropping season in the winter. It permits the grower to shelter bushy plants and walk through them like a walk-in closet. Numerous plant rows can be protected with one large arch, making it more economical and practical.
- Plastic bottles. With the current environmental protection awareness, putting empty plastic bottles into good use is an intelligent way to appease mother earth. This ingenious trick comes in handy during unexpected snowfalls and if you have only a few standing crops. Simply cut the bottom and put it over your fragile plants.
- Modified greenhouse. A greenhouse works by trapping heat. High-end plant conservatories are made of glass with heating systems, but to make it cheaper, you can install metal or PVC pipes as the skeleton and cover it with plastic instead of glass. Whether you are aiming for a house-like structure or a dwarf version, it will still keep your crops cozy inside.
What Garden Plants Will Survive Winter?
Now that we have learned how to garden in winter, let's talk about the star of the snow, I mean the show — cold-hardy plants that can survive in a wintry environment!
Ornamental shrubs display uniquely shaped, marbled leaves, textured branches, and sometimes stunning flowers and colorful berries. They measure less than a full-sized tree but are bigger than a bush. If you fancy incorporating plants with minimal maintenance, the following lists the best selection of their kind:
- Silverberry (Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’);
- Potentilla (Potentilla fruticosa ‘Katherine Dykes’);
- Heath (Erica x darleyensis ‘Furzey’);
- Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata' Sky Pencil');
- Skimmia (Skimmia japonica);
- Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana);
- Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea).
Flowers are such an integral part of spring that it's hard to imagine them blooming in winter. However, some species flower exclusively in the colder periods from winter to early spring. Mix and match, plant in groups, or play with the textures and colors with these hot picks:
- Hellebore (Helleborus spp.);
- Common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis);
- Cyclamen (Cyclamen purpurascens);
- Pansies (Viola spp.);
- Heather (Calluna vulgaris);
- Golden Crocus (Crocus chrysanthus);
- Primrose (Primula vulgaris);
- Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis);
- Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica).
Your garden in winter is not only to feed the eye but to feed the hungry tummy. While most veggies thrive best in the warm period of the year, some are bestowed with the endurance to withstand icy temperatures outdoors. Here are the best selections of vegetables to plant in your winter garden:
- Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata);
- Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis);
- Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica);
- Peas (Pisum sativum);
- Garlic (Allium sativum);
- Leeks (Allium porrum);
- Onion (Allium cepa);
- Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum);
- Beets (Beta vulgaris);
- Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa).
Winter Gardening Tips for Zones 4 to 7
Snow, chilly winds, and unexpected frost are gardeners' nightmares in winter times. To make things easier for plants (and yourself!), you must learn which green plants thrive in your hardiness zone. The hardiness zone classifies plants' capacity to thrive in the region based on the average annual minimum winter temperature. It's worth looking into before planning and decision-making for your garden in the winter.
With an average annual minimum winter temperature between -30 to -20 °F (-34.4 to -28.9°C), Zone 4 is an arena for survival for most crops. If the plant can survive subfreezing low records in winter, it will thrive in warmer temperatures. Crops best suited for this region include most vegetable crops listed above, such as the cabbage family and the veggies with storage root organs which have an extreme endurance to these growing zones. If you opt for less hardy plants, we recommend protecting them from freezing temperatures by employing plastic covers and mulches or sheltering them in greenhouses.
Characterized by average yearly temperature readings ranging from -20 to -10 °F (-28.9 to -23.3°C), this hardiness zone subtly shifts to the mid-country states, primarily a huge chunk of mountain states and the midwest. Ornamental shrubs and flowering plants such as Japanese hollies, heather, and witch hazel can grow here without being drama queens. They should be planted in sites with plenty of sun and sit on the leeward side of the house to protect them from chilly winds if the temperature plummets.
Stretching from the western to the eastern coast, zone 6 belts the mid portion of the country, recording a yearly average of temperatures between -10 to 0 °F (-23.3 to -17.8°C). Many crops would perform well in this relatively warmer zone. You can look into leeks, onions, leafy veggies, and ornamental plants. Sow the seeds approximately 8-10 weeks before the first frost. If you have heat-conserving structures above your garden, you can delay the sowing by about two weeks.
With close proximity to the previous one, which also spans from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast, the 7th hardiness zone experiences a warmer average minimum winter temperature than the rest, from 0 to 10 °F (-17.8 to -12.2°C). Various plants can thrive here, including many crops and most ornamental shrubs on the list above. Cool-weather veggies are usually sown in early autumn to avoid being damaged by the frost, preferably in raised beds and sites with a good amount of sunshine. You can plant ornamental shrubs a bit later, with the planting date at least a month before the first hard frost occurs.
What Should Gardeners Do in Winter?
If you are a first-year winter gardener, you might find yourself confused with the number of actions needed to keep your plants happy. However, with proper care routines, everything should run swiftly:
- Protect your plants. The grower's job is to be vigilant with the incoming snowfall or icy winds – the greatest enemy of plants. Strong wind gusts can leave permanent damage on the leaves, while blizzards not only freeze leaves but can break weak branches.
- Practice mulching. Mulching is a versatile plant care practice with various benefits. It blankets the soil from the freezing surface temperature and, at the same time, provides nutrition.
- Let there be light. The winter season can be gloomy and twinned with shorter day lengths. Because of this, supplementing grow lights will help you to achieve at least 8 hours of artificial illumination, compensating for the long dark period. Moving plants to a brighter location is also recommended, especially for sun-loving container plants.
- Prune dead leaves. Pruning is practiced regularly for dormant crops or leafless perennials, usually done principally in autumn. Cutting dead branches in winter may be late, but it is better than never being done.
- Tidy up the greenhouse. Cleaning the shelter for plants is an off-season practice to eliminate dead crop residues that may pose pest and disease risks. We recommend cleaning the greenhouse before and after cropping seasons.
- Watch out for pests. While this is uncommon in frigid environments, pests populations can swell in artificially heated greenhouses. If you spot one bug, don't have a second thought about rouging and destroying a single plant to save the majority.
- Water less. Unless there is no precipitation in the form of rain or snow, plant irrigation should be minimal. Plants demand less water in winter because of low evapotranspiration or water loss in the soil and leaves.
How to Make a Garden Nice in Winter?
One tip to make a garden nice in winter is to install heat-trapping protective structures for plants, such as hoop tunnels or a DIY greenhouse. This will protect plants from the damaging cold air, keeping them happy.
What Is a Good Plant for Outside
A good plant for winter cultivation should be able to withstand cold. If you are looking for ornamentals, we recommend considering cyclamen or pansies, and if you want to grow vegetables, you can look into the cabbage family.