Discover easy ways to keep your winter vegetable garden growing strong—and savor a long harvest.
Another key in the winter vegetable garden is adding organic matter or fertilizer to soil prior to planting. It’s important to prep the winter vegetable garden in this manner because many soil microorganisms won’t be as active during the colder season.
Reduced microbial activity affects how plants grow and take up nutrients. Amending soil ensures that ample nutrition is readily available to plant roots.
Winter Gardening Don’ts
In regions where winters are mild, like the Pacific Northwest, Southeast and Southwest, hardy vegetables thrive outdoors all winter long.
Semi-hardy vegetables tolerate light frosts (29 to 32° F). These veggies include a host of healthy greens, including leaf lettuces, arugula, Asian greens, endive and Swiss chard. Beets, carrots, rutabaga, radicchio and savoy cabbage also fit into this category.
These vegetables thrive outdoors all winter long in the mild-winter regions of the Pacific Northwest, Southeast and Southwest.
Winter vegetables need a solid start before winter arrives, because once cold, dark days settle in, plants won’t grow gangbusters, like they do in the summer months. The general rule of thumb for planting a winter vegetable garden in Zones 7 to 10 is to plant during October.
In Zone 6, get plants in the ground in late September. Finesse the timing with resources from your local extension office.
Winter Vegetable Garden Growing Guide
With a few steps and some planning, you can enjoy garden fresh vegetables all winter.
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Provide a Good Environment
As considerations are made for protecting crops from cold, keep air circulation in mind. Good air movement around plants helps avoid problems with disease and insect pests that are still active in the cold. Good watering habits are also critical, for the same reasons.
Water in the mornings, allowing as much time as possible for foliage to dry in the daytime.
Keep the Soil Warm
Put a Lid on It
The hot bed is a good way to start seedlings in late winter before it is warm enough to transplant them into the vegetable garden.
Tunnels are unheated greenhouses constructed over the garden beds. They provide similar benefits as cold frames, but serve much larger areas. A practical, inexpensive way for homeowners to do this is by bending PVC pipes over the garden bed, framing in the ends (one with a door), and covering this framework with UV resistant plastic.
Areas receiving the coldest weather may require two of these features in the same area. For instance, you could build cold frames in the garden area and then enclose them in a tunnel.
Another option would be to use row covers inside the tunnel when a deep cold snap hits, then remove the row covers when normal winter weather returns. Once you have covered your crops, be cautious when the weather becomes mild.
Unseasonably warm temperatures, particularly after some cold weather has hit, will cause crops to mature too early, in essence causing the whole system to “backfire.” Be sure to ventilate the structures, and remove row covers in mild weather (daytime temperatures above 45, night temperatures above 35).
With some planning and a little effort, growing vegetables in the winter is not a farfetched idea. Start early and provide good soil, plenty of sunlight, enough moisture, and a bit of insulation to keep cold hardy varieties in production. Stoke your gardening fire and enjoy the veggies of your labor this winter!
Winter Guide To Vegetable Gardening
Keep your vegetable garden healthy and thriving with guide to preparation, planting and maintenance.
- In early fall, sow spinach and Swiss chard under cover, and transplant spring cabbages outside. Sow hardy lettuce varieties for winter and early spring picking.
- Plant out fall garlic and hardy onion sets, and sow broad beans, carrots and peas to overwinter.
- From midwinter onward, sow hardy crops under cover ready for planting out in early spring, such as broad beans, early carrots and cauliflower, leeks, lettuce, onions, shallots, spring cabbages and peas.
- Harvest the last crops of many vegetables, including beets, carrots, chiles, cucumbers, cabbages, green and runner beans, peppers, potatoes, sweet corn, tomatoes, squash and turnips. Kale, leeks and parsnips should also be ready for harvesting as required, but can be left to stand in the ground for longer.
- Over the winter, continue to harvest Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, parsnips and leeks.
- In fall, remove any spent plants, and give the green-house a good cleaning after the busy summer months before bringing in the plants that will overwinter there.
- Tidy the garden, removing all dead plants — if the debris is disease-free, transfer it to the compost heap.
- Gather up any fallen leaves to use to make leaf mold.
- Dig well-rotted manure into beds and borders.
- Plan your crop rotation, and order seeds, onion sets, seed potatoes and bare root plants. Chit your seed potatoes.
- If the greenhouse is not heated, line the windows with bubble plastic to raise the temperature and keep out frost. Check plants for pests and diseases, and ensure their compost is slightly moist but not wet.