gardening in the winter

Gardening in the Winter: Tips for Success

Growing vegetables in your garden does not have to end when summer is over. Many food plants can be grown during the winter months so you can continue to enjoy the flavor of fresh, homegrown produce. Check out these tips for how to keep gardening in the winter so you can skip the produce aisle and enjoy fresh ingredients all winter long.

Northeastern Connecticut where I live is too cold to grow some types of garden vegetables during the winter, but in USDA Zone 6 you can harvest cold weather crops well into the winter and keep many other crops alive until the spring thaw. Keep reading to learn more about gardening in the winter, particularly in colder climates.

Gardening in the Winter

Can I Grow Vegetables In The Winter?

The short answer is ‘Yes, you can grow vegetables during the winter. The key to being a successful winter gardener is to know your climate and what grows best in your climate.

The first predicted frost dates of fall for zone 6 are usually between the first and third week of October. After that, the winter weather will set in with cold temperatures and snowfall. To know what you can plant during the winter you first need to determine the plant hardiness zone for which you live. Once you’ve done that, deciding what to plant and when will be a breeze!

gardening in the winter

Hardy Cold Weather Crops

Now that you know your plant hardiness zone, you can begin to calculate the best time to plant for gardening in the winter. Timing for all planting is based on first and last frost dates. For example, if planting in hardiness zone 5, the last frost date is generally between April 1st – April 15th, and the first frost date typically falls between October 16th – October 31st. These dates will in part dictate when the best time to plant is. 

For me in zone 6a, the first frost date is October 6th.  So if I want to plant spinach for example that takes 37-50 days to harvest, the latest I would want to plant would be the end of August. This can be calculated by simply counting back from your first frost date the number of days it takes a particular plant to be harvest ready. 

Here’s a handy list of cold weather crops to consider for growing in the fall and winter. 

Arugula30-40 days to harvest
Beet50-65 days to harvest
Broccoli60-70 days to harvest
Cabbage50-65 days to harvest
Carrots
55-75 days to harvest
Cauliflower65-75 days to harvest
Cilantro60-75 days to harvest
Collards
55-60 days to harvest
Garlicin the spring
Kale45-60 days to harvest
Kohlrabi55-65 days to harvest
Lettuce45-60 days to harvest
Leek85-105 in ground all winter
Mustard30-50 days to harvest
Green bunching onion55-60 days to harvest
Snap Peas55-60 days to harvest
Radish25-40 days to harvest
Spinach37-50 days to harvest
Swiss Chard50-60 days to harvest
Turnip45-60 days to harvest

Get FREE Cold Weather Crop Cheat Sheets

Tips for Planting a Winter Garden

  • If your winter garden will be grown in the same location as your summer garden, start planting as soon as the summer vegetable plants have finished producing.
  • When the tomatoes, peppers, corn, etc. are done, remove them from the garden and amend the soil with a 2-4 inch application of compost. Practice crop rotation and re-plant your winter garden. The vegetables will be able to get off to a good start before the first frost.
  • Use succession planting to extend the winter harvest season. Plant seeds every 2 weeks.
  • Be prepared to cover the garden plants or to move them to a sheltered location before frost.
  • If you are growing vegetables indoors during the winter, continue planting new seeds every 2 weeks until the end of winter.
gardening as a therapy

Vegetables for Gardening in the Winter?

Cool-season, cold-hardy plants like arugula, kale, collards, mustard, spinach, turnips, and cabbage are good vegetables for gardening in the winter. These will grow well in an outdoor garden during the winter if they are protected from freezing.

For an indoor garden, you can grow complementary vegetables that pair well with the greens growing outdoors. Radishes, carrots, beets, and loose leaf lettuce grow well in a container near a sunny south-facing window.

Many vegetables can be grown indoors and harvested as microgreens. Sow a wide array of vegetable seeds and harvest the top greens when they are in the baby stage and use them for salad fixings or in stir fry recipes.

swiss chard

What Are The Best Vegetables To Grow Over Winter?

The best vegetables to grow over winter are the two-for varieties. The plants that will produce two different foods in the same space. Carrots, radishes, beets, and turnips are examples of two-for vegetables. They all produce an edible bulb under the soil and edible green tops above the soil.

They also provide a nutritional punch that will help keep you healthy during long winters. For example, beets are popular winter vegetables to grow in my zone, they are also good for you.  The beetroot fights inflammation, regulates blood pressure, and helps detoxify the body. Beet greens strengthen the immune system, are rich in vitamins A, C, & K, and are fat-free.

spinach

What Plants Grow The Fastest In The Winter?

Radishes, spinach, kale, arugula, and lettuce leaves can sometimes be ready to harvest in as little as 30 -45 days.  Beetroot and carrots take a bit longer and are generally ready in about 60 days.

The amount of heat and light the plants receive will also be a factor in how fast they grow during winter. Even though you can be successful by gardening in the winter, the plants still have the same requirements as they do in summer. They will still need food, water, light, and warmth and if you can provide that for these cool-season vegetables, you will be eating fresh produce throughout the winter.

cold frame

Ideas for Extending the Growing Season

 Cold climates will often require the winter vegetables to be grown in a hoop house, greenhouse, or other sheltered location. Also, select cool-season vegetables that tolerate a little frost and cold temperatures. Here are a few ways in which you can extend the growing season so you can grow your plants for longer.

1) Build a Coldframe

In zones 5-7, if you want to extend your growing season indefinitely, a cold frame can be a great help. A cold frame is an open wooden structure with a glass lid on top. You place these over plants to protect them from the cold while also allowing them access to direct sunlight. The glass traps sunlight and creates quite a warm atmosphere inside the cold frame. Doing this warms the soil and extends the growing season for the plant. All in all, cold frames work like mini greenhouses!

2) Use Mulch

Mulching is good for your garden in many ways. Mulch helps control weeds, holds moisture in the soil, prevents erosion, and builds up the soil. It also makes the soil warmer. Just adding a layer of mulch like straw, hay, or other material can do a lot to help keep the soil warmer for much longer. And it helps to control weeds while also holding moisture needed by plants to survive.

3) Block the Wind

To keep your plants safe from storms and the harsher winds that accompany frost, you can create a fence around your garden or raised beds. A fence can be made out of several materials, including wood and metal. It should be tall enough to protect your plants but not so high that it will block the sun from reaching them during the day.

4) Install Row Covers Or Cloches

Cloches and row covers are helpful gardening tools that allow you to extend your growing season. Cloches are more work, because you have to cover each plant with them, but row covers only need a little effort to install. Row covers and cloches trap heat to make sure that the plant’s soil is warm. Almost like the growing season never ended!

Conclusion

Your plants grow best when you sow and harvest them at appropriate times. You should always make sure that the plants you are sowing are suitable for your particular climate. If you were looking for ideas for gardening in the winter, we hope this guide to cold weather crops for fall and winter gardening provided you with lots of inspiration. 

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