There’s always a little bit of sadness when the cold of winter comes around and makes us hang up our full-time gardening hats. The good news is that there’s still some gardening to be done at this great time of year — embrace season eating! Re-focus your efforts on herbs, the new crops that will come next spring, and preparing your vegetable garden for winter.
When will winter affect my garden?
It depends on what you’re growing and where you are! Vegetables generally fall into two categories: tender or summer plants and cold-hardy plants. Each category of vegetable responds differently to the weather outside.
Impact of Winter Conditions on Warm-Season Herbs & Veggies
Warm-season and tender crops will need an “end of season plan” as soon as temps start consistently dropping below 50° F. Enjoy the last taste of summer, harvesting until the last minute, and check out your winter grow options on Match to successfully transition their garden.
Plants you’ll want to transition include basil, parsley, fennel, tomato, pepper, pea, bean, and squash. These plants need to be harvested before frost damage occurs — they will not survive a frost.
If you need to harvest early, ripen your vegetables by leaving them in a sunny place inside. Once ripe, store in the refrigerator.
Then, pull up your warm-season plant and compost. Replant with winter veggies or leave your grow bag outdoors until a few weeks before the last frost, when you can begin planning your spring garden.
Impact of Winter Conditions on Cold-Hardy Herbs & Veggies
Cold-hardy plants are plants that can grow through at least some frost — if not throughout the entire winter. Sage, rosemary, beets, some lettuces, and swiss chard are some popular examples of cold-hardy plants.
Temperature matters here too. Cold-hardy plants like the cold. Most can handle a light frost but can’t survive a hard freeze.
Each vegetable reacts differently to the cold. Make sure that you know how to care for your specific plant as it gets colder. See the table below for general knowledge on how to prepare a specific veget
|Vegetable||Warm-Season or Cold-Hardy||Action below 50°||Action after Frost||Action As Soil Freezes|
|Root veggies (carrots, beets, parsnips)||Cold-Hardy||None||Respond; leave to mature and harvest when ripe||Dig up and harvest immediately|
|Leafy Greens (kale, arugula, etc.)||Cold-Hardy||None||Responds well; leave to mature and harvest when ripe||Complete harvest, dig up, and compost|
|Cabbage/Swiss Chard||Cold-Hardy||None||Tolerates; Begin completing harvest||Dig up and compost.|
|Lettuce||Cold-Hardy||Begin and complete harvesting||Won’t survive; dig up and compost||x|
|Tomatoes/Peppers||Warm-Season||Complete harvest||Won’t survive; dig up and compost||x|
|Bean/Pea Varietals||Warm-Season||Complete harvest||Won’t survive; dig up and compost||x|
|Squashes||Warm-Season||Complete harvest||Won’t survive; dig up and compost||x|
|Herbs|| || || || |
|Basil||Warm-Season||Bring indoors to extend harvest!||Won’t survive; complete harvest, dig up and compost||x|
|Parsley||Cold-Hardy||None||Withstands light frost; cover on cold nights||Complete harvest; Dig up and compost|
|Oregano||Cold-Hardy||None||Tolerates; mulch to help survive the winter||Perennial —comes back in spring!|
|Rosemary||Cold-Hardy||None||Tolerates; Cover well or bring inside to survive winter||Perennial —comes back in spring!|
|Chives||Cold-Hardy||None||Bring indoors to a sunny spot and water thoroughly.||Perennial —comes back in spring!|
|Sage||Cold-Hardy||None||None (very hardy!)||Perennial —comes back in spring!|
Depending on whether you’re growing in a container garden or a plot, follow these steps to prepare your vegetable garden for winter.
Preparing Container Vegetable Gardens for Winter
Container gardens are often ideal for making it through winter. If you play it right, you can even garden indoors and have fresh harvests throughout the winter — especially of herbs.
Here are the steps you’ll need when winter comes.
If frost lasts less than 3 days:
Cool crop veggies, like beets and carrots, often will be stronger and taste sweeter if exposed to light frost.
Step 1: Move your container garden to the sunny side of your home where it will have the most access to the sun during the cold time. Additionally, try and protect your garden from the
Step 2: Add mulch to the top of the soil to help retain heat and moisture during the colder months. This will help prevent the soil from freezing. (When the soil freezes, your plant can no longer grow!)
Step 3: If you live in an apartment or condo, bring your garden inside for the frost duration. Place on a waterproof mat to protect your floors!.
For areas where frost lasts longer than three days:
Step 1: Harvest the leaves you want to use now before the next freeze, cutting back as much as 2/3 of the stem. Preserve extra herbs by drying or freezing, so you have organic seasoning all season long.
Step 2: If you’re growing perennials, leave your MoGrow bag, including the plants, outside throughout the winter to let nature do what it does best! Put your bag out of sight (or wherever makes sense outside), and don’t worry about watering it. Many plants like herbs benefit from dying back in the winter. Often, they bounce back in the Spring stronger than before.
Nature is unpredictable, particularly after a harsh winter, so reach out to Grow Pro to get you growing again!
Step 3: If growing an annual plant, remove the plant and put
Preparing Vegetable Garden Plots for Winter
Preparing garden beds for winter is a little more complicated than a container garden. It requires more steps because you need to prepare the soil for next year. While it may seem tedious at the end of fall, preparing your vegetable garden soil for winter will make your spring gardens ready for a more successful growth (and a smoother process).
Step 1: Clean Up
First, clean out all annual plants. Don’t rush — you want to get as much out of your garden as possible with last-minute harvests. Once you’re sure your plant is done for the season, uproot and compost it.
By cleaning up plants, you prevent the build-up of diseases and pests in the soil. Avoid putting diseased or infested plants in the compost bin.
Step 2: Add Amendments
Adding amendments now allows the organic materials to break
When adding fertilizer, be sure to use organic fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers will actually break down the soil in an unhealthy way and destroy soil health.
You can also add coffee grounds, pine needles, leaves, and grass clippings straight to the soil without composting. These will act as compost.
Step 3: Till & Mulch
After you add your amendments, till them into the soil. Tilling soil at the end of fall saves you time in early spring — especially because soil is often too wet in the spring to till and use a spade.
Step 4: Cover Crops
Cover crops are an optional, but highly effective way to keep your garden soil healthy throughout the winter. Plant buckwheat, rye, legumes, or sorghum. They help reduce soil erosion, keep pests away, and keep the soil full of nutrients throughout the season.