Growing Vegetables in Winter
If you enjoy planting an annual garden every summer, have you thought about extending your planting season and growing winter vegetables? There are three essential elements to successful winter gardening: knowing what to grow, when to grow it and where to plant it. The gardening experts at Southern States have some helpful tips on how you can have a thriving winter vegetable garden.
Many southern regions of the country can grow winter vegetables with little effort, but some northern areas may need to use cold frames or greenhouses. For best results, a winter garden needs to be planned; timing matters. It is important to know the average frost dates in your local area. You can find this information by referring to a map of growing zones. With this reference tool, you will know approximately when to expect your first hard frost and you can determine the length of your growing season.
Plant your winter crops early enough to allow them to reach full maturity before the first killing frost arrives. Choose vegetables that have the greatest chance of surviving until harvest. Fast growing vegetables like leaf lettuce, chives, spinach and radishes are excellent choices. These plants typically mature in about 30 days. If you have a longer growing season, plant cold-weather vegetables that mature in about 60 days such as turnips, leeks, cabbage, swiss chard and collard greens. You may even want to plant carrots, beets, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, kale, cauliflower, and cabbage. These late-maturing crops have a 90 day harvest period and while you may be pushing the limits of your growing season, the rewards will be worth the risk.
In addition to understanding your local frost dates and knowing the best cold weather vegetables to plant, knowing where to plant your garden can increase your success of growing vegetables in the winter. In areas with mild to moderate winters, often the only precaution you need to take is preparing your garden in a location that offers natural protection against winter conditions. A south-facing wall can offer protection from cold, gusty winds while providing maximum sunlight. Look around your yard and see if the outside walls of your house, shed, or garage will work. Also, consider building raised beds for your vegetables. The soil in a raised bed stays warmer and can provide the extra warmth necessary for your cold weather garden.
If you live in a colder climate, using a cold frame or greenhouse can extend your growing season. Cold frames build-up warm air during the day which protects plants from the cold, nighttime temperatures as well as strong, sudden winds. Remember to open your cold frame during sunny, warm weather or it will quickly get too hot for the tender plants. Greenhouses are structures that provide frost-free climates and make it possible to grow vegetables all year long. In addition to the cold-weather vegetables listed above, several warm-weather vegetables can thrive in a greenhouse – tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, eggplant, cantaloupe and summer squash.
You may also want to experiment with growing vegetables inside during the winter. Most vegetable plants will do well in a south facing window with an added grow light to compensate for the shorter days. Salad lettuces, herbs, and root vegetables, like carrots and beets, are some of the easiest vegetables to grow inside. Other vegetables such as cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes, will need larger pots and require more light.
Keep a record of what worked and what didn't work with your winter garden. This information will be valuable when you start planning your next cold weather planting season. For all of your gardening needs, find the tools you need at your local Southern States.