Growing vegetables in a backyard garden has become a popular choice for many vegetable lovers. When the summer harvest is done and frost withers the tomato plants, many gardeners clear their garden plots and put them to bed until spring.
The planting schedule for a winter garden will vary according to the location and it’s important to know when to plant winter crops. Some of the most Northern climates experience freezing overnight temperatures as early as September, so any seeds for winter gardening should be planted a couple weeks before the first frost. The seeds can be planted later in a cold frame or greenhouse, and tender leafy plants are best grown in these protected areas. Roots crops are hardier and can remain in the ground until the ground freezes.
Winter gardens located in some of the central and more Southern states in zones six and above can be productive all winter. A winter garden can be planted in these areas late into the fall with the help of row covers overnight. Even leaf crops such as spinach and some varieties of lettuce can thrive in these relatively frost-free climates The plants should be protected in the event of an unexpected drop in the temperature.
The first step in winter gardening is to clear out all the vegetation that has succumbed to fall temperatures. These areas should be worked up again before amending the soil with some organic fertilizer. Seeds that require warmth to germinate can be started indoors or in an outdoor cold frame or greenhouse. Once the plants have secondary leaves, they can be transplanted in a sunny area. It is important to protect the young plants at night, so row covers should go on before nightfall.
Root crops such as carrots, turnips and beets continue to thrive and grow in spite of cold weather. It is important to mulch heavily so these tasty vegetables do not get frostbitten. Depending on the zone, some of these plants can be left in the garden all winter. Gardeners living in zones five and below can dig these crops and store them in a cool place until they are needed.
Garlic, onions, potatoes and leeks are cold tolerant vegetables that show up often in recipe ingredients. These plants thrive in cold weather gardens and can be harvested all winter long. Kale is a very healthy addition to salads and soups, and it can be dehydrated and seasoned for a tasty snack.
Kale is easy to grow in a winter garden since it leaves are more tolerant of the cold than other salad greens such as lettuce. Some varieties of lettuce including Redleaf and Mesclun grow well in cool temperatures, but these should be cut when the leaves are 3 inches. The plants will continue to send out new growth for future harvesting.
Cold and snow is not a death sentence for every vegetable since the most hardy plants can continue to produce in spite of the low temperatures. Many vegetable crops do best in cool weather, and with a little pampering they can produce all winter long. Knowing when to plant winter crops is the key to getting your plants to grow.