Gardening is more than a hobby and is an activity that calms the souls of many. For passionate gardeners, winter gardening serves to be one way, by which they can enjoy their hobby even during these harsh, cold months. It's a way to retrieve the lost sunshine. One look at the lovely greens, delicious carrots, fresh Brussels adorning the snow covered garden, brings warmth that even sunlight cannot bring to the soul. Moreover, winter serves as a great time to grow cover crops, which will help improve the soil quality for the summer crops. However, there are few points to keep in mind while you plan to have a winter garden.
Time of plantation
Winter gardening is not about planting your plants in winter, instead it's about harvesting your plants during the cold winter months. The most appropriate time to plant winter plants is during late summer. This is because the plants would grow strong enough, to withstand the cold winter months. The knowledge of the average date of the 'first killing frost' can help you plan accordingly. The information regarding the average date of first killing frost can be obtained from local garden authorities. Once you know the average date, you can plant your winter plants in such a way that they reach their full maturity before the frost arrives.
Choosing a plot that faces the South, will form the best winter garden, as you can take advantage of maximum sunlight available during the short winter days. Choosing a plot below some evergreen plants, will serve as a means of natural shelter from the harsh winter elements. Or else, you could get hold of some PVC pipes and tie a 10'x20' sheet of 3-mil clear plastic sheet, to protect the plants from being bombarded with snow directly.
Grow plants in raised beds
Grow your winter plants in raised beds. This is because the soil in a raised bed gets heated more quickly as compared to the soil on a large garden plot. Further, the soil in raised beds will dry out faster, thereby preventing the plants from standing in wet soil. Plant diseases like root rot can thereby be prevented. The raised bed area is small, whereas, the area of a garden plot is very large, which is why the difference. Raised beds, thus, prevent the roots of plants from freezing up.
Compost and mulching
Constant winter rain can lead to soil compaction. Mulch prevents the soil from becoming compact and even enables you to have access to your root vegetables, while the rest of the surrounding is frozen. It also cuts the amount of sunlight reaching the soil, thereby inhibiting weed growth. Mulch is a necessity while carrying out winter gardening, as the soil gets regularly frozen. Peat moss, sawdust, shredded newspapers and bark, are the most commonly used mulch. Apply mulch to your bed before the ground is frozen, as mulch is known to trap layers of air above the ground. Thus, the temperature below the mulch will be higher than the surrounding free air, thereby increasing the insulation level (still allowing air circulation). Don't forget to remove the mulch in late winter or early spring, thereby, giving the soil enough time to warm before the next crop grows.
Vegetable plant selection
A vast variety of vegetables can be grown during the harsh winter months. Carrots, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, escarole, kale, cauliflower and collards, are some wonderful choices to grow in your winter garden. Lettuce can also be grown provided they are protected and grown in cloche. Unless you have a temperature controlled greenhouse, you cannot grow tomatoes or squash in winter. What can be grown in your winter garden will depend on the region you live in. For instance, areas which are wet like Washington prove challenging to grow vegetables, as they are prone to be attacked by pests and diseases. Then in places such as the Dakotas, the extreme cold makes it possible to grow vegetables only in greenhouses, wherein the temperatures are controlled. So it's best to contact your local extension agent for the list of veggies that can be grown in your winter garden.
Selecting the right ornamental plants
Since winter conditions in the US vary from one place to another, it is advisable to contact your local extension agent regarding the list of ornamental plants for your winter garden. The presence of rich-red berries in the white snow, is something worth watching. You could plant the Pyracantha (Firethorn), an attractive evergreen shrub, that grows bright-orange berries. Then there's the Holly trees that grow spectacular red berries. However, if you live in an area that houses large number of birds, then you would wish to avoid the berry growing plants, as they may end up striping the berry plant stems, even before the onset of winter. Planting scented plants in your garden is also a very nice idea. The scent gives winter the fresh aroma of spring. You could try planting any plant belonging to the witch hazel plant category. Then, there is also the Daphnes, that fills the winter garden with a heady aroma all winter, by its potent perfume. Sweet olives add a spicy aroma to the winter garden.
As compared to summer plants, winter plants need to be planted in a more spacious manner. The distance between the consecutive plants, has to me more, so as to facilitate ample amounts of air and water circulation and thereby prevent attacks from fungi and mildew. Choose plants that are just coming into flower for your winter garden and make sure you plant the taller plants on the north side and the smaller ones on the south side. This will prevent the smaller plants from being overshadowed. You could arrange your flowering plants either by grouping similar colors together, or if you prefer a cottage effect, then you could scatter the different colors of flowers across the garden.
Winter gardening is not a new concept and has been practiced for ages. It not only helps to keep the tilth and fertility in the garden soil at peak levels, but also yields delicious and fresh vegetables throughout the winter and costs less than the amount you would otherwise spend at a supermarket. However, do not forget to stop and enjoy the beauty of your winter garden, during the cold winter months. Have fun!