How to Garden Over Winter: Key Strategies for Success

The most important strategy for how to garden over winter is preparation as the weather starts to cool down. With the right preparation, your garden will not only survive winter but also flourish. Here are some key strategies for successful winter gardening.

Evaluate what has worked in the past

If you have lived in your current location through previous winters, it is important to look at what has worked in the past and what has been an abject failure. As the heat of summer passes, consider moving plants that may be at risk during winter in their current location. Decide what you are going to plant for spring display, based on previous successes.

This is also the time to plant out spring flowering bulbs and bare rooted shrubs and trees. The mild weather gives them a chance to become established in the garden before the coldest weather sets in. Many perennial plants benefit from division at this time of the year; it prevents them becoming straggly and is a great way to propagate new plants for yourself or to give away. Other perennials do well with being cut back when the weather cools down but keep those that continue to look good through winter.

Pre-winter garden clean-up

Prepare your garden for winter by getting rid of weeds and the last of the summer annuals. While this is not a good time for pruning in many areas, as it stimulates new growth which will be affected by the oncoming cold weather, it is a good idea to remove any diseased leaves from shrubs. If you are in a cold zone, dig up your bulbs that are not hardy, like gladiolus, dahlia and cannas. Let them dry out for a day or two in the sun and then store them in a dry place.

Your garden will benefit from a light mulch before winter sets in. A thin layer of mulch helps to regulate the soil temperature and prevents the soil from drying out. If you have the remains of a heavy summer mulch, you might need to rake some off your garden beds to allow the winter sun to warm the soil.

Protect young trees and shrubs

If you have young trees and shrubs in your garden, it is a good idea to take steps to protect them from the cold temperatures and winds of winter. One of the easiest methods is to drive in 3 or 4 stakes around the drip line of the tree and wrap heavy plastic or burlap securely around them. In very cold areas, you can then fill the space inside the screen with loose straw to further protect the plant.

Move potted plants to a sheltered, sunny position to help them over-winter successfully. Some plants are suitable for growing indoors and this helps to bring the garden inside during the colder winter months. Make sure potted plants are not over-watered during winter; only give them a drink when the soil feels dry.

Winter watering

In areas where it snows, it is important to make sure you have watered the garden before winter sets in. This makes sure that your plants have sufficient moisture in the soil to see them through until the ground thaws.

In milder areas, keep watering to a minimum over winter. Test the moisture content of the soil with your finger and only water when the soil feels dry. Too much soil moisture during cold weather can lead to mould and rotting.

Winter flowers and vegetables

In many areas, it is possible to continue to grow flowers and vegetables through the colder months, providing you plant varieties that are suited to the season and protect plants from extremes of weather. Research the varieties that can be grown where you live so that you can continue to eat your own produce and enjoy your garden even when the weather gets cold.

Your climate is the main factor in how to garden over winter. Understanding your climate, and how it will affect your garden, is an important key to success.

So, have you tried gardening over winter? If so, how did it go? If you haven’t tried it yet, are you going to give it a try next year?¬†


How to Garden Over Winter: Key Strategies for Success — 22 Comments

  1. I’ve never grown plants in the winter, but I have seen people I know do so successfully. Are there particular regions within the US with climates that are not conducive to this? For example, would you try this during a Chicago winter?

    • It really depends on what plants you want to grow. If you live in a more northern climate like Chicago, you need to pick plants that can manage in colder and sub zero temperatures. Even in places like Northern Canada where temps never go above freezing, plants can still grow. It just requires a bit of research and experimentation.

    • Baby steps is just fine. Glad to hear you got some flowers started. That is the first step.

      Square foot gardening works really well, especially for produce. Just make sure to measure the growth height of each plant so that you don’t end up having one plant shadow and drown out another. Herbs grow great in square foot gardens and if you want to start with some easy ones, go with basil, thyme, and dill.

  2. Great article, Miss T!

    A great wintertime activity is unloading and spreading a load of mulch around the flower beds. There’s something great about working outside in cold weather, followed up by a hot toddy or hot chocolate.

    Good point also on protecting sensitive root areas. I have a plum tree that I salvaged from the community garden. This weekend the pot is going to get covered in straw, there to lay for the next few months before it’s time to plant it in its permanent spot.

    • People always think I am nuts when I want to go outside in the winter and get some fresh air. I am from Canada remember, where it gets quite cold. I love it though. I find it so energizing and mentally healing. I am constantly finding things to do outside in the cold, including maintaining the yard.

      A plum tree hey? Sounds awesome. Fruit trees are so pretty when they bloom. Hopefully it works out for you.

      • Miss T, garlic is very easy to grow. It can take different kinds of soil. I think it’s actually a very tasty, handy weed, lol. If you ever buy garlic from the store and notice, after a while that some of the cloves are putting out green shoots, that’s the time to go stick them in the ground (green shoots up), a couple of inches deep, about six inches apart. After a couple of years you’ll have some nice bulbls of garlic. I have them growing all over the place, of varying ages.

  3. I haven’t tried winter gardening but I want to. I just moved into my house in August so I’m excited to get my garden set up next spring and then I plan to get things set up for some winter gardening. I’d like to try to grow things like lettuce & broccoli. My plan is to make a big portion of my yard edible so I don’t have to buy very much produce at the store.

  4. Don’t have a green thumb, but cool to see your steps. Ironically, the first two steps can be applied evaluate what worked in the past and getting rid of weeds is solid advice for working on your goals for the year!

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