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Real-World Winter Gardening Tips
From Your Growing Zone

Grow food year-round by following these winter gardening tips from backyard gardeners in your Growing Zone.

October/November 2013

By Shelley Stonebrook

Growers in all types of climates can grow a productive winter vegetable garden. In some areas, this requires the protection of a low tunnel or greenhouse, but in warm climates, winter is the easiest and most abundant time of year in the garden.

In June 2013, we sent a winter gardening survey to thousands of readers all over the United States and beyond, asking growers about their best strategies for growing food in winter. This page includes a large sampling of the responses we received, organized by Growing Zone.

Go to this USDA Hardiness Zone page or check the map below to find your Zone. You can click on your Zone in the list right below the map to be taken to the tips that came from readers in your Zone.

We didn’t receive any responses from you determined growers in icy-cold Zones 1 and 2, or in steamy-hot Zone 13, so if you grow food in one of those areas, leave a comment on this page and let us know your winter gardening tips.

For those of you with cool winters, check out Best Crops and Varieties for Winter Gardening to see which veggies may thrive best where you live.

 

Zone 3
Zone 7
Zone 11
Zone 4 Zone 8 Zone 12
Zone 5 Zone 9  
Zone 6 Zone 10  

Winter Gardening Tips From Zone 3

What coverings/protections work best for you in your winter garden?

  • Mulch and leaves.
  • A cold frame, hay or nothing for the hardiest crops.
  • I use clean straw.
  • I use greenhouses with small heaters to keep the plants from freezing.

What other winter growing techniques work best for you to get the biggest, healthiest harvests?

  • Choose your crops depending on your area and typical weather. Plant in a place that isn’t accidentally going to get worked in the spring (which happened to me this year ... oops).
  • I try sowing some things in fall so those crops can start early in spring at their own convenience.
  • I grow a lot in cold frames inside my greenhouse under my regular benches.
  • Spend as much time in your garden as you would in the summer.

What are your best tips for getting the timing right when planning and planting a winter garden?

  • Watch the weather forecast for snowfall and drops in temps.
  • Observe results of trial and error, and learn to count backward!
  • I start in the first week of November while there is still a bit more warmth and sunshine to give the plants a head start for the colder, darker months ahead.
  • As winter can and does start as early as the first killing frost in fall, I do not plant a winter garden. We only have June, July and August in which to grow a garden, and this year my last killing frost was in June. The killing frost last fall was in September.

Winter Gardening Tips From Zone 4

What coverings/protections work best for you in your winter garden?

  • I use a lot of mulch and hay.
  • An unheated greenhouse, and extra cloth coverings when temps in the greenhouse go below freezing at night.
  • Leaves, and then other mulch.
  • I have used regular plastic on PVC for at least the past six years. I tried a number of different small commercial greenhouse kits with mixed success. I also currently use a 12-by-20-foot hoop house with small raised beds.
  • I have the best luck with my two cold frames. We have too much snow load for hoop houses, in my opinion. My chard, kale and collards have gotten crushed for the past three winters despite design changes each year.
  • I grow food in the house basement in large containers under lights.
  • I use a cold frame and floating row covers. They both work well.
  • Try a high tunnel, but you have to keep the heavy snow off.
  • Any of the commercial fiber coverings work, along with old sheets, etc.

What other winter growing techniques work best for you to get the biggest, healthiest harvests?

  • Colorado sun can make the greenhouse too hot for late summer/early fall planting of some greens, but if started too late plants won’t get large enough before growth slows with short days. So, I start many outside where temps are cooler, and then transplant into greenhouse before the first hard freeze. This works well for most greens, broccoli, cauliflower, parsley, cilantro and snow peas.
  • My greens look fairly wan in dead of winter, but perk right up at the barest hint of spring. By then I am very eager for fresh, homegrown greens and welcome the abundant harvesting that lasts through to the first flourishing of my spring plantings.
  • My winter garden consists of many containers in the basement under lights, and we eat well all winter!
  • Try growing things indoors in sunny windows with supplemental fluorescent lights.

What are your best tips for getting the timing right when planning and planting a winter garden?

  • Seed every two weeks in late summer/early fall to find out what timing works best. If a crop fails, try again in late winter when days start to get longer again. Many fail due to low light not cold temps.
  • Start everything inside.
  • Getting the hoop house up and anchored before the wicked April winds!
  • With global warming, our season seems to be extending beyond what we are used to. It is by feel and guess … and by golly.
  • It’s too cold to winter garden without cover. I only plant garlic in the fall to restart growing in spring.
  • Since the weather is so inconsistent here in Wisconsin, it is basically listening to the predictions or going with your gut feeling and hoping for the best.
  • I have to start my late crops in the second half of July for them to get a good start. We’re in the mountains and have a short season with big temperature swings from day to night.
  • I recommend a high tunnel or greenhouse. Here, 20 miles from Canada, it gets pretty nasty.
  • Keep yearly records and consult the long-range forecast.

Winter Gardening Tips From Zone 5

What coverings/protections work best for you in your winter garden?

  • I have stone raised beds (which retain heat) and I put Reemay-type fabric over them in winter.
  • We have very large cold frames built from old windows.
  • I grow in an unheated hoop house and also an unheated glass house made out of old windows. When the weather is very cold, I put row covers over the crops inside the greenhouse thus enabling the greens to stay alive.
  • I use 6-mil fiber-reinforced greenhouse cover over a raised bed with a frame.
  • Straw mulch (though there is a risk of the straw harboring field bindweed). It’s still the best cover for plants I may want to dig in January, such as carrots.
  • Plastic over hoops.
  • Frost blankets if needed.
  • Low tunnels.
  • We have an unheated poly-tunnel. We cover rows with another layer of poly during January and February.
  • I made a cold frame from leftover wood and greenhouse “glass,” which is not really glass, but corrugated plastic — the kind with the channels running in between two flat sheets. I also made a 4-by-6-foot box out of old 2-by-4s and put another piece of the greenhouse plastic on top of the frame; it sits just high enough off of the ground for mâche and spinach all winter long. In late winter (February or March), I can start chard or lettuces under it, and by the time the plants are too tall, it is time to remove the cover anyway. The cold frame is great for taller things like arugula. I also have a greenhouse shed combo and I can start all my brassicas in there with no added heat in mid-January.
  • I use a direct cover of floating row cover on the plants and then a layer of clear 6-mil greenhouse plastic over hoops for the low-tunnel beds. I have had the best luck with the cole family: kales and collards and even cabbage and kohlabri over-winter from the summer planting and continue to produce. I’ve also had good luck with a variety of chards and lettuces that will survive through the winter.
  • Cold Frames work the best for all the vegetables that I grow in the winter months. I can grow salad greens all year long.
  • I put bales of straw over the tops of my carrots before the first freeze. Then, I just dig the carrots as I use them.
  • I have a greenhouse with polycarbonate construction. When it is really cold, I add two layers of plastic, creating a kind of tunnel inside the greenhouse.
  • I use a cold frame covered with glass (it’s actually an old aluminum porch door hinged on the wooden frame), and then covered by transparent plastic when temperatures start to stay in the mid to low 20s at night.
  • I use 6-mil clear plastic held above pants by ribs of black plastic water pipe.
  • Low plastic coverings seem to give the best protection. This setup seems to hold the heat overnight better. I don’t use glass as the next big snowfall around here may break it.
  • I use a strawbale surround, and put greenhouse plastic on top in the winter, and change to shade cloth when it gets warmer.
  • I build a simple A-frame out of wood and toss clear plastic over it and weigh down the edges with bricks. Parsley, garlic and scallions I cover with leaves from the yard.
  • I have used a hoop house, and in Zone 5, it was not completely adequate. I will add another layer of protection this year. The soil, however, was dramatically better in the hoop house; it remained unfrozen for longer, retained moisture and was much more workable than the soil outside of the hoop house. I used straw on the inside around the plants, and will use even more next time.
  • I mulch with 1 to 1 1/2 feet of dry autumn leaves, and sometimes use large plastic pop bottles like cloches.
  • I don’t have a true winter garden because I don’t have a greenhouse, but I do start earlier than most in the spring and harvest later in the fall. I use old sheets to protect plants from frost that can come at any time of the year here, even in summer. Sheets can be left on for extended periods without danger of overheating. They don’t freeze at the contact points like plastic does, either. And they protect to a lower temp than floating row covers. I also use “Wall O Water.” They protect plants even when the water in them is freezing.
  • For root crops, I use straw covering. For leafy plants, I put up wire supports for covering with old sheets or other fabric.
  • We have good luck with Flower House covers, with zippered openings, that fit right over the raised bed and attach to the wood. Covering with a floating row cover on the coldest nights protects those plants closest to the outside edges.
  • I just use plastic I find at work. This recycles the plastic and works very well. I also use re-bar for the framing with clothes-pins to secure the plastic.
  • We use small cold frames surrounded by dirt heaped around the bottom. Wind breaks of fencing or straw bales on the north side help. We’ve used blankets to insulate the windows when it gets below zero. Our garden slopes slightly towards the south, too. Water sparsely and only on sunny mornings.
  • We use a greenhouse. There’s a hard freeze/snow cover in December through February. Kale and chard can be kept in-ground if surrounded by water-filled milk jugs and mulch and covered.
  • I just use a tarp draped over straw bales.
  • I have a hoop house and I mulch with pine shavings that have done duty in my chicken coop. It helps with moisture retention and insulation into the winter.
  • Portable cold frames and multiple layers of plastic (at least 5-mil) clipped over bent rebar and/or PVC pipe. Once it gets below around 60 degrees, you’re not usually worrying about pests. You just have to ensure that things that can’t stand freezing weather are protected. A deep mulch of hay will keep collards, kale and chard good through the entire winter, and can allow you to leave carrots in the ground, as well.
  • I use mini-greenhouse boxes and/or cold frames. They work for all months but January and February here in northern Illinois.
  • Crops are lined with straw bales and covered with old storm windows.
  • We use a white fiber blanket, and a few bricks to hold it down.
  • I add 6-mil poly over the hoop house, black plastic bottles of water and straw bales inside to warm, cover and provide extra insulation during times of killing cold.

What other winter growing techniques work best for you to get the biggest, healthiest harvests?

  • I spread horse manure over my beds in late autumn.
  • Making sure plants get the moisture they need and vented air on nice days to avoid heat damage.
  • I’ve had really good luck with kale. Just plant it and pick leaves into winter. Frost improves the taste.
  • Keeping the chickens out of the garden. They got under my plastic covering and nearly destroyed my winter garden this year!
  • Put an automatic venting arm on your cold frame so you don’t cook everything on a sunny day.
  • Lots and lots of mulch. We’re high desert with hot dry days and cool nights. Mulch keeps soil temps even. Deep, less frequent watering seems to let the roots establish at a deeper level. Sow seeds as early as possible and protect against frost/freeze, rather than waiting to sow until soil is warm enough. I’ve found it’s easier to heat soil up than it is to cool it down.
  • Use common sense. Only open/uncover the plants on calm, sunny days and close them up as soon as you harvest what you need.
  • Covered “hot beds” work as well as covered hoop houses.
  • Try to keep the beds out of any strong winds. And make sure the beds are well-drained to avoid the buildup of ice after snow melts.
  • Plant as late as possible to allow seed germination without heavy leafing during the late summer heat. I keep some brassicas going in shade during the late summer and keep the side shoots going; the late fall/early winter harvest can go on in the garden through the first killing frost.
  • A hoop house is the best thing I’ve ever built for my garden. I’m almost to the point where I can grow year-round.
  • Most of my planting is done in raised beds that are completely full of screened and composted soil. The clay in Missouri can become so water-logged, and freeze the roots, that planting in raised beds surrounded by concrete blocks allows the soil to remain healthy and warm enough to grow year-round, with a bit of covering.
  • My best advice for winter gardening is to invest in a greenhouse someday!
  • I use leaf mold mulch to grow in and only water in the fall to get the crops established. Once it begins to freeze, I discontinue watering. I only use rain water from our rain catchment system.
  • Try underground solar heat tubes.
  • I find that winters with heavy snow cover keeps the garden healthier. Insect damage occurs in years with low snowfall. Also, letting chickens free range keeps the soil looser and healthier. Low paid and low maintenance chickens are worth every penny to keep my garden healthy.

What are your best tips for getting the timing right when planning and planting a winter garden?

  • If plants are well-established before the cold is insistent, they are much more likely to survive the unpredictable, often extreme, Iowa winters. Amazingly, just protection from the wind gives them a huge advantage even when it is below zero outside.
  • Plant sooner rather than later. You plant too late and the plants will survive, but they will be so small that you can’t really harvest until early spring when they start to take off.
  • Try putting in multiple plantings spaced two weeks apart, and keep good records.
  • Most of my chard and lettuce I just overwinter the last fall planting. You need to get them in early enough to have sturdy plants going into the cold months.
  • When I am harvesting late tomato crops from the main garden, I start the winter salad bed.
  • Plant cold-weather stuff when the maple trees blossom, plant the rest when the peonies bloom, and then plant a second crop in late September.
  • It’s difficult to predict the timing of freezes here. Good coverings and a watchful eye on the weather is a must.
  • Thus far, I have simply kept planting (mostly salad greens) and harvesting until hard freezes and/or snow killed off the garden. Leeks and Brussels sprouts stay until I get around to harvesting, and are all the better after some frost.
  • For me, it’s best to grow a variety of greens indoors in pots, although I’ve also grown cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and even cucumbers indoors in pots in winter.
  • I start the seeds inside and only plant seedlings, and I make sure to cold harden the seedlings off before planting them out under the frost blanket.
  • I use the Almanac as well as talking to older gardeners and farmers. Their expertise is invaluable.
  • We try to plant in September, while we still have a couple of months of warm weather and plenty of sunshine. We harvest into January, when we get tired of salad.
  • Make sure to shade leafy greens during the late-summer seeding.
  • I use a white sun tarp over my hoop house and that keeps the hot summer sun at bay. I also have misters that keep the temps down. I plant spinach, romaine, rocket, and the like in mid- to late-August, and by the time the plants are up, September is here and the nights have started to cool down considerably. By October, I’m picking salads daily and I progressively close up my hoop house and keep my winter crops going until at least Thanksgiving.
  • Pay close attention to the Farmers’ Almanac long-range estimates. They’re usually around 80 percent accurate. If you plant too early, the heat will decimate plants, and if you plant too late, the plants can’t overwinter. I also recommend portable cold frames to cover plants if snow/frost comes early.
  • Wait until the nights begin to be cooler — usually the end of August, or early September. Be sure to water well to aid in germination, and remember that many winter crops don’t germinate well until the temps are cool.
  • I usually use the wild plants which are well-established in this area, so I don't have to fiddle with timing. I watch them to see when they flower and when the baby plants come up. So if the wild rocket drops seed in September, for example, and baby plants start coming up in early November, I just get seeds from the wild plants and plant directly into my garden.
  • Keep a record of soil temperature.
  • I just plant winter crops when I find the time. I make sure it has not frosted yet and I plant them in the areas of my garden that get the most sun in winter.
  • Mother Nature plants these crops for me. I sow the seeds in late May and I always get a second crop from letting the dormant plants overwinter under leaves or straw castoff from my chicken coop and the plants produce early spring veggies.
  • If you use coverings and mini-greenhouse boxes or cold frames then the timing is less relevant.
  • Ensure the plant is almost fully grown when the first hard freeze hits. The unheated hoop house in a hard winter should be considered more of a refrigerator for preserving foods than a place to encourage active growing. Even with extra protection, there is a period of dormancy when greens die back unless they are packed with extra insulation. Root crops and leeks continue to be harvestable throughout.

Winter Gardening Tips From Zone 6

What coverings/protections work best for you in your winter garden?

  • Straw for things I may want to pick in the winter. Clear plastic for things I just want to overwinter but not harvest.
  • We use a high hoop house covered with 4-mil plastic and several smaller moveable hoop houses with plastic. We also use cloth or fabric row covers as a secondary cover during colder weather. Last year we tried something new by placing a large candle at both ends of the high hoop house. This was very successful. We are going to try to grow the tomatoes through the whole year this year by using the candle and double or triple covers.
  • Low tunnels.
  • I made a hoop house with PVC pipe over a raised bed that’s 4 feet wide and 15 feet long, and covered it with 6-mil plastic. I used black landscape fabric around the plants to retain the heat. The sun was the only heat source. The raised beds are on a steep southwest-facing slope, and we average a little warmer than the valley. I think our low temperature for the winter last year was -4 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Instead of plastic, I use old blankets to cover crops.
  • I use a hoop house for root vegetables and an unheated mini- greenhouse for most others.
  • I use row covers over collards, kale, pac choi and mizuna. The collards and kale survive the whole winter.
  • I grow under glass windows formed together to create an A-frame.
  • I use standard, plain-old row covers. If it gets really cool (below freezing), I will add a layer of plastic if needed.
  • I cover my raised beds with horticultural grade greenhouse plastic over pvc hoops. Works great.
  • Shredded leaves are wonderful. They provide protection and break down into compost for later on. Just don’t pack them tightly.
  • A seed house or Plexiglas A-frame is the cheapest way to go. You can improvise with a cheap wire frame and some plastic sheeting from Lowes. You have to water it though, as it will be enclosed.
  • My first option is a cold frame made from windows over straw bales; my second-best option is heavy clear plastic above a metal frame.
  • I construct a lean-to hothouse from recycled materials: clear plastic, sturdy limbs, rocks for anchors, etc. I cover my Brussels sprouts, and my late crop of turnips and cabbage, and open the ends if the temperature reaches about 35 degrees.
  • I have two unheated greenhouses (small); they just have drums of water on the north side.
  • Medium-weight cotton coverings work for us. Weather here jumps right from snowy and stormy to bright, beautiful sun. There isn’t much transitional time, so we stand ready with coverings on cool nights but also for those too sunny days for seedlings.
  • I use a standard 10-foot-by-25-foot plastic sheet of medium thickness. I put 12-inch rebar in the ground and cut half-inch plastic electrical conduit into 5-foot sections, and bend them over to make hoops. This costs approximately $15 to $25 for each bed.
  • I make an igloo-like cover over my 4-by-4-foot raised beds using PVC and heavy white garden cloth.
  • Agribon 19 on outside hoops, and then a double-layer of agribon 19 on inside hoops. This coming year I plan on adding a layer of polyethylene plastic on the outside hoop over the agribon 19 when temperatures go below 25 degrees. I think I will be able to keep more crops alive then.
  • I use PVC pipes with a double layer of plastic over them.
  • Agribon for things outside. I also have a small greenhouse and can grow most things in there over the winter with no other protection. I have more problems with it getting too warm on sunny days for the cold-loving things.
  • We have raised beds that my husband built wooden-framed greenhouse toppers for. He uses glass windows and/or plastic sheeting secured to the wooden frames.
  • Low PVC frame with plastic attached with spring-loaded clamps. I plant in low raised beds with very well-amended soil.
  • I use two layers: plastic greenhouse covering over the raised beds with Reemay over the bed, too, when temps drop to the mid-20s.
  • I like 6-mil plastic over hoops made of field fencing.
  • We found giant foam cubes at a farm equipment store that they were going to get rid of. We put these around raised beds and covered them with windows and glass doors. Old sleeping bags go over these when there’s a hard frost or snow. We remove the coverings when full sun is out.
  • We use a high tunnel with a low tunnel inside of it.
  • We used cold frames made of plastic decking material, with clear plastic corrugated roofing panels for the lights. We later added a sheet of translucent plastic to the inside to give a second layer.
  • I have a portable quilted greenhouse from Gardeners Supply that has windows in case it gets too warm. And when the dead of winter comes, I cover it with a heavy cover and plastic.
  • I use straw for most things, woven cloth covers for crops such as mustard and leeks, and grow boxes in the greenhouse for lettuces.
  • I grow some things in my greenhouse, which is made of Plexiglas and recycled glass: lettuce, bok choy, scallions, herbs of all kinds. Outside, I use only a frost blanket over the spinach, if I remember. Otherwise, I use my frost blankets in the early spring over peppers and tomatoes if needed.
  • We used 1-inch-thick PVC pipe we bought at a resale shop that supports Habitat for Humanity. Five pipes secured over the top of the raised bed were then covered in translucent plastic sheets. We secured the sheets with large plastic clips, which made it very easy to reposition for weeding, watering and monitoring.
  • I have only planted very cold-weather crops here in southwest Pa., but I’m working on a modified “walpini” this summer, using the back foundation of our old fallen barn along with hay bales and some old windows that were laying around. The roof will probably be cattle panels covered with heavy-duty plastic. The front faces south and that’s the angle the roof will face, so hopefully it will hold heat!
  • Row cover cloth is sufficient for root crops. Greens need hoops or a cold frame.
  • I use raised beds made from the clay blocks of the foundation of a house that burned down. I have high tunnels over some of them, and others I just have portable row covers for. I have one bed that is about 25 feet long that I cover with some old Plexiglas sheeting, to create a hot house.
  • Snow fall! I have much better luck when we have a good blanket of snow. Then I pick during a thaw.
  • I use a 6-mil polyhouse, with bales of straw along the base of the polyhouse on the windy sides (north and west).
  • We have a 14-by-24-foot hoop house. Inside, two beds are covered with low hoops made from concrete reinforcing wire. When gets below freezing, these can be covered with plastic when temps are in the low 20s. I add blankets (purchased from yard sales or Goodwill) if colder, and will even add another tarp on top if needed. More blankets could be added if it’s below zero.
  • I use old recycled storm windows and straw in my beds that I plant in the spring. I keep most of my herbs going through winter this way. I keep rosemary, sage, oregano, chives and parsley going year-round. If I am lucky, I can keep mint, cilantro and basil going until early December.
  • I use a dome tunnel with a light bulb inside.

What other winter growing techniques work best for you to get the biggest, healthiest harvests?

  • If a big freeze is coming, harvest like there’s no tomorrow.
  • I have been gardening for a long time but only just started experimenting with winter gardening, as I recently moved to Klamath Falls. In general, for any season, good rich soil is the key. I use chicken manure as well as organic fertilizer and apply and work into the ground before planting, and then again as the plants start to produce. A close eye on the garden to scope out pests is also critical, especially with organic pesticide techniques, as they work best when applied before an infestation becomes large. I have had problems with aphids under my hoop house, surprisingly, as I thought the colder weather would discourage them. I use Safer Insecticidal soap, which has worked well. I also smash the aphids when I see them.
  • I use cold frames for spinach, lettuce, mizuna, and mâche. All but the mizuna make it the whole winter, although growth slows down to a crawl in the coldest part of the winter.
  • The biggest issue for me is not temperature, but protection from wind.
  • We find that the more we cut and use the kale and spinach, the more they continue to produce. Bonus!
  • I’ve been mounding soil up around the base of my chard in late fall. This seems to help the plant handle the cold winter.
  • Winter-hardy ground cover like clover is a great idea. It doesn’t mind being stepped on repeatedly and it fixes nitrogen. Always cycle nitrogen fixes through each garden spot before putting in heavy feeders. Add some manure and compost tea (even though it smells like armpits!) to liven up the soil. Allow diversity.
  • Get plants growing before the first frost, watch the temperature, and keep out the rabbits.
  • Don’t forget ventilation on sunny days. Sow quick-maturing veggies (lettuce, spinach, etc.) several times.
  • For the times when temperatures are below 25, I fill gallon jugs with water and alcohol, paint them flat black, and allow the liquid to heat by daytime ambient thermal radiation. I place the jugs in my growing lean-to overnight to act as heaters. I also mature several compost piles over the summer and use it with my winter plants.
  • Try a high tunnel for items you want to harvest during winter, and use a low tunnel for things you want to overwinter and harvest in spring or late winter.
  • I plant spinach and carrots before cold weather hits, and in the spring they are ready to eat. I have found carrots are sweeter if they are in the ground through the winter.
  • I plant garlic and potato onions in the fall to overwinter for harvest the next year. These do well without any covering at all. I’ve been using the hardiest varieties I can find, and I try to keep all the plants in good air circulation and dry if it gets to wet.
  • Don’t water too much, as tunnels hold moisture and condensation
  • We use late winter to start seeds in the basement grow-center we have set up. If we start our peppers, tomatoes and cruciferous vegetables the last week of February or first week of March, the seedlings get a good head start to producing much more. For example, we had nine cuttings on our broccoli last year.
  • Lots of compost and mulch. Things don’t grow much, but they do stay alive waiting for some spring warmth. It stays cold here in Eastern Washington in the winter for a long period of time. The ground freezes hard!
  • I like biochar techniques. Mixing charcoal into the soil tends to prevent the soil from freezing solid.
  • I use the “cut and come again” process for most of my lettuces and other hardy greens.
  • Egyptian onions can be harvested year-round and no cover is needed for them. You can use the tops for chives and the bottoms for cooking or salads. Great year-round plant!
  • We start plants from seeds in our basement under grow lights. When plants are big enough, we move them to a small greenhouse or cold frames. You will fail sometimes, but don’t give up!
  • Start with a thick, rich bed of rotted manure. Water well before it gets too cold to open the frames. If needed, water during warm spells mid-winter, as it can get dry.
  • Some of my best harvests are cut-and-come-again greens.
  • Let mâche go to seed in order to make it a winter “weed.”
  • As long as I can get my plants in early enough and keep them covered, mostly to protect from rabbits, I can get lots of great harvests all the way through February.
  • I make sure the crops I plant will get the most sunlight available during the winter days, without any shade. I also make sure there’s protection from the wind and that the covering is weighted down to keep it in place to protect my plants.

What are your best tips for getting the timing right when planning and planting a winter garden?

  • For my cool weather crops, I try to gauge when the really hot weather is over. I try to have spots cleared and amended a few weeks before I want to plant.
  • I shoot for planting the first of September with most plants. The weather does a lot of the dictating as to when the planting is done.
  • Take the soil’s temperature often.
  • Light seems to be the limiting factor for broccoli, so it does best if it gets in in time to form florets. The spring lettuce and arugula reseed themselves, as does the parsley. I have not had to plant any for several years; I just let it go wild.
  • Try to remember to get the fall and winter crops in on time while embracing the summer harvest.
  • I don’t worry too much about timing in my area. If it is a cool-weather crop, it will still grow pretty well in this area in winter.
  • I try to watch the temperature. Last September was actually too hot; I ended up replanting.
  • I try to base my fall plantings on when the plant would naturally seed itself and, if using starts, planting when the young plants would be up. Planting too early for a fall crop, that you’ll keep going in winter, can be inhibiting due to heat and water stress.
  • Plant in waves. Even try to plant winter hardies like Russian kale mid-winter. They do actually grow sometimes. For the shoestring budget, find discarded scraps of Plexiglas and carefully bend over heat into an A-frame to cover rows during sprouting. Keep these covers on until the final frost, and you’ll have a big head start on the growing season.
  • Count down to your first frost days. Start seeds early enough to get sizeable plants and cover them before hard frost/snow.
  • Have a good idea when the first frost will happen. Make sure your plants have had time to root well and are hardy enough.
  • If planting by seeds, leave time for the seeds to germinate to get a little growth. Seed sowing in early- to mid-September works for me. If planting transplants, go with early October.
  • Try to get most plants up and growing well before we go below 10 hours of daylight. Sometimes it is too hot and I can’t plant in fall.
  • Use a calendar to help remember which tasks to do when.
  • Keep an eye on the weather. If it’s cool, plant early to get a head start. Kale and carrots are good all through the winter here in Kentucky without cover. Everything else needs to be covered. Eat the lettuce first.
  • Use the estimated first date of frost for your area and count back eight to 10 weeks.
  • Wait for periods when weather records suggest that rain is likely.
  • I use a chart from Johnny’s Selected Seeds that tells me my frost dates.
  • We grow all of our cool-weather vegetables in late winter/early spring in a raised bed with a greenhouse topper. I find that if we plant at the end of spring, plants will die from the shock of a really cold night, but if you plant towards the end of winter, the weather will only warm up from there, so the plants are much more tolerant.
  • Don’t be afraid to vary your approach by how the year is going ... things that have worked well in one year won’t always work the next.
  • Make sure to plant so that your veggies are at full maturity by October. Add two weeks to the maturity date on each seed packet.
  • Read everything you can on the subject. Start early (late summer) for seeds when growing second crops. Collect all the covers before you start fall and winter gardens. Collect freeze coverings for early spring. Also, expand your taste buds! We are missing a lot of produce we could be growing just because we were not raised on this or that green leaf.
  • Work with Mother Nature, not against her. Don’t use the calendar; use the weather.
  • Plant before your first frost, but not too early. If you know you usually have a warm spell later, it will help the plants get well-established before cold sets in.
  • Make sure to build shade covers for plants you have to start in the heat of July or August!
  • Know your weather patterns and use tunnels. I use tunnels and row covers and raised beds with old windows in the spring to get an early start. I also have a greenhouse that I use to grow food all year. Most veggies are easily forced and so are strawberries.
  • Planting depth is key. The soil has to be warm enough to start and support the seeds.
  • Plant late enough to get good germination and early enough to let the plants get big enough before winter.
  • It all depends on our weather, so I try to just play it by ear. We have had Septembers that were still very hot and some where it is the perfect weather for planting.
  • Try several small rows at different times and always document your timing.
  • Plant small amounts, but do it many times, spread out over several weeks. Mother Nature doesn’t follow a calendar, so you have to hedge your bets. And plant winter crops in a bed that you don’t need in early spring. It’s fun to see that the plants will do when the weather warms up. Have you ever seen the blossoms on Red Russian kale? Very striking against the dark leaves, and the bees are very thankful that you allowed the time for it to bloom.
  • We seed endive/escarole in late August.
  • I plant twice: after school starts for the new year and just before Halloween.
  • People may laugh, but I swear by the old Farmers’ Almanac!
  • I plant according to the weather. Cool, rainy days are best for me.
  • Read the package for days to maturity, and then experiment.
  • We have south-facing rock walls with rock rose and we put arugula and baby leaf lettuce mix seeds into it in late September. The rocks keep it protected from freezing. After the frost, we re-seed for early spring harvest.
  • I keep a journal of the different crops I have planted, when I planted them, how they have done, and what type of covering was used to protect them.

Winter Gardening Tips From Zone 7

What coverings/protections work best for you in your winter garden?

  • We usually have mild winters, so on hard-frost nights I cover with a sheet of plastic that my husband rigged up for my beds.
  • I have been using low tunnels covered with Agribon AG-19. I spend a lot of time removing and replacing it when the weather gets too warm. But it has saved my plants when it gets cold. I have also added extra layers when it gets below 20 degrees. I only cover the lettuces, spinach and half of the broccoli.
  • I use glass jars as cloches when needed.
  • One of the best covers I ever used was when we cleared brush. I ended up putting the brush over the green beans (it was during fall) and they lasted through several frosts — ha! Other than that, leaves.
  • White floating row covers supported over the plants by a wire frame and anchored by rocks so the wind doesn’t blow it over and the snow doesn’t collapse it.
  • Reemay-type covers (some are thinner and allow more light; see Territorial Seed catalog). Plus, a large hoop house. In the Pacific Northwest we get a lot of rain — 50 inches where I live. Keeping the plants dry helps them not to “decay” in the wet. However, purple sprouting broccoli works best if left out in the rain.
  • I use Wall O Waters.
  • I use PVC pipe covered with a large white tarp.
  • Concrete reinforcing wire quonsets with Reemay row cover pinned over.
  • I use cardboard as mulch, covered with chipped Cypress. If necessary, I cover plants with plastic milk cartons or cat litter buckets.
  • I plant mainly in my high tunnel, but kale and arugula will do well out in the garden — but of course that depends how mild the winter is.
  • We use row covers for the wide rows. I also use homemade milk jug containers for crops like broccoli and cauliflower. The fruit of these tastes so much better in cool weather and we do not have to deal with nearly as many insect pests.
  • I throw old sheets over crops during freezing periods.
  • I have old windows that work as a cold frame.
  • I don’t need or use coverings here.
  • Persistent winter rains and occasional snowfalls beat down lots of plants, so we mostly grow in an unheated greenhouse.
  • I use newspaper covered with lawn clippings. The newspaper makes the setup easy to uncover, and the clippings keep the paper in place.
  • PCV hoops with plastic covering.
  • I mulch with whatever is at hand: pine straw, dead leaves, etc., and toss an old tarp over the garden boxes when needed.
  • I use row covers over a wire frame, with the addition of plastic (thin painter’s plastic on a roll) that is used about once a year, when the weather gets too cold.
  • We use a pop-up greenhouse.
  • Reemay and 4-mil plastic on low hoop houses.
  • Agribon fabric over pvc hoops.
  • I bring container plants into a covered screened porch when it’s too cold.
  • I use half-inch PVC pipe bent into hoops, then covered by 6-mil clear construction film from Lowe’s. I plant in raised beds and secure one side of the film to the bed and anchor the loose side with 8-foot landscape timbers, and the ends with 4-foot timbers.
  • I try to use simple arched pieces of aluminum strips (from a hardware store) to support plastic sheeting. There is always a problem if rain gathers in droopy places in the plastic and squashes some plants.
  • Floating row covers over hoops on top of raised beds. I use Gardeners Supply Company’s Garden Quilt.
  • I use Agribon cover cloth exclusively now for the fall and winter. It holds up better than the other brands.
  • We have a cattle-panel hoop house covered with 6-mil plastic.
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Hay bales on each side of a row with storm windows on top.
  • I have tried a light-weight commercial cover for winter hail and heavier snows. It mostly helps for easy picking in my lettuce bed. Before using it, lettuces survived under snow blankets but stopped growing until exposed to the sun again.
  • I use compost on everything. The plants become well-established and I don’t need to put plastic covers on things.
  • I have a cold frame made from old sliding patio doors on hinges that I put over one of my raised beds.
  • I put plastic covers over tomato cages, laid on their sides, held down with rocks on the edges.
  • During the winter I leave the beds uncovered unless the temp drops to the mid-30s. If the temp drops below 20, I cover beds with a heavy-duty plastic tarp.

What other winter growing techniques work best for you to get the biggest, healthiest harvests?

  • Remember to water even though it has gotten cooler or is winter. Because it isn’t hot, it is easy to forget to water when it is dry.
  • Making sure the plants are near harvest-ready by the time your garden reaches the point of getting less than 10 hours of sunlight and/or the worst of your cold season (see Elliot Coleman’s books). This is except for items that won’t start to grow much until spring, like overwintering onions, peas, and some broccoli and cauliflowers.
  • When fertilizing, do not overuse nitrogen in particular as it reduces cold-hardiness. Extra K and Ca help for a stronger plant wall. Keep plants growing slowly until they go into stasis.
  • I usually let my spring crops go to seed and replant themselves. This is how I seed my winter crops.
  • Leave your winter crops uncovered as much as possible. Good air circulation makes for healthy plants.
  • A heat/grow lamp works well if it stays cold for more than a couple of days. I put mulch around all the fruit trees, grapevines, strawberries and vegetables in the garden boxes — just whatever I have available — to keep the ground warm and protect the roots.
  • I think the most important thing is to choose cold-tolerant vegetables.
  • Continuously harvest leafy crops such as lettuce, spinach, collards, etc. Make several sowings of carrots, radishes, and turnips so you always have more on the way when the first crop is fizzling out.
  • I am planning to grow some crops under netting (before plastic cover is needed) to keep cabbage moths away. Cabbage moths seem to be my only bug problem in winter so far.
  • The best luck I have is keeping the vegetable bed covered with a good layer of leaf mulch. When I hear there is hard freeze coming, I cover the plants with plenty more oak leaf mulch. When it warms up, I move it off the plants.
  • Row covers and planting cold-hardy varieties are the only techniques I use.
  • Fertilize heavily when planting, water as needed and keep the weeds out.
  • Allowing the greens I like best to volunteer in the summer always produces my best winter crops.
  • Situating the winter garden bed where it can get maximum sunshine is important. Also, ensure good drainage in the garden beds.
  • I put winter vegetables in the sunniest locations in my garden.
  • I open the plastic covers on sunny, warm, winter days. I have had spinach and greens as late as Christmas, and beyond.

What are your best tips for getting the timing right when planning and planting a winter garden?

  • I direct sow early so growth is good before it gets really cold.
  • Paying attention to the weather. Things have changed climate-wise here and the old stand-bys of “plant this at this time” don’t necessarily apply anymore.
  • Follow the suggested planting dates put out by Clemson.
  • We stay warm long into fall, so I start my winter plants indoors in August and then wait to see when the temp will consistently start dropping. That could be anywhere from September to November.
  • It’s hard to get the timing right with the weather so changeable. What works well one year is a disaster the next. Timing the lettuce is important. Plant too early and the more mature plants are more sensitive to the cold, but too late and it will not grow enough to be useful.
  • Use a calendar, counting backwards. Use an app with info about daylight hours.
  • I plant turnips and greens on the second Saturday in August.
  • For me, one key is remembering that the frost will come usually around the end of October. When it is so warm for so long and many times we have a lingering summer, it is easy to forget and think that the frost time has also been pushed back. But it usually hasn’t; it is relatively the same whether it has been a cool or a warm fall.
  • Planting during the second half of August works well for most people around here.
  • Try to plant after the last heat wave and before the first frost. Sometimes I end up sowing twice to get it right.
  • Regional seed catalogs like Territorial and Johnny’s have great information on winter gardening. Do several plantings a couple of weeks apart and keep records of what timing worked best. Other variables impact timing considerations like weather and level of protection provided to the crop. Keep a watch on the weather and provide additional protection measures as necessary.
  • Keep a detailed garden journal.
  • I time things so that plants are 80 to 90 percent mature by Thanksgiving.
  • Follow your state extension’s guidelines for planting. We have been doing organic veggie gardening on this property for over 30 years, so I can judge areas where I can “fudge” the planting times a bit. We are the byproduct of using MOTHER’s gardening techniques all this time.
  • Since crops grow more slowly in fall, you need to allow more days to harvest than is indicated on the seed packets. Since it is hot in August, some fall and winter vegetables are best started inside (or out of direct sun if outside).
  • Plan every detail ahead of time. Jump right in after early crops are finished, add some compost, and plant your cool-season veggies soon after so weeds don’t have a chance to take hold.
  • Sow multiple plantings beginning in early September.
  • I usually wait until the first part of October to plant my winter garden. September can still be pretty hot in Tennessee and seeds don’t germinate as well.
  • In Oklahoma, we have some leeway for fall planting. Wait until summer heat appears to have subsided. Protect crops if there is threat of early frost.
  • Plants in this area need to be pretty big by Thanksgiving — then I feel that I’m really just preserving them outside to keep them fresh, since there isn’t much actual winter growth. So, the best bet is to try to get them going while it’s still warm and hope they don’t bolt before the frosts set in!
  • Watch the weather trends for that year and the time to maturity. Try to strike a balance between soil temperature for maximum sprouting and time to frost vs. days to maturity.
  • In my mountain/forested garden, I’m learning to let arugula, bok choys, green onions, and parsleys self-volunteer for winter crops. Those succeed much better than when I plant seeds in late summer.
  • I try to follow local gardeners’ advice. Right now we live in a climate where the growing season is all year around with micro-climates, so you can grow almost anything you wish. Greens are my favorite crop.
  • I plant various greens whenever the tomato and melon plants die back.
  • My biggest tip is to get organized in advance, in the spring when you are all excited about gardening.
  • I began starting indoors, planting four seeds every two weeks, and transplanting all seedlings outside when the weather was right. I kept notes on which ones produced the greatest yield and had the least amount of pest problems. After a few years of this trial and error, I created my own plan for my area, and it works most of the time. Now and again, Mother Nature throws a curve ball, and if you have seedlings started at different times, you should have a few times that work, no matter what surprises Mother Nature dishes out.

Winter Gardening Tips From Zone 8

What coverings/protections work best for you in your winter garden?

  • I use builders’ plastic over an A-frame that’s 24 inches tall. I have to clear it when it snows heavily to prevent tearing. Last year I used a crop cover cloth on a wire tunnel, and the snow collapsed it and tore the fabric.
  • PVC hoops and plastic over raised beds.
  • I have not gotten enough frost to kill my winter plants yet. Collards, broccoli, lettuce, and spinach grow like weeds here right up until the heat of summer. The only thing I have lost to frost yet is my Siberian tomatoes. That was one of the rare years it got down to 20 degrees.
  • Covers are rarely necessary, but I use old sheets occasionally.
  • We don’t usually get hard enough frosts to need protection, although if the threat exists, I’ll give the garden a good soaking to keep temps from dipping too low.
  • I have only used thin plastic in low row covers, which has worked well.
  • In this area, we usually don’t need much protection other than sheets on really cold nights.
  • I don’t use coverings consistently — only when I expect a hard freeze and I’m growing more delicate crops. I have used greenhouse plastic sheets from Lowe’s, held down on the edges with boards.
  • I use a plant blanket when it is going to freeze.
  • I use Agribond 19 and 20, as it’s light enough to protect from frosts but still has good light transmission.
  • Cold frames facing south work well.
  • For my winter lettuces, I plant them in a raised bed with hoops so I can cover them by using a variety of fabric row covers with different weights depending on the nighttime temps.
  • I use Agribon 19, which allows 85 percent transmittance. If I need extra temperature protection, I double it over.
  • I don’t cover, as by doing so I have a bigger problem with summer insects wintering over.
  • I have bent pieces of rebar over my beds. They are spaced about 4 feet apart from each other. I cover this with Reemay and weigh it down with rocks, which I leave nearby. This probably only needs to be used in 29-degree weather and lower.
  • The only “protection” I use is nice, aged horse manure. As it breaks down over winter, it keeps the soil from freezing and heaving, and provides early nutrition in the spring.
  • Straw sprinkled on the crops. It is easy to remove, allows ventilation, keeps snow raised off plants, and can be rearmed if another frost or snow is predicted. At the end of the season, it is ready to be turned under with the chicken manure.
  • Use a light frost cloth if it’s going to get seriously below freezing, but this is not necessary most years.
  • Row cover is usually all we need for our winter vegetables.
  • Rice straw is best or hay for outdoor beds to prevent excessive evaporation. Frost-sensitive plants I grow in the greenhouse most of the year.
  • I have a portable plastic greenhouse that covers the beds that I use when there are freeze warnings.
  • We don’t need them where we live.
  • Last year, I had hoops and plastic prepared, but it was really too warm to use them. (Every year is different.)
  • I currently have a raised bed cold frame with a plastic tubing frame that I cover with plastic sheeting. It is OK, but access is a pain. I am building a cover with hinged access. When the night temperature dips below about 15 degrees, I cover the plastic with a couple of old blankets.
  • I use cold frames with brick sides for the radiant heat.
  • I rarely use a cover. To save spinach, I sometimes use hay/ straw. I plant things that benefit from frost. I live in northeast Georgia, and our winters have been erratic the past few years. Even the veterans are baffled. I have used blankets for ice storms.
  • If needed, I use shredded leaves or burlap cages.
  • I dig 2 feet down in the garden, and then add 3 inches of chicken poo, 3 inches of horse poo, two inches of goat poo, and 6 inches of soil on top. I put black 1-gallon pots in a row around the bed, and set old windows on top of them. I have started seeds in January this way.
  • I cover the lemon verbena and the tarragon with burlap. That way the plants can breathe, but they’re safe against frost. Same for greens.
  • Raked up leaves around plants and then a thin film of plastic on top. I use bamboo stems to keep plastic off of the plants. I only do this if the temp is going down to 20 to 22 degrees. This is just for lettuce. My other greens have survived 6 to 10 inches of snow.
  • At most, I use a light covering of leaves or partly composted wood chips in the week of January when we have real winter temperatures.
  • The only coverings I’ve ever used are leaves, because they are free and most people don’t spray their trees with chemicals. So we glean the big bags of leaves that my nincompoop neighbors are throwing out in fall. We have a huge compost pile, but might use some of the leaves in the garden to cover things, but only if the weather is going to be severe — like a freak ice storm or lots of snow. Otherwise, all the crops we put in are fine through the winter.
  • We have only used mulch to keep the ground warm enough for the garden, using whatever materials are at hand: straw, leaves, etc. The young collard seedlings were able to winter through in an uncovered cold frame.
  • If it is freezing or below, I cover my crops with hay.
  • I use rebar on either side of the rows with old shower curtains or other transparent plastic over top. For carrots, I use Johnny’s row cover for germination.

What other winter growing techniques work best for you to get the biggest, healthiest harvests?

  • Cut greens instead of pulling the plant up. We get many cuttings in the fall and winter.
  • Lots of compost to soften soil and mycorrhizae to make roots stronger. I did a test to see how much the mycorrhizae worked. The plants that didn’t get inoculated with it were much smaller.
  • Use lots of well-composted manure when prepping your bed.
  • Broccoli is my favorite plant to grow in winter around here. I planted mine in September, and harvested it up until March of this year. I also had onions in my winter garden.
  • depends on seasonal temps- covering helps from too much frost
  • Covering winter crops protects them from wind, cold, and, especially in the Pacific Northwest, excess dampness. Excess water is the real enemy in the Puget Sound area.
  • I use Christmas lights in the hoop house if I need additional heat to keep plants from freezing. It works like a charm!
  • I plant fall tomatoes if we are having a moderate winter. I had tomatoes until mid-February in 2012. I covered them when I needed to.
  • Try deep watering before freezes, and cover the crops for extreme evenings.
  • I only plant food crops in raised beds and containers during the colder months. The crops are much easier to cover and I can move the smaller containers into a part of my yard that receives the most winter sun (such as it is in Seattle).
  • We continue to sow seed all winter long. In Texas, except for the panhandle, most winter crops will still germinate in December and January. My growing season actually goes from the end of the heat, in early September, until the beginning of the heat in early July.
  • The south side of your house is a great place to plant as much as you can. It can mean a difference of 10 degrees. In Texas, winter gardening is the best time to garden; there’s more rain and fewer pests. The covering often only needs to be done if the temperatures are going to stay below freezing for a number of hours.
  • Keep using your greens. They grow all winter here if you keep harvesting them.
  • I am realizing that I can sow more generously than I used to. My chickens can always eat any over-abundance. I keep my collards and such in the garden past their prime, overwintering them and letting them bloom; the florets are a lot like broccoli rabe, and I love them. If I miss the floret stage, the immature seed pods are great in stir-fries. (The yellow flowers are pretty, too!) I don’t pull them up until some of my spring plantings are starting to yield (peas, lettuce, radishes).
  • We grow a variety of micro-greens on our south-facing, enclosed front porch from saved and purchased seeds. We sprout alfalfa, lentils, wheat berries and others.
  • A second application of compost should be added in fall for winter growing.
  • I choose varieties developed for my region.
  • Harvest diligently, experiment and don’t take it too seriously. After all, it should be fun. Live and learn. Stick with what works. Pay attention to weather forecasts and especially local lore. For example, sayings like “we’re having a blackberry winter.” Spring crops often bolt here as it gets hot quickly sometimes, so fall planting and winter growing are very important. Sow at intervals to increase your chances.
  • We plant most of our winter crops near a south-facing brick wall. This provides some radiant heat during the winter, and protects against cold winds and somewhat against frost.
  • Depends on the weather. Our last two winters have been mild. Three years ago, everything except collards and kale died. A number of things such as mustard, radishes, and broccoli do well into December, and then winter-kill. I have greens all winter and into May or June from collards, kale and turnips.
  • Mulching is one key, but keep watching for slugs. They love living in mulch, no matter the season.
  • Be sure to water when the day is warm enough. It is rarely below freezing all day long in my Zone.
  • Remembering to water during dry spells is paramount as the moisture will help insulate the plants and their roots from temperature extremes.
  • Find and know your micro-climates. You may have to put your winter garden in a place separate from your summer garden, to get maximum results.
  • Make sure to regularly harvest to reduce stress on plants.
  • Containers are great for starting things in the shade in the late summer, and moving them to full sun in the fall/winter.
  • When I was zone 4, I was used to planting on Memorial Day and harvesting the last of it around Labor Day, but I have found that because it is so hot and humid in my current Zone 8a, my winter garden is much more productive than the rest of the year. It required a shift in my thinking and planning. My compost is started in fall with the neighborhood leaves and is ready by the next fall to put on the garden. Planning is the key. We are urban and have eight chickens in the backyard, so their manure goes in with the leaves, yielding dark, lovely, rich soil.

What are your best tips for getting the timing right when planning and planting a winter garden?

  • Here in Texas we have to wait for it to cool down, which can start in late October or early November, before attempting to plant anything. Otherwise, it’s too hot.
  • Start seeds sets both for an early and later planting. Plant lettuce in several different plantings through November and starting again in late February.
  • Make multiple sowings a week apart.
  • Down here, just wait for the worst of the 90 to 100 degree temps to end. I have planted as late as November with great results. The winter is my best growing season. Summer here is hot and brutal on most plants.
  • We have a long, warm fall, so planting through November is not a problem.
  • I go by the Farmers’ Almanac.
  • My local extension suggested August plantings for many crops like carrots, lettuce and beets that turned out to be too early. The soil was still so hot the seeds would not germinate well, so I did better waiting until September. If the winter is mild, just about any winter crop will grow well, but there have been a few unusually cold winters where I live. I find I have to watch the weather forecast carefully for more delicate crops.
  • Let things reseed themselves and they will grow and do much better than you trying to do it.
  • I plant in Grow Boxes, which can be moved to a more protected area for winter. Just moving my summer crop of chard into the greenhouse extends the season very well.
  • I go by the Florida Vegetable Gardeners Guide. Your list of planting dates leaves out several good months for Florida gardeners. Between January and June many vegetables can be planted.
  • Greens and other vegetables need to be nearly mature when the weather starts turning cold, so count backwards from your first frost date to know when to sow seed in your area. Grow enough for the entire winter, because most crops don’t start growing again until the temperatures start warming up in the early spring, and then they bolt fairly quickly as temperatures rise.
  • Wait until it’s cool to plant everything, except for tomatoes. For those, plants need to be in the ground by late August.
  • Since most of what I “grow” during the winter months are cover crops to enrich my soils, the main challenge is to be able to complete harvesting of food crops with enough time to plant the cover crop seeds and have them germinate and start to grow before the temperatures drop too low. So I tend to plant crops that need a short growing season and I don’t plant warm-weather crops after mid-July.
  • I target the first frost date as the plants-are-at-three-quarter maturity date. So, for a 90-day crop like mustard greens, I’ll plant the seeds 10 weeks prior. Most winter crops store better in the garden than they do in the fridge.
  • I get my seedlings started in plugs or pots in half-day shade or in a sunny room in my house. I put them out when the temperatures have dropped at least 5 degrees. Texas has long HOT summers. Our summer is our winter as far as intensity goes.
  • Winter is our spring here in southern Texas.
  • Watch the frost dates, and watch the night temps. It it’s too hot here at night, nothing works regardless of when the first frost date is.
  • I usually follow package directions for best timing, and grow most of my greens in the greenhouse. Root vegetables and squash I grow in garden beds in full sun, starting in late spring or early autumn.
  • Always use locally adapted seeds or transplants.
  • Check with your local county agricultural extension agency, state-specific gardening magazines or websites, or a national seed purveyor with a planting calendar by growing Zone on their website.
  • Early fall planting works best for me. The bug population is dropping, but the days are still warm enough for the plants to get a good start.
  • Using starts, but I'm trying seed this year
  • Use inter-planting techniques. I plant my winter crop in the fall around whatever is left of my summer plantings.
  • Micro-climates exist all over the Northwest where I farm. You might have them, too, so beware of applicability of weather reports and frost dates, and keep your own data. Invest in frost cloth, soil warming/weed cloth, read/research online, and look to reliable supply houses such as Johnny’s for special varieties and techniques.
  • Keep a journal of when things go in the ground each year, and when and how much they produce.
  • One year something will do really well, and then the next season it won’t. We are in between the mountains and the foot hills. We’re at about 1,500 to 1,700 feet, so winter gardening conditions are never the same.
  • Get plants in so they mature before the heat sets in. It’s a small window for planting most cool-weather crops.
  • Pay attention to what is selling in nurseries in your area.
  • I look at the NOAA long-term forecast for precipitation and temperature.
  • Check the Farmers’ Almanac. It’s surprisingly accurate for trends when whether will cool off (so lettuces will germinate and not bolt too quickly) as well as frost dates for harvest.
  • I moved from zone 4b to 8a and had to get used to planting fall crops in very warm weather that still feels like summer. It is still blazing hot here in September when I need to plan for fall and winter growing. I do companion planting and succession sowing, so I have to keep putting in seeds every couple of weeks.
  • We are an urban garden. Our challenge is getting our soil thoroughly prepared for the root vegetables. We garden all year and our winter greens thrive, as long as they are mulched against winter gusts.
  • Consult the Texas Gardening Fall Planting Guide.

Winter Gardening Tips From Zone 9

What coverings/protections work best for you in your winter garden?

  • I cut up milk jugs to make mini-greenhouses.
  • I made tunnels out of leftover wire fencing. I then covered the wire tunnel with 6-mil plastic sheeting that I had left over from a small business I once owned. The mild winters in the central valley of California allow for perfect conditions under the tunnel. It was like a miniature rain forest of lettuce, radish and carrots!
  • I use a white screen I bought from greenhouse supply, and this lets me grow all season. Keeps the cold out enough to keep all salad greens growing without freezing.
  • I don’t cover things. They need the rain and it just doesn’t seem to get cold enough here to matter.
  • I use straw, but it’s for weed control as opposed to cold-protection.
  • In Zone 9b, we don’t need coverings/protections. Our biggest winter problems, especially in a wet year, are snails and bottom rot on lettuce. Articles say to avoid overhead watering near harvest, but in a wet year, you can’t control that. Using raised beds helps, so that the water drains better. We don’t lose as many heads. If I was going to use protection, it would be to protect the lettuce crop from too much water in a very wet year.
  • Covering crops tends to be more of a worry in SUMMER than winter for my garden, and I recommend shade cloth and choosing crops that can live in a Mediterranean climate.
  • The only protection that I use at the current time is planting in my raised beds on the south side of the house. This warms the beds up in the sunny winter days and keeps the cold north wind from blowing over the tops of the newly planted seeds.
  • Coverings are not needed except to protect crops from birds.
  • I grow large tomatoes in fall and use frost blankets on very cold nights. For cole crops, I cover with Reemay fabric to prevent cabbage worms.
  • I use light-weight row covers if needed.
  • Here, we only need coverings/protection on below freezing nights. Last year we had only six below freezing nights and I used large pool towels to cover crops.
  • I use a double-layer of cloth (one of them being quilted if possible). Plants seem to go unscathed better with this arrangement. But this is for warm-weather plants growing in my garden. I do not use covers for any of the cool-weather plants in your survey.
  • If the weather is forecasted for below freezing temps, I use old sheets supported by bamboo stakes to save my plants from severe frost damage. Arizona’s winters are mild in the valley, so luckily freezing temperatures aren’t much of a problem here. But having a greenhouse really helps protect tropical and young plants. I use a small portable heater to keep my greenhouse warm when it gets below 40 at night.
  • I use sheets and frost cover if we have frost over my peppers, eggplant, okra, etc. Our winters are usually mild.
  • We only need coverings for our “summer” crops.
  • I use a simple four-man camping tent with low tables inside to set the pots on. It works.
  • I rarely have to protect cold-weather plants, but for non-hardy plants like peppers I do the following: For potted plants, I group them together and throw a tarp on them (maybe a blanket too if it will be that cold). If I have warm-weather crops still in the ground and it will be just an isolated freeze, I usually turn an empty pot onto them and add a tarp only if it will be really cold and if the plants are grouped together.
  • I have a lean-to greenhouse in my garden. I would recommend anyone interested in serious year-round gardening invest in a greenhouse.
  • Light Reemay (floating row cover) is all I ever use when it gets really cold, but most years I don’t even need that.
  • In the past, we have used hoops with row cover plastic on them. However, now I just choose varieties that can take the winter conditions without any extra help, and let things grow as they may.
  • I don’t use any cover unless it freezes. We had a week of freezing weather last winter and all I did was cover the plants with tarps at night.
  • I only cover my orange tree.
  • I put 5-gallon buckets over young plants if I need to.
  • The only time I cover my garden plants is if the weather is expected to be below 25 degrees, and that happens so seldom here that I just use old sheets.
  • I live in the humid South, so I don’t have to protect my winter garden at all.
  • I don’t use any. I am planning on trying to cover my tomatoes and basil to extend their growing season, but the winter veggies do beautifully without any protection.

What other winter growing techniques work best for you to get the biggest, healthiest harvests?

  • I use local seed companies that trial for my area. Renee’s has trial grounds about 45 minutes from me, and they sell seeds targeted to do better than average in my area. Yields are amazing. Also, you can contact local Master Gardeners to see if they have a list of vegetable varieties that grow better in your area. Finally, never underestimate soil preparation.
  • It’s summer and not winter that is the biggest crop-killer for me.
  • Plant the varieties that more adaptable to the area. Here in the Mojave Desert, the winds and sun can be brutal, but the winter is a great time to grow a table full of greens. I always garden in raised beds and containers, because of the birds looking for any morsel of tiny green sprouting from the ground. I grow all of my greens in newspaper pots until they are at least three inches high. I use a greenhouse next to the house with minimal covering. I want the seeds to be accustomed to the temperature and climate when they are placed in the garden. So the seeds are grown near the east side of the house, protected from cold north winds, then planted into the raised beds located on the south side of the house for the winter months.
  • Make sure to provide protection from drying winds
  • Heavy Mulching still works best for me
  • Plant tomatoes in pots so you can move them to the best sun exposure as sun drops further south. I have had tomatoes ripen year-round that way.
  • Over watering can be an issue during the fall and winter, especially on cool days. I make sure to monitor my watering schedule to make sure the roots get enough oxygen and are not water-logged. Applying a generous application of organic compost seems to also help and get the root zone off to a healthy start and in turn keeps your plants more healthy. Timing is the number one tip to winter gardening success in my opinion. Getting your plants in the ground while the soil is still warm enough to promote root growth is crucial to your plants growing steadily through the cool months.
  • Make sure you fertilize. It makes a great deal of difference in the produce.
  • Constant watering, as the winters are very dry. Try an underground, timed watering system.
  • Rototilling in compost and garden soil is key, as we are all sand here in Palm Springs. I will add aged manure this fall too.
  • Our fall and winter are our best growing seasons because our summers are so harsh.
  • Starting with purchased seedlings is often the best option, because it can still be 105 degrees here in mid-October, which makes it hard to keep seedlings alive.
  • The best advice would be to choose vegetable varieties that are specifically bred for overwintering. In coastal Zone 9a, we are limited more by winter rain than by cold, so we can grow almost all year. I have had a lot of success with vegetable varieties from England (broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower especially), and grow almost exclusively heirloom varieties. My biggest tip would be to experiment! If you have your heart set on a particular winter crop, then try several succession plantings, try protecting some of your plants and leaving others to the elements. Try a few different varieties and see what works in your unique garden location and what doesn’t.
  • Water often. Most individuals do not realize how dry the plants can get in the winter.
  • I like to let whichever plants that can go to seed and sow themselves. For example, parsnips. They go to seed in August, and I plant the seeds into a row in August or September, to be harvested in December. I always leave a few in the row to make seed for the next year.
  • The raised bed behind our retainer wall stays warm. Probably could grow most everything almost year-round. I plant tomatoes in February. Tomatoes hang on here until early January — so it’s almost year-round.

What are your best tips for getting the timing right when planning and planting a winter garden?

  • Paying attention to what the wild life is doing. I really watch the geese. Until they fly north again, there is a chance it will be too cold for some things to sprout.
  • Protect your crops from small birds that arrived in late winter. They love greens.
  • Because growing conditions over Tucson can vary so greatly, I refer back to my notebooks of experiments. I’ve been in the same place for almost 10 years, so it’s a helpful guide. I suggest taking lots of notes.
  • We’re pretty spoiled here and can grow most things year-round, so I haven’t had to pay too much attention to when I get things in the ground.
  • In south Florida we grow most things in the winter. I usually plant after the end of September.
  • Broccoli, I start in July and harvest by December. We start peas in early November.
  • I follow a guide printed by my local extension service specifically for the valley where I live. So far, it has proven to be a successful tool to planning the garden and planting at the right time. Some years are variable, as is life, and we must learn to go with the flow of nature and its tides.
  • Keep a close eye on the weather. In my zone 9b, a cold spell that then moves back to warm will cause many things to bolt.
  • I wait until there is a consistent downward change in daytime temperatures before planting. Some years, I can start in October, but most years I have to wait until November. Soil temperatures have to go down before some of the winter stuff will germinate!
  • Making sure the soil temperature is right so your seeds have the highest possible germination rate, and having nighttime temps that are below 60 degrees really help to reduce transplant shock. Also, keep in mind the length of time it takes for your plants to mature before the first frost date.
  • Start plant in semi-shade while temps are in the 90s and 100s, and then transplant on the first of October.
  • I can plant almost year-round when it comes to any of the cool-weather crops. I live near the coast in San Diego. It is the summer crops that get powdery mildew and are hard to grow.
  • I have to start broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts in late June.
  • We are in a weird area. It can be 110 in summer and 25 in winter. But many of the cooler-weather crops can be planted in September/October, and then again in January/February.
  • I am experimenting. My garden planted between late August and October managed to live over winter, though we do get occasional snow. My kale planted in May did as well as the plant I put in last September or October. For lettuce and peas, I planted seed in February, and they have been dynamite! The parsley I planted in August overwintered. 
  • Succession plant every two weeks starting in late summer and see which time period seems to be the most successful for your location. Grow from seed so that you can access a much wider selection of vegetables from similar climates to your own, and also so that you have complete control over your planting timetable.
  • I try to plant after the bugs go away. They usually eat on my seedlings, but as soon as it gets a little cooler, they go away.
  • It is pretty easy to grow winter vegetable in the Sacramento valley. The hard part is pulling up the summer vegetables that are still bearing to make room for the fall crops. I find the local Master Gardeners to be a helpful resource.
  • Let the plants re-seed on their won. They know when they want to grow.
  • Keep notes year by year of daily temperatures and weather. The best time to plant in your yard may differ from the area around you depending on what micro-climate exists in your yard. I also plant lots of native plants in and around my garden. Keeping track of when these are coming up has helped me time my own planting appropriately as well.
  • Gulf Coast winters are extremely mild. I usually try starting in November.
  • Take note of where the sun is going to be in the winter versus the summer and plant accordingly.
  • I used to be able to start the winter vegetable garden right after Labor Day, but September has become so hot that it is extremely difficult now. Some lettuces and cilantro will go to seed and will not produce when planted that early. So I am always holding my breath and analyzing the weather patterns. I will start planting anywhere between early and late October. The plants need to be established before it cools off in November but they don’t like a lot of hot weather either. Additionally, some crops, such as carrots and parsley, I can grow year-round. Others, such as peas, I can only grow in the winter.
  • Timing it so that the soil is still warm when the seedlings sprout, yet cool enough when the plants are maturing. Where I live I like to time the seedlings with the coming of the winter rains. The temperatures where I live are perfect for winter gardening. I plant all winter long.

Winter Gardening Tips From Zone 10

What coverings/protections work best for you in your winter garden?

  • In the winter, the most I’ll do is throw some towels over the tomatoes if we approach freezing temps. It’s a very rare occurrence.
  • I use old window screens to keep the birds from eating the sprouts and the critters from digging in my beds.
  • I plant delicate plants near other hardier plants for wind protection. I don’t cover usually, but will use straw if we’re going to have a possible freeze.
  • I have to use sheets and blankets every few years.
  • I only use a tarp during the coldest nights to keep off frost. Otherwise, I don’t use coverings.
  • We just mulch with straw and other plant matter.
  • I have some strawbale cold frames.
  • None needed here.
  • I live in southern California, so no coverings needed. We rarely get frost. If predicted, water the plants at night or place blankets on top.
  • If I use anything, it’s floating row covers.

What other winter growing techniques work best for you to get the biggest, healthiest harvests?

  • Vertical gardening to get more out of the space.
  • Thinning sprouts and enjoying a micro-greens meal.
  • I’ve found that I can do anything with cabbage all winter. It just keeps on coming!
  • We have clay soil, so adding vermiculite and peat moss every five years or so helps. Also, constant watering here in California if it gets too warm.
  • Be sure to know your sun patterns. Half of my garden is shaded during the winter months, so I don’t plant there.
  • Placing solar lamps in my beds adds warmth and light and extends the life of the veggies.
  • Timing is everything here in the high desert.

What are your best tips for getting the timing right when planning and planting a winter garden?

  • Plant as soon as the summer rains subside and the soil is workable.
  • What is this “winter” you speak of? Our farm is south of Miami.
  • Feel it out. With the weather here in southern California, it is about learning that the weather is always changing. Pay attention to la nina and el nino.
  • My crops go in when I get to it. The local weather is so mild that it doesn’t really matter.
  • Read the seed packages! Figure out when you want to harvest your food, then count backwards using the “days to harvest” number and direct-sow seeds then.
  • Bay Area weather can sometimes be fickle. I like to start seeds in the greenhouse, nurture them, and then transfer to raised beds equipped with solar lights.
  • I plant winter crops when summer and fall crops are ending.

Winter Gardening Tips From Zone 11

What coverings/protections work best for you in your winter garden?

  • Aged horse manure is the closest thing to “coverings” that I use, strictly to keep the moisture in.
  • Winter coverings are for insect protection as insects are not killed off well. It’s not cold enough.

What other winter growing techniques work best for you to get the biggest, healthiest harvests?

  • Bagrada bugs and aphids are the biggest threats to my “winter” harvest. An abundance of lady beetles helps with the aphids, but I haven’t found a way to control the bagradas.
  • I’ve learned that I can’t grow Brussels sprouts because it’s just not cold enough.

What are your best tips for getting the timing right when planning and planting a winter garden?

  • I try to plant seeds indoors for brassicas and leeks in August, so I can transplant at the end of September.
  • All brassicas, root crops and lettuces do very well in our winter climate.

Winter Gardening Tips From Zone 12

What coverings/protections work best for you in your winter garden?

  • I do not have to use any coverings whatsoever, as we have no frost or snow.

What other winter growing techniques work best for you to get the biggest, healthiest harvests?

  • Don’t try to grow “cold-snap” crops. It’s too hot.

What are your best tips for getting the timing right when planning and planting a winter garden?

  • In Hawaii, just wait until the summer heat cools off and you should be fine growing almost anything. The only problems come from attempting to grow crops that require cold snaps.
  • My garden is mostly a self-sown garden, with basically only lettuces and parsley that are grown from bought seedlings. Timing is not an issue here.

Map From USDA





Post a comment below.

 

ROSED
12/22/2013 8:54:09 PM
My zone is 3A up in Canada. Although I don't do much winter gardening, rye is a great cover crop that survives and even grows in snow. I attempted to plant this this fall but waited until it was too late for it to germinate (November). I'll know for next year! However, on November 16th, when we had had at least a week's worth of -15 degree Celcius nights, my Asian greens were still green and alive under the snow! I couldn't believe it.

Angela Marsteiner
10/18/2013 1:00:57 PM
My gardening is done in the desert of southern California. Zone 11-12. Although we don't have problems with the cold, heat is a real issue! I use a wood chip mulch to hold in moisture. It also deters the neighbors cat from digging in the beds. Also place a ring of manure around the base of seedlings. I let it get hard and crunchy on the surface, but it stays moist underneath. A manure ring also gives the plants room to spread out better than the mulch chips do. For pests I plant a lot of garlic & onions. In 300 square feet of garden space I plant about a pound of garlic and 20plus onions. Last year I used a bag of shallots. They worked great! I had beautiful red onions at the end of the season. They seem to keep all those pesky ground bugs away. The onion flowers bring bees too! Companion planting is the best I have found for deterring pests. Basil next to the tomato to keep away horn worm. geraniums for the grasshoppers. etc... If full sun is suggested I plant in part sun. When it calls for 6 or more hours I try to plant in 4 hour locations. Using a block ball, the shade of the house or trees to protect young growth. By the time the direction of the sun changes the plants are well established and are less likely to burn. I have also found that most of the plants don't like water on their leaves, with a few exceptions. Tomato, basil and citrus trees love it. The moisture on the leaves tends to increase the chances for burning. I start planting just as soon as it is cool enough for me to go outside. Usually after the temps dip into the 90's, mid to late September. Happy and Healthy Gardening!





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