Your Guide to Winter Gardening in the South and Southwest

Reader Contribution by Bryan Traficante and Gardeninminutes
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We’re officially in the thick of fall season, with the smell of cinnamon, decaying leaves, and wood smoke perfuming the air. Next thing you know, winter will come sweeping in, blanketing the ground with cold, white snow.

In the South, though, these changes in temperature and scenery aren’t as extreme. Though the temperatures will drop, southern states usually get only a light dusting of snow. This kind of weather makes winter gardening perfect in the region.

The Winter Gardening Tools You’ll Need

Because the winter weather is trickier than spring, you’ll need some helpful tools and gardening methods for your winter garden. Gardening with these will help your crops thrive, despite chilly temperatures.

Raised beds. Southern winter weather can make it very challenging for plants in the ground to survive. Rain and melted snow are known to saturate the soil, which can cause root rot. To prevent roots from rotting in cold or soggy soil, make sure you plant your winter crops in raised garden beds

Irrigation. While watering by hand is doable, it’s not ideal as crops grow, especially when you need to make sure the water reaches all of your plant’s roots. Garden watering systems simplify this process for you and surround all of your plants at ground-level with water streams, making soil moisture maintenance easy. Moist soil maintains temperature better than dry, giving you some added protection during cold weather. 

Coverings/Simple Greenhouses

In the south, it usually doesn’t get so insufferably cold that you need a full-scale greenhouse to grow plants during winter. Still, the temperature can and does drop sharply at night, which means you need to protect your crops from frost. A simple hoop house/basic greenhouse covering  are perfect for providing this protection. They are easily set up in a few minutes, and act as miniature, short-term greenhouses, to provide some protection against the elements. These can be made from synthetic materials or sheets of plastic. Here’s a helpful “how-to” video for building a simple greenhouse in minutes

Apart from these winter essentials, prepare your usual gardening tools like trowels, gloves, garden hoses, mulch, and others.

Choosing the Right Winter Garden Plants

So you’ve got the proper tools for winter gardening. All you need are plants. Keep in mind that you cannot simply plant any crop you want. Some vegetables, flowers, and other crops just won’t grow in cold weather. Despite barely having snow, days and nights in the south can grow cold.

With that in mind, the following are cold-hardy and frost-tolerant plants for a lush and vibrant winter garden:

Garlic and Onion. Garlic and onion are perfect ingredients for hearty fall and winter comfort food. Not only do they add exciting flavors to soups and other dishes, they thrive in colder weather. Keep in mind though, if you plant them in your garden this fall/winter, don’t expect to harvest them in the same season.

What makes garlic and onion great winter garden crops is that they both have long growing seasons and require little maintenance. Over winter, these crops will basically look after themselves until you can harvest them. If planting from sets (transplanting small bulbs) they should reach maturity after 3-4 months. If growing from seed, start during warmer months and expect maturity after 4.5-6 months.

Spinach and Kale. Spinach is hailed as the top vegetable to grow during winter because it can survive near freezing temperatures without problem. Its fellow leafy green, kale, also has no trouble thriving in the cold and makes for a great neighbor to spinach. In fact, cold weather can sweeten kale’s flavor. As long as you protect them from hard freezes with a covering and moist soil, you’ll be able to enjoy eating these salad greens even in wintry weather.

Brussels Sprouts and Cabbages. Cabbages are typical cool-season plants that can produce well into winter. Just make sure not to leave the young leaves exposed to frost. The cabbage’s cousin, Brussels sprouts, can also withstand frost over short periods. 

Plant Spacing Is Important

When planting in a garden bed, you have limited space. But, that doesn’t mean you can simply put crops into the soil however you please. To maximize your growing space, plant your winter crops by area instead of by rows. This is called square foot gardening – you can read more about this efficient planting method here

For the plants mentioned above, garlic can be grown 9 per square foot, onions (large variety) 2-4 and leafy greens can be grown 4-6 per square foot. Cabbages meanwhile, can be grown 1 per square foot. 

Cabbage spacing

Why Grow a Winter Garden?

The gray skies, short days, and colder temperatures can affect your mood. One thing that can lift spirits is greenery. Seeing color amidst the bleak landscape can elicit positive feelings. Plus, the physical act of gardening forces you to go out in nature, meaning you’re not cooped up inside the house. What’s more, one 2010 study suggests that gardening leads to a decrease in cortisol, or the stress hormone, and restoration of a positive mood.

Apart from its psychological benefits, a winter garden can serve as your source of vegetables in the winter. Not only will you have plants to tend to and keep busy with, but you’ll also have fresh, homegrown food to eat in the cold months.

Create a Thriving Winter Garden This Season

The upcoming colder temperatures and shorter days may seem off-putting to gardening, but these conditions actually provide a great gardening opportunity and challenge! 

Bryan Traficante co-founded GardenInMinutes in 2013, turning a passion for home gardening and innovation into a family-owned venture to make starting a quality garden easier. Bryan and his family invented the Garden Grid watering system, which combines square-foot planting principles with ground-level adjustable irrigation and no complicated assembly. They also craft tool-free, modular garden kits  and provide time-saving gardening insights on their blog and social media pages. Find Bryan and GardenInMinutes on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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