As the winter approaches, the biggest worry of gardeners is if their plants can survive the freezing temperatures. So should I cover my garden in the winter? How can I protect my plants? After harvesting your crops, it’s easy to just leave everything behind and let nature take its own course. But if you’re planning to keep a garden all year long, you must know how to deal with the threat of winter.
We all know that winter can be very harsh on vegetation. Novice gardeners would just let frost take over and just hope for the best. This shouldn’t be the case if you know how to prepare your garden for the season.
In this post, we will guide you on how to prep for winter together with plant suggestions that will thrive despite the cold.
How harsh can winter be in my garden?
The winter weather can do serious damage to your plants if you’re not prepared for it. The top question we often receive is this: how much cold is dangerous for my plants?
First of all, it depends on the type of plants or crops you have in your garden and your location. This is usually measured based on the hardiness of the plant as well as the hardiness zone of your area.
Some plants can endure the cold weather for weeks and months. However, some plants can only last for hours upon exposure to the extremely low temperatures of winter.
The freezing temperatures of winter will damage the tissues of the plant. The water content inside the plant will freeze, which will dehydrate the leaves and affect the natural course of photosynthesis. As the temperature goes lower, the effect of freezing becomes worse.
If you’re thinking of watering your plants with warm water, you should think twice. Abrupt defrosting will do more harm than help. It will also cause the plant to die. The longer the winter lingers, the more damages the plant sustains.
Just like humans, plants hate winter. Still, you can choose hardy plants to grow through winter. Also, you should prep your garden so it will provide better insulation against the cold season.
How to prepare your garden for winter
To prep your garden before the cold season, you should do the following steps:
-Harvest all remaining fruits
Before you do anything, make sure that you’ve harvested the last fruit in your garden. If not, it will just be put to waste. As long as the crop is ripe for harvesting, you should salvage it before the winter arrives.
-Clean up before the first snow
After you have removed all the crops and fruits, it’s now time to clean your garden. For sure, it would be a mess after the season. If you have multiple vegetable beds, you should work on each one after the other. This way, you’ll have a more organized cleanup process.
Make sure that you remove all dead vegetation. Choose the healthy vegetation and add it to your compost. You’ll need this later on as you prep your garden if you’re planting rotational crops.
-Conduct a soil test
The weeks leading to the winter season are the perfect time to conduct a soil test. This way, you’ll have an informed idea about the condition of your garden soil. A soil test will usually check the pH level of your garden soil.
Also, the soil test includes detecting lead content, level of organic matter, and levels of various minerals. This test will check levels of calcium, potassium, sulfur, magnesium, and phosphorus in the soils.
The results of this test will let you know how much fertilizer you need to use. If the pH of your soil is too low for winter, you can use lime to adjust it accordingly.
If you’re new to soil amendments, here’s a quick guide that you can refer for starters.
-Add more mulch
After you’re done cleaning up your garden, the next step is to add a layer of mulch onto the soil. Make sure that you have removed all the weeds before you do this.
First, add at least an inch of compost then cover it with old mulch to prevent the growth of weeds. The mulch will also serve as insulation against the snow.
Take note that you shouldn’t put a very thick layer of mulch on your soil bed. You still need a fair level of cold temperature to seep through the soil to kill pests and diseases.
If you’re keeping perennial plants, see to it that you add another layer of mulch once the ground froze.
-Plant cover crops
Even before winter comes, you should consider planting cover crops. These plants will prevent soil erosion while increasing the organic matter in your garden soil. It’s a great way to enrich your soil before the winter comes and before planting hardy plants. It will recharge your garden throughout the winter, giving you a very healthy soil come spring.
Legumes are great cover crops since it increases the level of nitrogen in the soil. Always check the hardiness of the cover crop you’re going to plant. Some have to be planted at least a month before the killing frost arrives.
The following are some of the excellent choices for cover crops:
- Field pea
- Oilseed Radish
- Crimson clover
- Winter wheat
-Plant on the right spot
Another trick to keep your garden flourishing during winter is planting your crops or ornamentals in the right direction. Blooming trees should be planted on the north side of your house or any slope facing north. This will reduce their sunlight exposure, which will also reduce the freezing and thawing frequency that the plant may experience.
Also, flowers that bloom early should be planted away from direct sunlight. This will keep the plant alive, thanks to reduced frost damage.
Tips to make your plant survive during winter
What should I do during winter? Should I cover my garden in the winter? The following are some useful tips to shield your plants from the harm that winter may bring:
-Protect your smaller plants
The winter can be pretty harsh on your small plants. If the snowfall worsens, you can cover small plants with a plastic bag or even a cardboard box. You can also use a laundry basket if flimsy solutions won’t do any good.
Always weigh the cover down so it will stay in place even if the wind blows. You can also drape a thick blanket over a laundry basket to add insulation if your small plants are prone to frost.
-Prevent repetitive thawing and freezing
Frequent thawing and freezing can be deadly for your plants. Such shifts on temperature will damage the tissues of your foliage. Aside from planting your crops on the right spot, you should also add more mulch if the temperature keeps on dropping.
About three inches of additional mulch will help in keeping the soil temperature stable. After adding mulch, you should cover the soil with tree branches or netting to keep the wind from scraping the extra layer off.
This will prevent frost from getting into your plants. One thing you should remember about winter is that once a plant gets damaged by frost, it’s less likely to neither survive nor be saved.
-Don’t sprinkle salt on your plants
Sure, salt is a great agent in thawing ice, but you should spare your plants. Also, avoid sprinkling salt on walkways and driveways with direct run-offs to your garden. When the salt mixed with slush, it will cause excessive salinity on the garden soil. It will hurt your plants.
To deal with the slippery snow, we recommend using sawdust or gravel instead. Wood ash and sand also works to reduce the slip of these areas.
-Watch out for strong winds
Another enemy during winter is strong winds. Plants with thin stems can easily bend over during a gust of wind. As support, you can use stakes to surround the plant. After that, wrap a layer of burlap around the stakes so you can create a wind barrier.
Once your plants are stronger and have thicker stems, you can remove the burlap shield. However, it would likely take more than winter for small plants to mature.
-Water on the right time
Our common instinct is to water our plants every morning. But in winter, it might be better to turn your sprinkler on during a cold night. Once a layer of water freezes on the ground, it will serve as a barrier for the soil against atmospheric temperature. It’s a trick that will save your plants from frost damage on a very freezy night.
Hardy plants during winter
If you’re yet to choose a cover crop or hardy plant to grow in winter, you may want to consider the following:
Winterberries are one of the hardiest plants that will thrive in winter. During the first frost, the leaves of this shrub will turn black, but it will soon have clusters of red berries. It will remain on the branch throughout winter, which will add color to your garden.
Coneflower is a native perennial plant in the U.S. It has beautiful pink blooms, but you can also find yellow, white, and orange varieties. Just make sure that you cover its soil with two inches of mulch on the last weeks of fall as preparation for winter.
For those with a large garden, you can plant asparagus as a cover crop during winter. The best varieties are the Pacific Purple or Mondeo as these remain hardy during the cold weather. However, asparagus requires patience as it will take up to two years to get the first harvest.
Onions are fairly easy to keep during winter. However, you have to plant onions early as this plant has a long growing season, which may stretch up to spring if you plant it too close to winter.
Garlic, like onion, takes longer to grow. If you plant it in autumn, you’ll have your first harvest in summer. It takes patience, but it’s still an excellent choice for winter.
Early in spring, you can plant carrots and let them grow throughout winter.
Peas are a great cover crop since it enriches the nitrogen level of the soil. It preps your garden for spring planting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Should I cover my garden in the winter?
A: You can cover your plants during winter if you’re not worried about plant growth. Covering the foliage will reduce damage due to frost. However, since the cover will limit sunlight exposure, the growth of your garden plants will stop.
Q: How can I keep my garden soil enriched throughout winter?
A: To keep your garden soil healthy during winter, you should use a lot of compost before the snow comes. Also, you should cover the soil with a thick layer of mulch for added insulation. You can also use a slow-acting fertilizer to keep the soil nourished for weeks.
Q: Is it ideal to cover my raised vegetable bed during winter?
A: You can cover your raised vegetable bed with mulch. But if you’re thinking of protecting against snow, you can use a tarp cover, though it will slow down the growth of your plants.
Q: How can I prepare my garden soil after winter?
A: We recommend a soil test to gauge the condition and composition of your garden soil. It will give you an idea about how much fertilizer you need to use.
Q: Should I cut down my perennials as preparation for winter?
A: You can prune your perennials, but it’s not a great idea to cut it down entirely. Many perennials can survive through winter.
Should I cover my garden in the winter? In this post, we hope that we helped you in preparing your garden before the winter season. Do you have anything to add? Let us know in the comment section!