Brush up on a few winter gardening ideas to give your green thumb a workout all year long.
Jane Colclasure/P. Allen Smith
A raised garden bed is filled with cool-season vegetables, including (from front) broccoli, Swiss chard, onions, kale, purple cabbage and red lettuce.
Cultivate your love of gardening all year long by trying your hand at tending a winter garden. Your plot of ground might be a small winter vegetable garden, a container garden packed with winter annuals, or a few pots of indoor winter plants. Gardening in the winter can transform your indoor and outdoor spaces with living color.
Much of what you can do in outdoor winter gardens depends on where you live. If your address falls in Zones 7 to 10, you can tend a winter vegetable garden filled with frost-tolerant plants that will grow until spring. In these mild winter regions, you can also plant winter container gardens that survive chilly weather with ease. In colder zones, you can do some outdoor winter gardening, but the growing window will be shortened without providing some kind of frost protection for outdoor plants.
In all regions, the secret to winter gardening is knowing which plants survive the cold. Search out plants that are semi- or half-hardy for withstanding light frosts (29 to 32° F) and hardy ones for tolerating hard frosts (25 to 28° F). Semi-hardy vegetables adapted for winter gardening include Swiss chard, leaf lettuce, arugula, carrots, beets, rutabaga and radicchio. Flowers that fit this category include diascia, China aster, lobelia and petunia.
For hardy flowers, plant pansy, pinks, sweet alyssum, painted tongue or flowering stock. Hardy winter garden vegetables include radish, turnip, broccoli, English peas and leeks. A few plants withstand freezes that drive the thermometer to the low 20s and upper teens. These cold-weather all-stars are kale, spinach and collards, all of which grow well in a winter vegetable garden or winter container.
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Even in colder zones, you can raise hardy vegetables and flowers if you’re prepared to cover plants when necessary. You can use frost blankets, bed sheets, a plastic-covered tunnel or cold frame to extend your winter gardening season. You can also grow many salad greens indoors using containers and supplemental lighting.
With outdoor winter gardens, determine ahead of time how you’ll water plants. Depending on how severe the cold is in your region, you may or may not be able to haul a hose to your winter vegetable garden or containers. If you’ll be carrying water, position your garden, if possible, to limit water-toting duties.
Aim to get your winter garden crops established before frosts arrive. Actively growing, established plants withstand cold weather better, as do plants that have experienced the gradual downward shift of outdoor temperatures.
Indoors, focus winter gardening efforts on houseplants that flower during cool weather. Most of these beauties aren’t difficult to grow, and they add delightful color and possibly fragrance to indoor settings. Consider winter plants like moth orchid, with flowers that last for weeks, or cyclamen, with its artfully marbled foliage and butterfly-like blooms.
White or winter jasmine infuses a home with exquisite perfume, as do paperwhite narcissus bulbs, which are completely goof-proof. Even pots of rye or wheatgrass make a wonderful indoor plant that provides a pocket of greenery and a chance to practice some winter gardening.