To begin, let’s pose a question: Why would anyone want to garden in the fall or winter? After all, this is the time when we normally grab a blanket, a cup o’ hot cocoa and a seat near the fire.
But, gardening in the fall and winter has some advantages we should all consider. The biggest – and most obvious – benefit is the fact that you’re growing produce while most others are not. You have access to variety of hardy vegetables and herbs that are not commonly found in the winter, which is when you need them most. Not only are nutrient-rich vegetables good for warding off cool-season sickness, but you’ll have a quality of vegetable that cannot be found at your local grocery store. By the time the cold months roll around, the majority of the produce at the supermarket is either sickly or being shipped from the more temperate climates around the globe.
There are also several mental and physical benefits to gardening, and these are especially important during the colder winter months.
Know Your Zone
When gardening in any season, you should start by considering your geographical climate zone. The US Department of Agriculture creates this handy map to track how cold your geographic area will become during the coldest weeks of winter. Take a look at it now. Your growing options in zone 7b are going to be much different than your options in 1a, so it’s best to start here.
Does that mean you’re completely at the mercy of your location? Not at all. Our dear friends shivering up north have a few options, but it will take some preparation. One of the best ways is to create a cold frame, which will help you extend your growing season dramatically.
Planting in the Fall
Autumn is an excellent time to add a little color to your life. Mums, pansies and other such cool-season flowers provide a beautiful splash of pigment to your garden, yard or front porch. And don’t let yourself be limited to flowers alone. You also have the option to use fall grasses or even ornamental kale to brighten up your autumn gardens.
Don’t forget about flower bulbs. While you won’t see immediate results, planting blooming bulbs in the fall will ensure that you have a jumpstart on spring growth. Like all things, planning is an important part of the bulb-planting process.
Tips and Tricks: You should plant these bulbs about six weeks before the ground freezes. If you’re interested in learning more about how to plant fall flower bulbs, take a look at this helpful article.
Some vegetables are naturally cut out for the cold. In some cases, these hardier vegetables (regularly tolerating temperatures down to 25 degrees) will even taste better if they’ve been growing in colder conditions. Many of the following vegetables will continue to grow several weeks after the first frost:
Tips and Tricks: Frost is going to be your biggest threat during the colder months, so take a look at this article about protecting your garden from this icy killer.
Another route to consider is indoor herbs. The winter months may be cold, but some plants do very well in the comfort of your home. If you’ve already been growing herbs in your outdoor garden, save some money and transplant them to pots. What’s great about this option is that the savings are two-fold. You get to keep growing the herbs in the winter, and then you transplant them back to the garden in the spring.
Our friends from Rodale’s Organic Life have listed out the 10 best herbs to grow indoors:
Tips and Tricks: Don’t wait too long to bring your plants inside. Especially if you’re transplanting tropical plants from outdoors to indoors, start the process when the temperatures slip down into the 40s.
Starting an indoor vegetable garden is not only a good way to grow your own produce, but can also add to the home’s décor. Having indoor plants can also be a good way to improve the overall air quality of your home.
If you’re planning on starting an indoor vegetable garden, you’ll need to consider many factors. The three that require the most focus are the space, the humidity and the light.
Space for a Garden
Indoor gardens come in all shapes and sizes, so there are many opportunities to be creative with your space. Whether you’re using shelves (great for saving space), window boxes, tables or other containers, consider the space as a means for practicality as well as decoration. If you’re planning on creating a larger garden, make sure you have something that will catch dirt and drops of water from getting on your floor. Tile squares or linoleum work well.
Bring on the Humidity
Next to lighting, low humidity will likely be your biggest challenge, especially during the dry winter months. According to Jackie Carroll of gardeningknowhow.com, “indoor plants need humidity levels between 40 and 60 percent, and suffer from stress when the humidity…is outside that range.”
Here are some tips for increasing the humidity around your plants:
- Mist plants with water on at least a daily basis (this is a temporary fix)
- Purchase a humidifier (you should probably do this anyway)
- Fill up a bowl or tray of water and place it near/in your garden
- Put the plants close to one another, creating a bubble of humidity
I Saw the Light
When possible, natural light is going to be the best option. But this isn’t realistic for everyone, especially those living in an urban setting. Supplement the sun with these types of lights in your home.
Incandescent lights work well for low-light plants. But if your garden is made up of anything besides vines, ferns and the like, you’re going to need to bump it up to fluorescent lights. Incandescent lights also produce a lot of heat for the minimal amount of light. If you’re worried about burning your veggies to a crisp, this may not be the option for you.
Normally recommended for starting vegetables, fluorescent lights are ideal for plants that need low to medium lights. These bulbs also use much less energy than their incandescent counterparts (like over 75% less). This is a good option if you’re a beginner indoor gardener.
Tips and Tricks: If you’re interested in purchasing more powerful lights (used for larger areas of growth), take a look at this helpful article that introduces high intensity discharge lamps, metal halide lights and high-pressure sodium lights.
We’re Growing Places
As we continue to learn how to manipulate our environments, growing throughout the fall and winter months becomes an exciting option for gardeners everywhere. So keep on the gloves, dust off the shovel and make your garden last throughout the year.
How are you starting your fall and winter garden? Let us know in the comments below.
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