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Winter Gardening Tips

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Winter is officially here; and there is much to do around the lawn and garden. Novice gardeners may think that just because the temperatures have dropped that means that growing season is over. But, in fact, winter is the optimal time to plant cold-tolerant crops. Your garden tasks may vary depending on the zone you reside. If you don't know your growing zone, find your state on the USDA Hardiness Zoning Map. (It's best to check your gardening zone before you begin any gardening project!

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Winter gardening no-no's:

  • Make sure you don't plant too late in areas where the ground freezes.
  • Wait to prune shrubs after the frost passes so 'new growth' doesn't occur and ruins the plants.
  • Thinking that watering season is over. Wrong. Continue watering new trees and plants.
  • Skipping mulch. It's best to add a 2 inch thick layer around the base of roots.
  • Spraying for weeds. It's mostly a waste of time during wintertime.
  • Don't let the grass grow too long. Long grass will be a nightmare to mow once it gets warmer.

Zones 1, 2 and 3

Temperatures reaching negative numbers may present a challenge; but don't lose hope! Extend the growing season by bringing your plants indoors near light or in a greenhouse for safe handling. Frost protective covers can blanket outdoor plants, giving them warmth and shelter from the cold. Alternatively, plants can rest in cold frames for springtime growing. If you reside in zone 3, continue collecting leaves in lawn bags, shred them and use them for mulch.

Zone 4

Your team lives in the mountains and will certainly experience snow. Make sure to brush off the snow from cold frames and frost covers to allow light to shine onto the plants. Before the snow hits, plant cooler vegetables outside including greens, broccoli, snow peas and cauliflower then relocate them to greenhouses to extend the growing season. Similar to Zones 1-3, Zone 4 residents should consider moving their outdoor plants inside near light.

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Zones 5, 6 and 7

Cold Frames are best used for storing green vegetables like spinach and lettuce during the winter months. Some gardeners may consider adding bales of straw to cover vegetables, including carrots. This technique allows vegetables to stay warm and continue to grow; best of all, gardeners can pick-and-choose vegetables as they need them. You may also use a hoop house for root vegetables and a greenhouse for others. Mulch with 1 to 1.5' of dry leaves and reinforce frost protection covers. Lastly, drape insulated blankets over greens (kale, collards, pac choi) and set electric lights, if needed.

Zone 8

Temperatures rarely go below freezing; so frost protection blankets and covers are rarely necessary. However, some residents in this zone get snow, others get heavy rainfall. For those experiencing frost, cover plants with a light cloth. Get plants set-in before the heat comes - there is a small window to plant cold-weather crops.

Zone 9

Temperatures are mild; and mulch may be the only protection necessary. However, be sure to keep watch on the climate change. Protect plants with temporary row covers such as leftover fencing.

Zone 10

Covering is rarely needed; some gardeners in this region use tarps or light covers. Some gardeners in Southern California may choose to start growing in greenhouses and then transfer plants to raised beds with adequate lighting.

Zone 11

Bugs, aphids and other insects are the biggest threat to winter harvests. It isn't cold enough to consider heavy frost covers; but light covers, or fencing, may deter deer, rodents and small bugs from nibbling on gardens.

Zones 12-13

Covers aren't needed; but it's best to wait until the heat cools in parts of the region, as to not destroy crops.