Keeping a Healthy Garden During Winter: 17 Tips for Winter Gardening

January 11, 2022

Backyard during fall

If the climate is optimal, you can keep a healthy garden during the winter months. In the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with a mild winter climate that allows gardeners to keep their vegetable gardens alive in the fall and winter.

With the right game plan and winter care, you can keep your garden thriving throughout the winter season. Do not store your gardening tools and supplies just yet. Here are 17 tips and tricks to keep your winter garden growing through the winter.

1. Consider Crop Rotation

Plants growing in garden

Consider writing down in your gardening journal where you have planted your vegetables and crops to maintain an optimal crop rotation over the years. Creating a visual map of your garden ensures you do not plant the same crop in the same place the following year.

Crop rotation can significantly reduce pests and diseases from building up in the soil. When you move the crops, the pest or disease does not have a host to live on. Expert gardeners recommend rotating a crop to grow in one place once every three to four years.

Crop rotation can also help maintain optimal soil health and nutrients needed for plants to grow healthy and strong. Different kinds of plants uptake nutrients from the soil at different rates and often “favor” a nutrient that another type of plant won’t use as much of. So, rotating the crops reduces the risk of having soil with unbalanced nutrients due to constant depletion from the same crop.

2. Remove Diseased Plants

Come wintertime, you will need to take charge of your garden’s health by creating a disease-free environment. Start by removing any dead or old plants that can risk infecting healthier plants if they are diseased.

If left alone, the diseased plants can overwinter and come back with a vengeance once the weather begins to warm up. You will only need to do this for trees, perennials, and shrubs that you know or think are diseased.

When removing the spent plant foliage and other debris, consider pollinators and insects that may need a home during this time of year. Butterflies, moths, bees, and ladybugs are just some of the insects that overwinter. Do not overdo the cleaning. Instead, leave some stalks and other standing plant material to provide a nest for pollinators.

3. Clean Your Garden Equipment and Tools

Removing the spent plant matter from your winter garden is just part of the clean-up process. Keeping everything clean and sanitized ensures your plants have a lower risk of suffering from stress and damage from diseases or pests.

Sanitize gardening equipment such as stakes and trellises. We recommend a simple bleach and water solution. Tools can carry pathogens, so proper and regular sterilization is needed. Not only that, it keeps your tools in working order to be used year after year. Do not forget to sterilize your seedling trays and any other pots and containers you will be using the following year.

Remove rust from gardening tools with sandpaper or wire brush. This is also the perfect time to sharpen your shovels and hoes with a mill file and use a whetstone for pruners. Apply an ultra-light coat of machine oil using a rag to protect the metal surface of your tools by sealing the metal from oxygen.

4. Remove the Weeds

Gardening equipment

The end of the year is an excellent time to tackle your garden’s weed problem. Weed seeds are especially problematic since they can be the first to germinate when it gets warmer. Nipping the problem in the bud ensures that come springtime, you will not have to deal with weeds.

You can dig the weeds and dispose of them in the trash or suffocate them under tarps or garden cloth so they do not keep growing through the season. Do not leave the pulled-out weeds in your garden since they can still be viable and grow later on.

5. Improve Drainage

Standing water can attract pests like mosquitoes, cause erosion in the soil, and prevent grass from growing in the lawn. In severe cases, it can even damage the foundation of your home. Installing a French drain can be an easy and affordable option to keep your garden and lawn drained and prevent soil erosion.

6. Stay Off Your Lawn

During the cold months of the year, your lawn will not be as hardy as when it is warmer. Giving your lawn that extra bit of care and attention during the winter can help it thrive later on. For instance, walking on grass after heavy rain or frost can further compact and erode the soil and damage the grass. Staying off your lawn as much as possible during this time can keep it healthy.

7. Plant Winter-Friendly Plants and Vegetables

When the winter frost makes gardening outdoors impossible, cold-region gardeners can take their gardening indoors. In regions with milder winter climates, winter gardening can be possible with the right care. In fact, some vegetables, like root vegetables, actually thrive during colder climates.

Consider extending your harvest season with these vegetables. The temperatures listed are overnight air temperatures and don’t represent the consistent daytime temperature best for growing these veggies. These are temperatures they will survive and grow as daytime temps reach 55°F to 65°F.:

  • Beet- low point 50°F
  • Broccoli- low point 40°F
  • Brussel sprouts- 40°F
  • Cabbage- 20°F
  • Carrot- 20°F
  • Cauliflower- 25°F
  • Celery- 30°F
  • Collard- 20°F
  • Garlic- -30°F (when planted correctly)
  • Kale- 10°F
  • Leek- 20°F
  • Onion- 20°F
  • Parsley- 20°F
  • Rutabaga- 40°F
  • Spinach- 20°F
  • Swiss chard- 15°F
  • Turnip- 25°F

If you want to add some brightness and vigor to your outdoor space and your climate is not freezing, consider adding these plants to your garden:

  • Hellebore- 5°F
  • Pansies- 25°F
  • Heather- -10°F (depending on variety)
  • Witch hazel- -10°F
  • Winter Camellia- 5°F
  • Clematis- 45°F
  • Winter Daphne- -3°F
  • Silk tassel bush- 10°F

8. Add a Thick Layer of Mulch

Man gardening pink flowers

Mulch is an all-season amendment to your garden soil. During the winter, soil temperatures can become too cold for plant roots. Mulch is winter protection for your plant roots, helping keep them at an optimal temperature.

Mulch also reduces soil erosion that can happen due to heavy winds, rain, and other environmental factors. Adding at least a couple of inches of mulch as a layer over your garden can provide protection from icy wind, hard frosts, and heavy rainfall.

9. Consider Cover Crops for Your Garden

If you are already in the thick of winter, it may be too late to plant a cover crop, although you can plant some winter cereals like wheat or rye or hairy vetch, crimson clover, and Austrian winter peas in the fall for your garden. However, these winter crops should be removed in the spring before starting your spring garden.

In the winter, cover crops can reduce soil erosion and provide your soil with nutrient-rich organic material. In addition, cover crops can protect the soil from the cold winter weather.

10. Prune Perennials

Hand shearing roses

Some perennial plants can benefit from pruning in the fall but not all perennials require pruning. For instance, blueberries prefer to be pruned in the spring. Spent raspberry canes can provide nourishment for the crown of the plant in the winter.

In the winter, prune your roses, rosemary, thyme, and sage. Avoid cutting back perennial flowering plants, especially the ones full of seed heads, which can help feed overwintering birds. Leaving the plant’s stalks and leaves can also protect their vulnerable crowns.

11. Test Your Soil for pH and Nutrients

Give your garden a fighting chance by planning ahead and testing the pH level of your garden soil. Gardening experts recommend testing the soil at least every three years. Fall is an optimal time to test your soil. Invest in an affordable soil test kit to check for pH and nutrients and understand what you need to do to amend it. Wilco’s Soil Test Kit is professional-grade and easy to use. You’ll receive exact results and recommendations on what to add to the soil in the area you tested.

Vegetable gardens can thrive in a pH range between 6.3 and 6.9. If your soil is testing above 7 or it is too acidic (below 6), there are ways you can amend your garden to create an optimal soil environment. Keep in mind, you will need to plan ahead and amend your soil weeks before you can test your soil again and prepare for planting your crop.

Fixing Alkaline Soil

Some plants like beets, cabbage, celery, cauliflower can tolerate the alkaline soil but others need amendments to the soil to achieve an optimal pH environment. You can fix your alkaline soil by adding sulfur, amending with peat moss, or using composted sawdust or wood chips.

Fixing Acidic Soil

If your garden has acidic soil that your plants will not like, you can improve the pH level with dolomite limestone or prilled lime, designed lawns, and gardens. Avoid using hydrated lime or quicklime on your garden soil. Bone meals can also provide a good supply of calcium. Wood ash can be helpful, too.

12. Add to Your Compost

In the winter, your outdoor space may look like a graveyard of dead foliage. What was once thriving can now be added to your compost pile and help sustain life in your garden.

In some cases, compost can have a high concentration of nitrogen if the main source is kitchen scraps but organic matter can introduce carbon to balance out the high nitrogen content. Fallen leaves are rich organic matter that can be great for your compost, can be used as mulch, or leaf mold.

13. Watering Your Plants

During the winter, your watering practices will change compared to other seasons. If you live in a region with really cold temperatures and water your garden during the coldest time of the day, the water can freeze and lead to frost damage. We recommend watering your plants during the warmest time of the day.

In the winter’s cooler climate, plants can absorb water much slower than during other seasons. Watering your plants when it is warmer out ensures the water reaches your plant roots and is absorbed effectively.

14. Protect your Plants From Cold Weather

Setting up garden for winter

Creating microclimates in your garden can help protect your plants from the winter’s harsh weather. For example, a cold frame is a transparent structure that looks like a miniature greenhouse that lets the sunlight in but protects your plants from light frost and cold weather.

The angled lid of the cold frame is made of plastic or glass and usually faces toward the south. This angle allows the structure to capture the infrared energy and make it warmer inside the small enclosure.

Wind can also damage your plants during the winter. Consider setting up a windbreak or planting your plants in an area protected from heavy winds to give your plants the best chance of making it through the growing season.

15. Amend Your Soil

Putting chicken manure pellets in garden

Most gardeners amend their soil in the spring but did you know that doing it in the fall can also work? Adding manure, compost, and other organic and nutrient-rich fertilizers like kelp and bone meal are good for your soil. Most regions can benefit from the additional nutrients during this time, giving them plenty of time to break down in the soil and providing benefits for the next planting season.

After you have amended your soil, consider adding mulch or cover crops to protect your soil from the rain and other environmental conditions, which can blow or wash away the amendments. You can remove the mulch at the start of spring before you start planting your crops again.

16. Grow In Raised Garden Beds

If your region is known to experience wet weather during the winter, it can be difficult to grow plants. Raised garden beds raise your garden soil above the cold and wet ground to improve drainage and reduce standing water.

17. Assess the Success of Your Harvest

Wintertime is a great time to assess how your harvest went this year. Did your fruits and vegetables grow as you wanted them? When your winter gardening slows down, you can reconsider your plants that did not thrive in your garden and research if there is another variety that can grow in your region.

If the plant varieties you chose grew well in your garden, consider making the most of your growing season by choosing varieties that are ready for harvest early or late in the season. Make sure you keep a document of what worked and what did not during the season and any changes in weather that contributed to the success or failure.

Get Your Winter Gardening Supplies at Wilco

Keep your winter lawn, garden, and soil in a healthy condition with the proper planning and care during the fall and winter seasons. For all your gardening needs through every season, visit Wilco farm stores to shop for gardening supplies, soil amendments, mulch, and more.