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Seasonal Plant Guide Q1: January-March, Winter to Early Spring


January 24, 2022

White snowdrop flower buds

In many regions around the country, the first quarter of the year is a great time to start seeds to reap the fruits of your labor later on in the year and beyond. You can start planting hardy plants and vegetables early in the year and extend the growing season into summer, spring, and fall.

Depending on your region’s climate, you may be able to grow hardy vegetables and plants outdoors, under patio covered areas, in a barn or shed or start with crops indoors and move them outdoors later. If you want to maintain your garden through the winter and prepare for future growth later in the year, our ultimate guide to winter planting can help you get a head start to the growing season.

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Understanding Grow Zones

Understanding plant hardiness zones can help you determine which plants can grow successfully in your location. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) separates North America into 11 plant hardiness zones based on minimum average annual temperatures. Low hardiness zone numbers reference zones with lower temperatures. For Wilco store region examples:

  • Most of the mid-Willamette Valley in Oregon is in zone 8b.
  • Bend, OR and much of central Oregon is zone 6b.
  • Most of Washington, along the I-5 corridor is in zones 8a or 8b (closer to the Puget Sound)
  • Yakima, WA in zone 6b like central Oregon.
  • Petaluma, CA is in zone 9b and next to the Sierra mountains
  • Sonora, CA is in zone 9a.

Hardiness level indicates the ability of a plant to survive in cold temperatures. Each zone represents a 10 degree difference and is divided into an a and b part. Most plants can grow in several hardiness zones. However, you must factor in precipitation, snow, frost dates, and other seasonal factors that can affect when, where, and how you sow your seeds.

While grow zones provide helpful information for determining your planting calendar, you must also factor in your specific local conditions. How cold, dry, windy or wet is your season? When is the first and last frost? What are the differences in temperature between day and night? Many plants in your garden can handle light frosts.

Beyond grow zones, microclimates across your property influence what you can grow in your garden. Understanding different factors in your microclimates such as slopes, shade and sun exposure, humidity, wind breaks, and more factors can affect the success of your cold-season crop.

Cool-Season and Warm-Season Crops

The difference between cool-season and warm-season crops essentially is when you can start planting them. Cool-season plants prefer cooler weather, whether it be in spring, fall, or winter. Cool-season crops prefer soil temperatures between 50 to 70º F. Warm-season crops prefer root zone temperatures above 70º F.

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Mid to late winter is the perfect time to begin planting seeds of cool-season crops to have a bountiful harvest before the summer heat. January through March is a great time to plant trees and shrubs, including bare-root fruit trees in the soil or in containers, if the ground structure and composition is not ideal.

Winter Gardening: More Than Maintenance

Beautiful red and yellow flowers

Winter usually involves a higher level of care and maintenance over planting, if planting outdoors in colder regions with snow and hard frost is out of the question. In these harsh and cold environments, the ground can become frozen and uninhabitable for roots to absorb nutrients properly.

While winter will mainly involve preparing for the spring gardening season ahead, the planting season can begin indoors in colder regions and outdoors in warmer regions with hardy plants. Consider your climate zone, frost date, and microclimate to determine the best plants for your garden.

During this colder time, the ground can harden and freeze, making it crucial to maintain an optimal temperature for your hardy plants. Knowing the first and last frost date for your specific zone ensures you plant when the soil’s condition is warmer. A heavy layer of mulch can help improve soil insulation and maintain optimal soil temperatures for plants to thrive.

Snow can be great for insulation and work like mulch for plants but it can also make plants vulnerable to damage. The extreme temperature or the weight of the snow can break branches. Regularly remove some snow to avoid damage to your trees and shrubs.

What You Will Need

Hardy vegetables, bare-fruit trees, winter herbs, perennials, annuals, and bulbs can be planted during this time of year if the soil temperature is optimal and you have the right plant seeds. Starting plants between January and March is possible with the right gardening supplies.

Prepare ahead of your planting schedule with these gardening essentials:

  • Heated propagator: When growing seeds early or raising tender vegetables and plants indoors, you can maintain a stable ambient temperature indoors with a heated propagator.

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  • Cold frame: A cold frame improves ground insulation and protects your plants from the cold-season environment to extend your growing season.

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  • Greenhouse: A greenhouse can be used to grow hardy plants during the colder months. Greenhouses may require additional equipment such as lights and heaters to maintain a suitable growing environment.

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  • Winter garden supplies: Stock up on your gardening supplies such as hand trowels, pots, plant support, and seeds to have on hand what you need to grow a successful vegetable garden all year long.

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Having these gardening tools and accessories on hand before winter can help you clean up your fall garden and be ready for the start of your planting calendar from January through March.

Bare-Root Fruit Trees

Man watering plants in garden

Planting bare-root fruit trees from a reputable nursery or garden center is one of the best ways to give your backyard an ever-growing source of food throughout the year. We recommend planting your bare-root fruit trees between January and March during the plant’s dormant stage.

Consider planting these bare-root stocks:

  • Apricots
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Pluots
  • Cherries
  • Persimmons
  • Nectarines

Bare-root trees are generally planted when the trees are dormant. Gardeners in milder grow zones (8 and above) can start planting as early as late fall or as late as early spring. Gardeners in cold-climate regions can start planting in the fall before the hard frost or in spring when the ground thaws.

Bare-root trees should be planted within a couple of days after bringing them in from a nursery. The tree’s roots need to be rehydrated before being planted. Soaking the roots in water for a couple of hours helps. Dig a hole big enough to fit the tree’s roots. The soil should cover the roots and be watered frequently to keep the roots damp.

Winter Herbs

Young seedling growing on windowsill

Winter herbs are able to keep growing during the winter outdoors in zones 6 and warmer. Some hardy herbs can even grow in zone 5 with a frost blanket for cover. While you will not get a big harvest, your smaller harvest will be enough to add fresh flavor to your winter meals.

If you have an optimal growing environment during this time, whether you plan to grow indoors or outdoors, consider growing these winter-hardy herbs:

  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Common thyme
  • Chamomile
  • Chives
  • Mints
  • Tarragon
  • Lavender
  • Rosemary
  • Parsley
  • Basil

We recommend harvesting no more than one-third of the herb to keep it strong and hardy. Cold-hardy herbs can be planted during the fall. Herbs can be planted in containers and moved as necessary to prevent frost damage or covered with a frost blanket or other cover for protection.

If you live in a colder climate zone, we recommend keeping your winter herbs indoors near a windowsill to give them the most amount of light and have a better winter harvest. Herbs can be started outdoors and moved indoors before the harsh winter frost.

Annuals

Cool-season annuals can extend the growing season through the cooler season. Hardy annuals can be planted in the ground or in pots to give your garden more color. Frost-tolerant annuals can thrive with maximum sun exposure and thorough watering.

In warmer regions or indoor gardens, consider the following hardy annuals to give color to your bountiful garden:

  • Calendula
  • Carnation
  • Pansy
  • Viola
  • Primrose
  • Iceland Poppy
  • Snapdragon
  • Cyclamen
  • Cineraria
  • Shasta daisy

Perennials

Winter is an excellent planting time for perennials. Many perennials are hardy enough to survive cooler temperatures and be ready for a colorful spring. In certain wet environments, however, some perennials can become vulnerable to rot.

Ready to give perennials a chance? Give these perennials a shot:

  • Geranium
  • Lupin
  • Candytuft
  • Aster
  • Japanese Anemone
  • Salvia
  • Lavender

Bulbs

Plant bulb harvesting

Bulbs are generally planted in late fall or early winter but can be planted up to late winter, although the results may not be as eye-catching. Some spring and summer bulbs can be planted up until late winter to bring a colorful touch in spring and the following year.

If you live in an area with a mild climate and optimal soil temperature you can plant bulbs directly in your soil. If your frozen soil is unworkable, you can grow bulbs in containers and provide an optimal environment indoors.

Consider growing these cold-hardy bulbs in the winter:

  • Daffodil
  • Tulip
  • Hyacinth
  • Snowdrop
  • Crocus

Vegetables

Broccoli harvesting

Warmer regions can be good for vegetable gardening outdoors while cooler regions can handle hardy vegetable plants or an indoor/greenhouse growing environment. While spring is still months away, gardeners can begin planning ahead of schedule and plant vegetables.

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Leek
  • Radish
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Lettuce
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Onions

Lawn

Cool-season grass lawns are usually planted in fall and winter and include one or all of the following: fescue, perennial ryegrass, creeping bentgrass, and bluegrass.

Top Choice Fescue Blend Grass Seed, 10 lb.

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Top Choice Shady Premium Grass Seed, 20 lb.

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Wilco 16-16-16 All Purpose Fertilizer

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Generally, you should reduce foot traffic on your lawn during this time of year, since the grasses are not as resilient.

Start the Planting Season Early at Wilco Farm Stores

Winter is an excellent time to continue your gardening or prepare for the year ahead. Plant winter crops, clean and repair your garden tools, build garden structures, and get ready for the spring with winter gardening supplies from Wilco farm stores.

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