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Published December 1, 2023 by Nicole Burke

Winter Garden Survival Tips

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garden tips
winter garden
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cold season
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winter garden ideas

The Best Winter Garden Ideas

My first winter in Chicago was rough. Spoiled by the year-round gardening and warm weather in Houston, I felt like I had suddenly moved to the Arctic Circle. Wintry weather hit so fast, bringing snow all day long, and it soon bummed me out to look outside my window and see nothing green.

To survive that first winter and to get through the next ones, I collected ideas from fellow gardeners in the Gardenary community about practical things like how to prep your garden space for frost and snow. But I also wanted to know how to satisfy my green thumb while stuck inside. Here are my favorite ideas.

winter garden cover

Winter Garden Idea Number One

Start Your Seeds Early for Spring Gardening

Plants that I refer to as large and lengthy (i.e., those plants that need more than 65, 75, or even 90 days in your garden before you can harvest from them) typically need to be started from seed indoors if you're not going to buy transplants once the weather warms. Indoor seed starting is the best way to give larger plants a head start so that you can maximize how much production and enjoyment you'll be able to get from those plants.

Even when your house is buried under feet of snow, you can go ahead and start seeds for your late-winter garden. These will be cool-season plants like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and peas.

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I cannot say enough about the sanity-saving qualities of starting your seeds super early! That always gets us through February to March, the hardest parts of the winter for us here."

Meg Cowden of Seed to Fork

To know when to start these late-winter garden plants by seed, subtract 100 days from your last frost date. For the Chicago area, which still experiences frost into May, the result is early February. That means I only have to make it Valentine's Day in the bitter cold before I can already be taking steps for the second my soil is workable.

(Learn more about when to start seeds indoors.)

winter garden what to plant

Winter Garden Idea Number Two

Use Garden Covers to Extend Your Growing Season in the Fall

Poly tunnels, cold frames, and frost cloth can help you protect winter garden vegetables. Covers provide protection from wind and snow, and they insulate the area underneath by trapping heat given off by the plants and soil. While you may not be able to protect your garden all winter long, you can extend your growing season a bit to give yourself more time to enjoy some of your cool-season favorites.

Use hoops or poles to support the cover under the weight of the heavy snow and keep the wet cover off your vegetation, if possible. You can also use your garden trellises for extra support.

If you're in a pinch, good ol' bed sheets and blankets will work fine too.

Find my favorite products for frost protection on Amazon here.

Winter Garden Idea Number Three

Plant Frost-Hardy Plants in Your Winter Garden

Cold-hardy plants like kale, Swiss chard, and cabbage can typically hold up throughout the winter, especially with cold frames and frost cloth. Your leaves will actually taste sweeter after a little frost.

You can also plant garlic bulbs in the fall to overwinter in your garden. They won't necessarily grow during the coldest months, but they'll settle in and prepare to mature in the spring and summer. I don't know why, but knowing that there's something alive and just waiting to grow under all that snow really helps alleviate my winter doldrums.

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Most cool season vegetables are frost tolerant, but they are usually only hardy down to about 20 degrees. In my case, I can keep my garden uncovered and growing until about November. Once the nighttime lows begin to reach 20, I would cover my garden if I wanted to keep it going."

Rachael Carter of Floraculture Gardens

Before a freeze, water your raised garden beds well. Wet soil holds heat better than dry soil, protecting your roots from damage. Also, make sure to remove these plants that are not frost-tolerant before your first freeze.

(Learn more about some frost-hardy plants.)

winter garden plants

Winter Garden Idea Number Four

Grow Sprouts and Microgreens Indoors

Growing microgreens under artificial grow lights in my basement and sprouts in a jar in my kitchen really helped get me through winter months in the north, especially when I was missing that garden-fresh flavor of tender greens.

Both sprouts and microgreens are incredibly healthy for you and grow in a matter of days. No sun required!

(Learn which types of plants can be grown as sprouts and microgreens at home.)

plants for winter garden

Learn to Grow Your Own Microgreens and Sprouts

Microgreens rank among the simplest, smallest, and yet most nutritious and delicious plants you can grow in the garden.

There are many rewarding aspects to starting these quick-growing plants for yourself, but perhaps the best thing about microgreens is how easy they are to grow at home. Not just at home but indoors, even right next to your kitchen sink.

In this e-book we will teach you how to plant, tend, and harvest your own microgreens.

BONUS: Growing Your Own Sprouts is included in this ebook.

Winter Garden Idea Number Five

Plan Your 2024 Garden

Those months you're trapped inside more often are the perfect time to snuggle up on the couch while you reflect on your 2023 garden and plan your 2024 garden.

Take note of what went right or wrong in your garden over this last growing season and set goals for spring. Seed catalogs usually start pouring in around January, so flip through them for new garden ideas and inspiration.

flowers for winter garden
Join Us for a LIVE GARDENING WORKSHOP

Grow More in 2024 Workshop

Learn 9 ordinary gardening rules you’ve got to break before you set up your 2024 garden.

Winter Garden Idea Number Six

Take a Walk in Nature

Bundle up for a stroll around your local botanical gardens, conservatories, or arboretums. I quickly learned from Chicago natives that the Garfield Park Conservatory, Lincoln Park Conservatory, and Morton Arboretum stay green all winter long!

If you don't live near Chicago, click here to see green spaces near you.

winter garden

Winter Garden Idea Number Seven

Try Your Hand at Indoor Gardening

If you've got a sunny windowsill (preferably south-facing), you can start your own container garden indoors. Herbs and small leafy greens are the perfect plants to grow indoors during the winter months.

Check out this post for how to start a salad garden indoors and this post for how to start an herb garden indoors. If you've already got herbs growing outdoors and would like them to continue moderate growth indoors, follow these steps to pot them up and bring them indoors. These delicious leaves will be on hand for easy harvests at every meal.

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I have 6 orchids. For me, they're so low maintenance and the blooms last for weeks. I always have 2 to 3 pots in bloom at all times. I also have a jade and aloe plant, and I bring in my citrus, pomegranate, rosemary, and pepper plants. This year I am also toying with growing arugula and dwarf tomato indoor."

Trinh of @gardeningismytherarpy

I'm not a huge houseplant person, though I've managed to keep a fiddle leaf fig alive for a couple years now. I prefer when Mother Nature helps me grow. But thanks to these three tips from Maria Failla of Bloom and Grow Radio, I have a better idea how to help houseplants thrive.

Whatever you're growing inside, just make sure their leaves aren't touching the window because brrrr!

Winter Garden Idea Number Eight

Plant Some Flowers for Your Winter Garden

Pansies, dianthus, black-eyed Susans, and coneflowers can all handle some frost and will add beauty to your kitchen garden space.

winter garden what to plant

Embrace the Change in the Season

I'm willing to bet that surrounding yourself with a little more green and growing something at all times will get you through this winter.

Stay warm and never stop growing, my friends, even if your winter garden is just some sprouts in a jar!

Join Us for a LIVE GARDENING WORKSHOP

Grow More in 2024 Workshop

Learn 9 ordinary gardening rules you’ve got to break before you set up your 2024 garden.

Winter Garden Survival Tips

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