How you treat your vegetable garden during the winter months depends on how cold your winters tend to get. If hard frosts are the rule rather than the exception in your area, preparing your garden for working in the spring is a good option. However, if winters in your area are mild, you may still be able to continue vegetable gardening for some time. If you choose this route, you will need to pay careful attention to the weather and the needs of your plants, even more than you do during the other three seasons.
Cold Climate Care
Prune perennial plants back to protect them during the winter. Snip perennial herbs back to stumps in the ground. This encourages healthy new growth in the spring. Judicious pruning also helps prevent winter snow and ice damage from injuring tender plants with its weight.
Dig organic matter, such as annual vegetable plants that are past their prime, into the garden. The organic matter will break down over the winter, supplying vital nutrients for your spring crops. If you have a compost pile, you can move organic detritus from your vegetable garden there instead.
Water your perennials before mulching. Plants that overwinter in moist, but not soggy, soil will be healthier and will rise from dormancy more quickly than the same plants in dry soil.
Apply 3 inches or more of mulch over your vegetable garden. Even though most vegetable plants are not frost-hardy, mulch will help keep weeds from sprouting as your vegetable garden lies fallow.
Milder Climate Care
Calculate how much time you have until the first frost date in your area and choose winter vegetable seeds accordingly. Fast-growing crops, such as lettuces, may take as little as a month to grow lush, full and ready for your dinner plate. Carrots, turnips, members of the cabbage family and some leafy greens mature in about 60 days.
Sow winter vegetable seeds directly in the ground according to package instructions. Different planting depths are required for different varieties. Lettuces, for instance, must be planted very close to the soil's surface because they need light to germinate.
Apply all-purpose vegetable fertilizer according to the manufacturer's instructions. Even if you applied fertilizer earlier in the season for your spring or summer crops, winter crops need adequate nutrition, too.
Water your winter crops adequately to maintain soil moisture. Do not make the mistake of ignoring your winter crops just because they are not as thirsty as your summer crops.
Cover your tender winter crops with floating row covers when frost is in the weather forecast. Use soil or rocks to hold the sides down overnight and remove the row covers in the morning when temperatures rise above freezing.
About this Author
Amrita Chuasiriporn is a professional cook, baker, and writer. In addition to cooking and baking for a living, Chuasiriporn has written for several online publications. These include Chef's Blade, CraftyCrafty, and others. Additionally, Chuasiriporn is a regular contributor to online automotive enthusiast publication CarEnvy.ca. Chuasiriporn holds an A.A.S. in culinary arts, as well as a B.A. in Spanish language and literature.