Hardiness zones are a way to tell what plants can survive in which climates.
For a plant to be considered hardy, it must cope with the worst condition that particular zone has seen in the last ten years. If you live in Zone 4, for example, your plant must be able to withstand winter lows of -20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and summer highs of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
If your plants don’t meet these conditions, they’re going to need some help from you if they’re going to grow successfully this winter. Here’s how:
Tips on Growing Plants in The Winter
#1. Place them near a heat source such as a fireplace or radiator, so they get enough warmth during the day and night. They should get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight during the day. If they don’t, put something reflective against the wall to bounce more light on them.
Use insulated watering cans for watering your plants in winter because if water freezes inside the can, it will expand and break the spout off. Warm water won’t freeze as quickly.
Fertilize your plants once a month with slow-release fertilizer or liquid plant food diluted by half.
#2. Try making small hotbeds using old tea kettles or paint buckets filled with sand and covered with glass jars or plastic jugs to trap heat in at night without trapping too much humidity in so you’ll have to water less often than every day if the soil isn’t too wet.
Place the hotbed on top of a layer of black plastic to raise the soil and keep it warmer longer.
Alternately, you can put them in a cold frame made of plywood or polycarbonate panels with 2 panes of glass or heavy-duty plastic propped up by an A-frame that you insulate with bubble wrap styrofoam sheets, foam insulation boards cut to fit, etc.
You’ll need to ventilate these boxes in the spring when the weather warms up because they get too hot for plants if they’re not vented. If your plants are outside, make sure they have enough water because soggy soil will rot their roots even when the soil outside is frozen.
#3. Make sure your plants aren’t going to freeze while you’re away by using a timer to water them daily if they haven’t been getting enough moisture from snow or ice. You can also use a portable heat lamp near the branches’ and tips of the leaves, but make sure it’s far enough away not to burn them.
#4. Keep them from the cold by surrounding them with a windbreak such as shrubs or fencing and putting a windbreaker or blanket over them at night, so they get more warmth.
Suppose you live in an apartment and don’t have the facilities to purchase potted patio plants instead of ones that need to be planted. Just make sure they’ll survive the winter conditions you have before buying them as houseplants.
#5. Make sure your plants are as healthy as possible by feeding them with slow-release fertilizer or compost tea before putting them outside again in spring. If you’re not going to use them next winter, bring them back inside and fertilize/water/protect them until it’s safe to go back outside again because weak plants tend to die first from harsh weather. You can re-pot these plants with better soil or take cuttings from them to regrow new ones.
#6. Take cuttings of indoor plants before bringing them outside again in spring, so you don’t have to wait for them to grow roots, especially if you want more than one plant.
Pot the cutting(s) into a pot with drainage holes because they’ll rot if their roots are too wet. Be sure the top inch of the soil is dry before watering it to keep your plant healthier during its first few weeks outside until it gets used to its surroundings.
Place the new plant on a table protected from wind and give it plenty of water and sunlight at least once a week and fertilize it every 2 weeks with liquid fertilizer or compost tea.
#7. Add compost to your garden and plant beds in fall or early spring to provide nutrients for the soil.
The best time to do this is after rain because moisture helps it get into the soil easier and makes it decompose faster.
Add nitrogen-rich fertilizers (i.e., blood meal, cottonseed meal & chicken manure) when preparing new beds or planting seeds; add phosphorus-rich fertilizer (i.e., bonemeal & rock phosphate) when you’re re-potting plants; add potassium-rich fertilizer (i.e., greensand & kelp meal) when growing fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, and pumpkins; add lime every 2 years to the soil to maintain the pH level; and add gypsum to hard, alkaline soils once every 3 years or so.
#8. Use biodegradable mulching materials for new plant beds instead of wood chips because they provide long-term benefits for your soil by improving its texture, temperature & moisture levels, drainage, aeration & fertility.
Don’t use plastic because it doesn’t allow water or air to get down into the soil where it’s needed. Also, don’t use grass clippings because they’ll quickly dry out in summer & smother plants’ roots if you put too much on at once. You can also lay black weed fabric down first before adding mulch to keep weeds from growing up through your garden.
#9. Prepare your soil in fall instead of waiting until spring because you can plant some plants that way. It is especially important if you have new beds or plant areas that haven’t had soil for very long, but it’s good for established gardens, too.
Add 2 inches of compost & an organic vegetable garden fertilizer with nitrogen, phosphorus & potassium to heavy soils; add 1 inch of compost & an organic vegetable garden fertilizer with nitrogen, phosphorus & potassium to medium-heavy soils; add 1/2 inches of compost & an organic vegetable garden fertilizer with nitrogen, phosphorus & potassium to light soils; and add uncomposted organic materials such as grass clippings or leaves around existing plants after turning the soil over.
And don’t use a rototiller because it destroys your soil structure and doesn’t allow microorganisms to break down the organic matter. It also kills earthworms & beneficial microbes, leading to more disease, fungus & weeds in your garden.
Use a spading fork instead because it’s gentler on your soil, and it will help aerate it as you work. Push the tines into the ground at an angle until they’re at least 6 inches deep; then pull them out towards you with their tips pointed slightly downward so that some of the dirt falls back onto what you’ve loosened up and most of whatever’s still sticking partway outstays loose on top without clumping down again. Do this several times over each bed or planting area; add more compost if the soil is really hard & add less if it’s very loose.
Then make a small hill in the center of each bed or planting area and plant your seeds or set out transplants on the flat part surrounding them. Once they’re up, keep these areas about 2 inches lower than the surrounding ground by adding dark straw mulch around them in a C-shape to help conserve moisture during dry weather and keep these spots from getting scorched when there’s been no recent rain or irrigation.
#10. Feed container plants every 2 weeks with an organic liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion during their growing season & water them deeply once a week so they’ll have plenty of nutrients.
For bigger containers, use half-strength fertilizer & for smaller ones, use one-quarter strength.
#11. Water your plants deeply once a week with 1/4 to 1/2 inches of water so their root systems will develop deep and strong. It is essential because shallow roots can’t absorb nutrients or water properly during hot weather or when it has dried out after rain or irrigation, which makes vegetables taste bitter & causes them to lose their color and become limp quickly.
Don’t just sprinkle your vegetable garden every day because this encourages shallow root growth, too much foliage growth at the expense of flowers & fruits, fungus & other diseases since wet leaves spread spores to other areas where they’ll take hold more easily than dry ones do; and overwatering by giving your plants too much water can cause them to rot.
And while it’s very important not to overwater your plants, you should also never allow them to become completely dry between waterings. If the soil feels so dry that it sticks to your hand when you stick it in & doesn’t crumble, then it’s time to water. Don’t depend on the rain because there won’t be anything for your plants if the air has been unusually dry or cloudy.
#12. Keep pests away with row covers that let light & air through while preventing insects from reaching your plants’ leaves & fruit. These are best placed over transplants before they’ve germinated and will protect young seedlings against cutworms, cabbage loopers, root maggots, flea beetles, and other bugs.
You can also put these covers over your plants in mid-spring to protect them from Colorado potato beetles & in summer to keep potatoes free of blight, mildew & Colorado potato beetles. Just cut a few holes so pollinating insects can reach them, and once they flower, cut the covers back, so they don’t compete with the fruit for nutrients or spread disease-carrying pollen.
Plant marigolds around your vegetable garden every couple of rows to repel whiteflies, Mexican bean beetles & squash bugs; interplant scarlet runner beans throughout your corn patch to ward off leafhoppers because their roots exude substances that drive these pests away from neighboring crops; get rid of aphids by spraying your plants with soapy water, and keep bugs off cabbages by adding French marigolds to their rows because these flowers give off substances that repel white cabbage loopers.
If you have a severe problem with cucumber beetles, dust the leaves of each plant with sulfur or wood ashes before they come into flower. It will prevent them from laying eggs since only the larvae feed on your cucumbers & if you can’t get to all of your plants at once, just dust what you can when they’re in bloom.
When harvesting vegetables, be careful not to spread diseases like mildew or mosaic virus, which are often carried on hands & dirty tools; always wash them thoroughly in lukewarm water containing liquid detergent before eating or canning them.
#13. Cover your plants with white sheets to reflect heat from the sun back into the plant. It will help raise the temperature, and plants will grow more quickly. Just make sure they’re not too tight so that air can circulate freely.
If you have a greenhouse, put up netting to keep out birds because when they are free from their nests in winter, they’ll eat any available buds or tips on your plants. And protect your houseplants from slugs by spreading ashes along their footpaths because slugs love dampness & the salty taste of ashes drives them away.
#14. Be sure to provide shade for tender vegetables like tomatoes if you live in a hot climate where there aren’t enough hours in the day for them to develop properly in full sun or in areas that get extremely hot in summer; this type of weather prevents fruit from ripening properly. Basil is also very sensitive to the hot sun, and even though it won’t damage it, too much exposure will cause the basil to stop flowering.
Also, keep in mind that some vegetables like okra and asparagus don’t need much light at all & will benefit more from a shady spot than one where they’re exposed to strong sunlight; and because many flowers contain poisonous substances which can be harmful to children or household pets if ingested, never plant tomatoes, eggplants, petunias or any member of the nightshade family near your home or any place where small children play.
#15. If you have a greenhouse, tips on growing plants in the winter are not a problem since you can start them early and get a jump on the growing season. You can also use it to get an extra harvest by starting some of your plants inside before setting them out in spring & fall, but be sure they’re hardy enough to take the cold & don’t put dome-shaped covers over tender plants like eggplants or peppers since these traps condensation and may cause them to rot.
The only drawback with greenhouses is that you must vent them during hot weather because heat quickly builds up, reducing their efficiency, and this buildup of heat is not good for your plants either, so keep vents open wide on warm afternoons. However, suppose you close vents on cloudy days when outside temperatures are cool or at night when outside temps dip below 55 degrees. In that case, you can reduce heat by 30 to 50 percent and still maintain a steady temperature inside your greenhouse.
More tips on Growing Plants in The Winter
Plants that will get through winter just fine without any extra help include Aloe, African violets, African daisy, all types of begonias, cabbage and kale, cape primrose, English lavender chickweed, chives/garlic chive, creeping thyme/lemon thyme, common myrrh geraniums (leaf), parsley glory lilies hyssop Jerusalem cherry kalanchoe marigold petunias meadow rue monkeyflower pineapple guava queen ann’s lace romaine lettuce/corn salad Santolina shrub daisy silvermound (artemisia) thyme wallflowers/euphorbia winter savory.
Plants that might survive if you take these tips into consideration: African violets, azalea, bananas, and plantains beardless iris canna lily cape honeysuckle cornflower English daisy fig geraniums, orpine lemon grass Mexican sage New Zealand flax spider plant variegated philodendron white mulberry primrose zonal geranium
And just in case your plants aren’t making it through the winter by themselves, here are some tips to help them cope with the cold: Cover your plants with sheets to keep them warm, but make sure the sheet doesn’t touch the plant; if it does, moisture can collect and cause rotting. Water your plants in the early morning or late evening, so they don’t freeze to death overnight. If you must prune your plants before winter sets in, do it in November rather than spring because you’re less likely to cut off some roots when the plant is dormant accidentally. For tips on indoor winter gardening, see this article.
As always, happy gardening!
1) Water deeply once a week with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water 2) Don’t overwater your plants, but don’t allow them to become completely dry between waterings 3) Plant marigolds around your vegetable garden every couple of rows, interplant scarlet runner beans throughout your corn patch & use French marigolds to repel white cabbage loopers 4) Dust the leaves of each plant with sulfur or wood ashes before they come into flower if you have a severe problem with cucumber beetles 5) Harvest vegetables carefully so as not to spread diseases 6) Keep pests away by using row covers 7) Feed container plants every 2 weeks & water deeply once a week 8) Spray soapy water on aphids.
I hope these tips were helpful for you! If anyone has any tips of their own on growing plants through winter, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below :)o. Emma-lee
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