What to Plant in Your Winter Garden

Flowers in a winter garden.  Photo by Oisin Mulvihill.

A winter garden can produce fresh herbs and vegetables, even flowering plants to bring life and color to chilly outdoor areas. Maintaining a winter garden takes no more work than a summer garden, but the work does differ a bit.

Planning the Garden

The first step in creating a beautiful winter garden is picking the right location. Pay attention to outdoor areas throughout the day, and note which parts of the yard are getting the most sunlight from September to April. The position of the sun is different during this part of the year, so the light in the yard won’t be same as it was in June and July.

Sunny spots are also usually open, and that can be a problem in a winter garden. The garden area must be well-lit, but also somewhat protected from chilling winter winds. Look for areas near trees, fences and buildings that will provide some shelter for the plants.

Working Ahead

Start planting the winter garden as early as July. Grow ornamental plants in the summer garden bed or in trays so they can be transferred to the winter garden later. Edible plants can be placed directly in the winter garden in early October. Begin planting winter-blooming bulbs, like hellebores, in early spring so they will come to life at the end of the year.

Choosing Plants

Even the most well cared-for winter garden will fail if it’s filled with warmth-loving plants. Choose plants that can withstand cold temperatures – there are many options.

Hardy Veggies - Edibles like garlic, cabbage, carrots, beets, onions, radishes and kale perform well in winter gardens because they don’t require a lot of protection from wind. Broccoli, turnips, spinach, peas and lettuce are cool-season crops by nature.

Flowering Plants - Many flowering plants will thrive in a winter garden with proper care. Camellias can be grown throughout the southern US in winter, and some cold-climate hybrids can be grown farther north. Give camellias a lot of moisture and some shade so they will thrive in winter. Snowdrops, as the name implies, are perfect for the winter garden. They survive even heavy snows, and will go into dormancy to protect themselves from weather. Plant bergenias in moist soil to enjoy brightly-colored flowers. Witch hazel, hellebores and winterberry produce beautiful foliage in winter.

Herbs - Many kinds of mints, chives, parsley, thyme and oregano will grow well in winter gardens. Harvest herb plants sparingly during winter, because growth will be slow through the cold season.

Maintaining the Winter Garden

All plants need protection from cold temperatures and heavy winter weather. Surround winter garden beds with rows of PVC pipe, material that’s very affordable and easy to obtain. Place a row of pipe on either side of each garden bed. Use the pipe to hold plastic in place, so garden beds can be covered and protected against snow, frost and extreme winter temperatures. Alternatively, the winter garden can be protected with row covers. The fabric helps hold heat in around plants.

With the exception of the Pacific Northwest, in every geographic region of the US, it’s a good idea to mulch winter garden beds well. Mulch provides insulation to keep the cold ground warm. But in the rainy Pacific Northwest, mulch can become water-logged and attract insects, snails and other harmful pests.

Keep the winter garden well-watered. Most winter plants thrive in moist conditions. Harvest as often as needed to encourage new growth, and keep plants protected from damaging frost at night. With good care, the winter garden can be colorful and highly productive all through the season.

Photo by Oisin Mulvihil