When wintertime comes and all of the flowers that you planted in your garden have gone to sleep until spring – what can you do to keep that green thumb active?
Well, there are plenty of things that you can do to keep yourself active, keep the soil in your garden active, and help alleviate some of the winter doldrums.
What is a winter garden?
Well, the term “winter garden” is probably self-explanatory. It is a garden that you plant when the temperature turns cold. However, it goes a little bit deeper than that.
A winter garden is one stocked with hardy plants that really add spice to your yard all year long. These are the types of plants that thrive even when it gets bitterly cold and can even look gorgeous when covered in snow. The kind of plants that will make you want to bundle up and head out into your garden despite the chilly wind.
If you want, you can also plant vegetables during the winter. There are a whole host of veggies that can survive and even thrive when the temps get well below freezing. Not only will you have plants to tend, but you can have homegrown food to eat during the colder months.
Why consider a winter garden?
During the winter months the gray skies, early darkness, bitter cold and other things can truly affect people. There are terms for it, from the “winter blahs” to “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” It really means that people tend to feel down during winter.
Studies have shown that access to greenery, living floral, and nature can greatly reduce those feelings. Human beings seem to have an innate desire to be part of the natural world. Being cooped up inside during winter leads to feeling down.
A winter garden depends on what you think will help you with that. Will seeing greenery and foliage make you feel better, or will seeing color amidst the bleakness and white do the job? Perhaps a combination.
Staying busy with a garden that you can tend to at that time will also help. If you’re an active gardener, not having one to tend to from November to March can be a bit of a downer. A winter garden might be just the ticket.
What types of plants can be in a winter garden?
That’s a good question, but one that is hard to answer for everyone. First, it depends on your taste. Are you looking to add some foliage or greenery to your garden during the winter, or are you looking for splashes of color like you might get from berries? It also depends on where you live. There are plants that are hardy and thrive in areas like Chicago – notorious for its very cold winters – but others that will grow better in cold, but not sub-zero temperatures.
Cold climate winter plants
In very cold areas, some plants you might want to consider include, but are not limited to:
Part of the genus known as Buxus, boxwoods have been popular in North America and Europe for quite some time. They are slow-growing evergreen-type plants that take the form of shrubs and small trees. They can be pruned and cultivated to look great all year long and are often used to create a border around gardens. During the winter, the green really stands out from the white of snow and they also look fantastic covered in snow.
Winterberry is actually a form of Holly. The difference is that winterberry loses its leaves in the fall and the bright red berries come out and really add some much-needed color to the garden. It is relatively easy to grow and it is hardy – capable of surviving some very harsh weather.
You may have used the astringent medicine made from this plant, but probably never thought much about it. Witch Hazel is a group of deciduous trees and shrubs that produce very vibrant flowers of varying colors (usually orange and red). Those flowers come out in during the fall, but they tend to stick around right through until spring.
Warm climate winter plants
Some plants that have been known to do well in winter, but may not be as hardy in places that get really cold and snowy, include:
Camellia is an evergreen plant with rich, green leaves. However, some species of camellia provide a surprise in the middle of the darkest months of winter. Camellia will produce vibrant, rose-like flowers in a variety of colors that stand out amidst a snowy garden. Some species require quite a bit of water, but if you find a space that has decent sun, but not too much, and some shelter from winds, they can last for 50-100 years.
Heather is always a popular plant in Europe, it has only started to gain some traction in the States recently. It produces very bright, beautiful pinkish/purplish flowers all year long. The blooms are bright in the summer and will stick around through the fall. The interesting thing is that the flowers don’t usually last all winter, but when the blooms fall the thick foliage that is left behind is also quite attractive to gardeners.
So, be sure you know the climate in which you live. One simple way to see if Camellia or Heather will grow in your area is to visit your local plant expert and see if they are selling it. If not, it probably won’t do so well in your area.
For those looking for vegetable gardens during the winter, the same issues apply. Although there are a number of vegetables that grow during the winter, a lot depends on where you live and just how cold it gets. For example, some hardy vegetables try:
Garlic is probably something you already add to many of your dishes. Now imagine having it fresh from your garden in mid-January. Garlic can survive temps down to 8 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s even good for you because it’s loaded with vitamin C.
Bulb onions won’t be ready for your use during winter, but they will grow nicely even in the cold, down to as low as 0 degrees. Then, come spring/summer, you’ll have nice, garden-fresh, onions.
There are some other vegetables that have been known to do well during the colder months, but to be sure they will work where you live, again, check with your local nursery and plant experts.
Brussels sprout – if you are like a lot of people raised in North America, the mention of this vegetable probably makes you instantly say, “yuck.” However, whatever you might have had forced on you when you were younger was probably not fresh of your own garden. So, don’t abandon it until you’ve tried that. The great thing about Brussels sprout is that they grow well during the winter and remain hardy all the way down to 0°F.
A very healthy vegetable loaded with vitamins, spinach is great for salads and side dishes, among other recipes. Spinach also happens to grow well during the winter and can withstand temps down to about 8 degrees.
Leeks are close cousins of the onion and garlic plants and you often see them used in soups or other dishes. It has a light oniony taste which many people like. Also loaded with vitamins, they are good throughout the winter and can handle temps below 10 degrees quite well.
So, don’t spend this winter just dreaming of the garden that you’ll have in the spring. You can enjoy your plants and liven up your home even during the snowy months. Consider planting a winter garden this year, or prepare for next winter.