Sure, winter isn't peak gardening season, but that doesn't mean you have to stay indoors staring longingly out the window and dreaming of digging in the dirt. There are a lot of ways you can enjoy your garden during the coldest months of the year. You can still grow some things and work toward getting your garden ready for spring, as well as simply relax and enjoy the incredible beauty of what you've created during this season of rest and recovery.
Grow Frost-Hardy Vegetables
Winter is a great time to grow frost-resistant vegetables, assuming you planted them in fall so they could get established before it got too cold. If not, there's always next year. Make a note to plant things like brassicas, green peas, Swiss chard, and lettuce next fall to extend your growing season (and harvest!) into the winter. Group them fairly close together so you can cover them when the weather is at its coldest.
Grow Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health
Winter is a great time to grow cold-hardy cover crops to improve soil health. In late fall, I plant things like winter wheat, winter rye, crimson clover, and daikon radish in my in-ground beds that aren't in production for winter. They're beautiful to look at, and they help keep weeds to a minimum during the off-season. Plus, you can cut and work them into the soil come spring. I even sometimes pull up a radish or two for fresh eating in the dead of winter.
Plant Bulbs for Blooms Next Year
Winter can be a good time to plant bulbs that require cold stratification. While people usually think of fall and spring as bulb planting season, winter can work too. You can plant bulbs any time between fall and spring, as long as the ground isn't frozen. If you live in an area that gets extremely cold, you'll need to get them into the ground before it freezes for the season. If you live in a warmer area, you can plant them throughout winter.
Plant Fruit Trees
The best time to plant fruit trees is in the winter, when trees are dormant. Whether you have space on your property for a full orchard or just a few fruit trees, winter is the ideal time to get them into the ground. When buying trees, remember that some need to be planted in pairs in order to produce fruit. Be sure to check pollination requirements and purchase accordingly.
Prune Existing Plants
If you already have fruit trees, roses, or other plants that benefit from pruning, winter is the ideal time to tackle this task. That's because it's generally best to prune trees and bushes when they are in a dormant state, before they begin to grow new wood or buds, which usually takes place in early spring.
Beautify Your Garden Paths
Winter is a great time to get your garden paths in shape for the next growing season. This winter, I'm bringing in loads of woodchips and putting them down in my garden paths to create beautiful, natural walkways that, over time, will turn into compost that I can actually use in the garden.
Like this idea? Contact a tree service in your local area. Chances are, they'll let you come and get (or even bring you) wood chips for free. That's how I get mine.
Feed (and Watch!) Overwintering Birds
No matter where you live, chances are that at least a few birds (maybe a lot) will stick around for winter. There aren't nearly as many natural food sources - or stocked bird feeders - for them in the winter months, but you can do something about that. Keep your bird feeders and a heated birdbath full all winter and put out some bird roosting boxes. The birds will thank you, and you can enjoy watching them do their thing in your winter garden.
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor
Did you preserve some of your warm weather harvest? If so, then you can enjoy eating the fruits of your labor all winter long. Make your long-time favorites and try some new recipes with garden produce that you froze, dehydrated, canned, freeze-dried, or cured for root cellar storage. If you're lucky enough to get a few warmish days, go out into your garden where it all began to enjoy an outdoor meal made with preserved produce.
Set Up a Fire Pit or Outdoor Heater
Set up a fire pit or outdoor heater on your patio or deck or in your garden so it's comfortable for you and your family to spend quality time outside. Just imagine how awesome it will be to sip cocoa by the warmth of your outdoor heater or fire pit, enjoying the unique wintertime beauty of your garden at rest.
Cultivate an Indoor Herb Garden
Bring your gardening indoors during the winter on a small (or not-so-small) scale by growing an indoor herb garden. If some of your outdoor herbs are still going, you can propagate new plants from cuttings to grow indoors or start new ones from seed. Won't it be awesome to have access to fresh herbs throughout the winter?
Grow Microgreens Indoors
You don't have to stop your indoor gardening efforts at herbs. Growing microgreens indoors is a great way to extend your gardening season into the coldest months. Not only is growing microgreens fun, rewarding, and easy, but it'll also provide you with a steady flow of fresh, tiny salad greens that would be very expensive in a supermarket or restaurant.
Growing houseplants can be a great way to feed your gardening enthusiasm (addiction?) during winter. If growing houseplants is new to you, start off with a few low-maintenance plants to increase the odds of early success. Since the days are short during winter, consider choosing indoor plants that grow well in low light so you aren't trying to establish houseplants that need bright light when it is scarce.
Plan Your Warm Weather Garden
Winter is the perfect time to make plans for your spring and summer garden. Consider what worked last year and what didn't, what you'd like to add, and what your goals are - such as gardening to supplement your produce budget or to grow a lot of food to preserve.
My goal is always to grow enough produce for a year, so I use The Family Garden Planner by Melissa K. Norris as a tool to plan what I need to plant and grow.
Purchase Seeds for Next Season
Seed vendors sell new spring seeds starting in early winter, so there's no reason to wait until the last minute to place your order. Instead, once you've decided what you want to grow this year, scour your favorite seed catalogs and websites to find the seeds you need. Be flexible enough with your plan to make a few impulse purchases, too! Place your order as early as you can to secure what you want while the selection is still good.
Swap Seeds With Other Gardeners
Facebook is full of seed exchange groups where gardeners can swap extra seeds without money changing hands. These groups tend to be the most active during the winter, as that's when avid gardeners have the time to network online. I'm a member of several, including Seed Trading Society the Seedquel and Perfect Gardening Friends. I've shared and received a lot of seeds in this way.
Get a Head Start on Spring Seedlings
Get a super-early head start on seedlings for gardening season by winter sowing some of your seeds outdoors. Or, for a more conventional approach, sow some of your seeds indoors using seed-starting trays or pots paired with grow lights.
Peppers take a long time to germinate, and they like heat. So, it's best to use a seedling heating mat under your peppers when you start them indoors during the winter.
Enhance Your Garden Beds
Soil settles in raised beds and containers over time, so you'll periodically need to add soil. Winter is a great time to do this, as well as to top dress your garden beds with compost. This will give them a head start for the next season. It's also a good idea to cover any beds that you aren't growing in over the winter with a tarp or mulch to help keep weeds from springing up in the soil.
Build New Garden Beds
If you love growing and tending a garden and want to expand your space, winter is the perfect time to build new garden beds. Whether you want to add raised beds, set up in-ground gardens, or create hügelkultur mounds, getting started while it's cold will help make sure you can use the area come summer. Plus, it's a great way to enjoy - and tend - your garden during a time when not much is growing.
Catch Up on Gardening Videos
If you were too busy during peak growing season to keep up with your favorite gardeners on YouTube, winter is the perfect time to catch up. That way, you'll be able to apply the tips they shared throughout the growing season for next year's garden.
Take a Gardening Class
Instead of - or in addition to - watching YouTube videos, you may want to go a step further and take an actual gardening class over the winter. That's when extension services offer their Master Gardener classes; contact your local extension office to find out what's available in your area. Or, you could take a general online class, such as Abundance Academy or the joegardener Online Gardening Academy.
Make the Most of Your Winter Garden
For gardeners, winter is a season of rest and rebuilding - but it doesn't have to be a time of inactivity or boredom. When you need a bit of cold weather gardening inspiration, try one (or a few ... or even a lot!) of the ideas listed above. Not only will you have a great time now, you - and your garden - will reap benefits well into the future.