The Winter Gardener – Growing through Winter

As the days shorten and the nights grow long, the hobbyist gardener and horticulturalist might be forgiven for thinking it’s time to pack up their tools and wait out the cold season.  But even as the thermometer drops closer and closer to freezing, there’s no reason to give up growing things entirely. 

There are a couple of options anyone with a green thumb can contemplate if they still want to grow through the winter months.  Today we look at three options – growing outdoors, in a greenhouse and bringing your plants inside.

Growing Outdoors in Winter

Contrary to expectations, many plants can and will continue to grow through the winter and it is possible, with prior planning, to plant crops with the deliberate intention of harvesting in winter, or of planting in winter for a spring or summer harvest.

However, plants can still have many problems growing through the winter. Cold and frost are perhaps the most obvious of these.  Therefore, plants should generally be well established with roots and leaves before the colder weeks of winter arrive.  That’s why it’s best to sow seeds in summer so that the plant has time to develop before winter sets in.

Another significant risk is that of animals and insects. With food in short supply in the cold winter months, any plants growing in the garden will be very attractive to anything that might want to eat them.

Though growth will inevitably slow or even stop as the temperature lowers, it is quite possible to get regular harvests of particularly leafy vegetables, like lettuces, if the garden is appropriately managed.

Growing in a Greenhouse in Winter

Greenhouses provide a wealth of options for the committed grower.  The contained space provides plentiful protection from many of the regular perils of outdoor crops in winter, such as frost and hungry birds.  The environment can even be adjusted at the gardener’s desire by, for example, heating the greenhouse, helping crops to grow faster and more readily into the winter months.

However, greenhouses are horrendously inefficient to keep heated. As gas and electricity bills continue to rise, the cost of heating a greenhouse has dissuaded many gardeners from continuing to bother with them.  However, things will still grow in a greenhouse over winter, in many ways better than in soil outside.  It will just require patience to wait for a crop that will germinate and grow slower as temperatures fall, but can still be managed with prudent planning.

Growing Indoors in Winter

The final option open to most gardeners is to bring the garden inside and grow plants within the comfort of the domestic home.  Even if you are sparing with the central heating, the natural insulation of a modern home and presence of heat sources from appliances and human body heat will help keep temperatures more amicable for plant growth.

Windowsills are an excellent place to consider placing plants, as are conservatories and, depending on the home in question, many things from tomatoes to potatoes, herbs and broad beans can be grown effectively indoors through winter.  Attics, cellars and other dark but warm places also provide an opportunity for the growing of mushrooms, which will grow quite happily with an absence of light and abundance of warmth and moisture.

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