One of the wonderful things about living in East Texas is that we have generally mild winter weather. We can garden throughout the year if we plan for the few cold days and nights and prepare our gardens and plants to handle the occasional freezing temps. You don’t have to have a greenhouse or a sophisticated plant heating system, just a few simple plant covers and a consistent plan will help you keep your garden going all winter.
First thing is to know what will be happy growing in your garden this winter. Many herbs really enjoy cooler temps and will perform well from fall to spring. Cilantro, dill, borage, Salad Burnett, soapwort, mints, lemon balm, chamomile, poppies, nasturtium and cornflowers appreciate the cooler weather and generally sunny days of winter. They will happily thrive when planted in the fall. If the thermostat dips below freezing most of these plants will be fine if they are covered by a cloth overnight. If it gets very cold or will be below freezing for several days a suspended cover of plastic thrown over your plant cloth will help hold in ground heat and keep the plants snug.
For vegetable lovers, the yummy and super healthy Brassicaceae veggies of the cabbage family are thrive in winter. All the varieties of cabbage from white, red, and even Napa will shake off the chill with grace. Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts also produce sweeter larger plants if planted in fall or early winter and are harvested before nighttime temps get consistently above the mid-70s. Greens like turnip and mustard will also reward the gardener’s efforts. Spinach, romaine and buttercrunch lettuce do great in winter. Lettuces are susceptible to below freezing temps and will appreciate a plant cloth or suspended plastic cover on very cold nights. Hot caps work well to protect them without squashing the leaves or simple sheet of thick clear plastic tented over low supports to form a temporary green house will also keep them going when the Fahrenheit dips below their comfort zone.
Once you have your winter garden planted, be sure to make your cold weather plan and have the necessary covers ready. Store plant covers in easily accessible areas as close to the plants as you can. That way, even if cold temperatures sneak up on you, you can quickly and simply get things protected. It is a lot easier to stick with your covering strategy if it only takes a few minutes to implement.
The last thing anyone wants to do after work in the dark is cover up the lettuce, but if you create a simple, quick, easy process, both your plants and your taste buds will appreciate the results.
Think about wind, rain and snowfall. Have ways to secure covers to prevent blowing off or collapse. Simple plastic hoops or some other way to suspend the plastic off plants will prevent crushing. A few bricks or rocks in the corners of your garden beds will keep your covers in place in the wind. In general, on sunny days when the temperature is over 40 degrees all coverings should be open or removed to allow for adequate air flow and to prevent scorching.
With a plan and a few simple covers, you can increase your vegetable garden’s repertoire all the way through winter, filling soup pots and salad bowls with healthy delicious food even in our coldest season.