Gardening Tips for the Winter

Some of the crops popping up from SFBFS' Demonstration Garden.

Some of the crops popping up from SFBFS' Demonstration Garden.

As we head into the winter season, you may be wondering what you should do to prepare for the colder temperatures and fewer hours of sunshine. Your garden may be littered with plant debris, tomato cages or any number of trellises for climbing crops.

Fear not! Some basic housekeeping will help ease your mind as you make sense of the furious pace that was summer. Relax, it’s winter! This is the time to take a breath, clean up after yourself and warm up some mulled wine!

Once you have cleared the hardscape stuff, it’s a good thing to evaluate what you plan to do next with the garden space. Are you going to seed some carrots? Do you want to add nutrients to the beds? Walk away and cry uncle?

If you still have frost-sensitive plants on the ground, this is the last opportunity to keep them covered or sheltered from the night air. You can pile up dried leaves around the plants or use rotting straw. You can also cover the plants with frost shield cloth. This is available at almost any hardware or big box store. Depending on the actual temperature and the dewpoint (frost-forming moisture in the air), you can keep some production going until it gets cold (29 degrees or less). Last year, I produced my basil until mid-December with ease! It will also depend on how much sunlight your garden gets in the afternoon, how much heat your mulch gets, and the ground until dusk. You may also use an old bedsheet, but they do tend to absorb moisture and may burn if they come in contact with leaves.

DO NOT use plastic as a plant covering. Plastic transmits cold and will collect moisture on the underneath and then freeze that moisture, damaging or killing your plant!

Hopefully, you have already put in your fall and winter crops in, and if so, you are probably in pretty good shape. The brassica family (e.g. cabbage, broccoli, collards, Brussel sprouts and mustard greens) are highly frost-resistant and thrive in the cooler weather. However, if they are just seedlings, protect them anyway. Carrots and potatoes are for spring harvest. Garlic should be in the ground. Any remaining radishes should be out sooner than later.

Fall and winter are good seasons to add compost you may have made with summer plant materials. It is now also a good time to add manure, as they will sweeten the soil with new microorganisms and will really transform the soil when the warmer weather arrives. Adding other soil amendments such as calcium, lime and other micronutrients is desirable at this time also. These amendments are slow to work with, but when it gets warm, they will enhance your soils. Be sure to test your soil before you add amendments.

Button up your above ground-sensitive plants and prepare for the spring, which in California, is JUST around the corner. The Sacramento area enjoys 250 frost-free days, so be thinking forward in preparing for the upcoming seasons.

Best of luck! Keep on keepin’ on in the garden!!

Submitted by: Dave Chappell
SFBFS Garden Coordinator