Planning a Winter Garden – You need to start in July

Planning a winter garden? You need to get started in July!

Planning a Winter Garden

Fall and winter gardens are becoming very popular! I’ve been gardening in the winter time with cold frames and hoop houses for 9 years now. But it amazes my how much more popular it has become since I started. What used to be a novelty is now becoming common place even in the coldest parts of the country.

If you live in Zones 3-7 July is the time to start planning a winter garden. There are several tasks you need to get done early in order to be ready to plant your winter and fall garden. And these tasks need to get done in July and early August for most of us.

Planning a winter garden
Find your planting date

The first and most important step in planning a winter garden is determining your planting date. Fall crops and winter crops are planted at the same time. Your winter garden is an extension of your fall gardening efforts and you need to get started planting (either indoors or out) earlier than you might expect. You need to be planting seeds and seedlings for your fall and winter garden between 6 to 8 weeks before your average first frost date. Some even as early as 10 weeks. So to know your planting date, you need to know that average first frost date.

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The easiest way I have found to determine your average first frost date is to simply Google it! Most state land colleges have detailed records for frost dates for all the cities in your state. Finding this list is a good starting point. Also asking other gardeners in your area or calling your local extension agency (if you have one) can also help you get that date.

Planning a winter garden #3

Once you have your Average First frost, count back from that date 8 weeks. This will be your target date for starting most of your fall and winter crops. You have about a 2 week window to get those crops in the ground. Anything planted after about 5 weeks before your first frost most likely won’t be ready for harvest in time and will need to be protected with a cold frame and over wintered for and early spring harvest.

Let’s use my garden as an example. Our average first frost date is October 1st. Counting back 8 weeks gives us a target planting date of August 1st. So I need to get my fall and winter seeds planted between August 1st and August 15th.

Plan your Crops

Part of planning a winter garden is choosing the crops you want to grow. There are as many as 30 different crops that can be planted for fall and winter harvest. ALL of them are considered cool weather crops. Don’t plant things like tomatoes, squash, beans or corn. Temperatures in the fall will prevent these from growing.

Planning a winter garden #2

Instead you will be planting lettuce, carrots, spinach, swiss chard, Asian greens, radishes, etc.

For a more detailed list of the crops you can grow for fall and winter harvest check out these two posts I wrote as part of my winter gardening series:

Crop Selection #1
Crop Selection #2

Buying seeds

In July you need to be ordering those seeds from your favorite seed companies. As the popularity of winter gardening has grown many seed companies have responded by offering many hardy varieties of seeds and some that are even bread specifically for these cold weather conditions.

I love Johnny’s seeds for their huge selection of fall and winter ready seeds. Also Territorial seed company is now getting a very respectable supply and even publishes a fall seed catalog.

Prepping the soil

Part of planning a winter garden is getting the soil in your beds ready! And entire extra season of gardening will put a lot of stress on your soil! Be sure to treat it right be amending it will plenty of organic material before you plant your fall and winter crops.

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Fire up your seed starter again

One of the biggest challenges that fall and winter gardeners face is space! My planting date for my fall and winter garden is August 1st. My summer garden is still flourishing at that time. In fact in many cases it is just really starting to kick in! So I can’t just clear out productive plants to put in a fall garden.

The easiest way around this is to fire up my seed starter again on August 1st and start many of my seedlings for fall and winter indoors! You can’t do this for every crop, but most of the leafy greens (think lettuce, chard, kale, Asian Greens, etc) can be started indoors on your planting date and then transplanted outside 6 to 8 weeks later when your summer crops are winding down.

Plan for a method of protecting your crops from the cold

As the fall progress into winter you will need a way to protect your crops from the freezing temperatures. This is accomplished with either a cold frame or a hoop house. You need to get started now on planning and building these structures.

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To learn more about building cold frames and hoop houses you can check out these two posts:

Building a simple hoop house
Building a garden cold frame

Take my Year Round Gardening Video Course

The last step in planning a winter garden is to get all the knowledge you can! A great way to do that is to take my 5 hour Year Round Gardening video course on the Online Gardening School!

I’ve designed this course to teach you everything you need to know to grow a fall and winter garden and even to get started much earlier in the spring! This is a very extensive course that I’ve worked hard to make interesting and informative. Just follow the link below and you can get this normally $40 course for half off! Just $20!

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