Build a basic cold frame
I prefer wood frames because they are affordable, durable, and easy to source, construct, and fix. You can also use PVC, hay bales, cinder block, etc. Build a frame to surround your plants (no bigger than 4’ x 8’). Find a suitable cover, which can be glass or a thicker, clear plastic sheeting material. You can add hinges and a handle if you want for opening and closing.
How to make a “hot bed” (or heated growing bed)
You can grow crops in wintertime (yes, you really can). Many plants have winter varieties available. All this requires is some manure or compost and physical effort. You’ll want to dig down about 18” to 24” under the frame and add fresh manure or compost. Turn every couple of days for about a week until it settles, then cover with roughly 6” of soil. Transplant or sow some new seeds. As the material decomposes, it will generate enough heat to keep the plants alive.
Tips and tricks for cold framing
- Face beds south for sunlight. The sun in the fall and winter is different than in spring and summer.
- Shorter cold frames do better at trapping heat (important for colder climates).
- Use plastic sheeting instead of glass. It doesn’t break!
- Hot air can kill your plants, so air out during warmer winter days. Some will need to be uncovered entirely, some will need to be opened just a crack. When the nights are warm enough, remove the cover.
- Water your plants! Even though you water less than in the summer, it is still important!
- Anchor your cold frame down if you use lighter materials or live in a windy area.
- Don’t place your frames under trees, they need full sun. Plus less bird poop.
- Don’t have time to make a bed? Use milk jugs as a temporary cover for smaller plants or use hay bales (good insulation) to surround the bed and cover it with a translucent material.
Planning your Garden - Shae
Winter is such a cold and dreary time. Mix that with seasonal affective disorder, and some of us can get pretty low. One of my favorite things to do in the winter to help combat this is to dream of the upcoming garden I will have and start planning for it. This is a good time to draw or map out how you want your garden. Start ordering seeds and pre-ordering online & catalog plants, bare roots, and bulbs. Most of the time, the companies will ship them at safe and appropriate times for your growing zone.
When planning, don’t forget about crop rotation so that the soil isn’t depleted of the same nutrients each year. This also helps soil erosion and increases soil fertility and crop yield.
Study up on plants and when to replace them. For instance, strawberries do best for two years before you need to take out the existing plants and replace with new ones. Study up on companion planting as well.
Happy dreaming & planning!
Splitting and Propagating
Sometimes in your gardening career, you will encounter a situation where you have a plant you want to introduce into a different area of your garden, or you may even want to take some of your crop and share with a friend or neighbor so they can grow it in their garden, as well. What is the best way to do this? Well, it depends on the plant and the climate, but there are several common ways of doing it.
Splitting and propagating-
To split or divide? Splitting plants is limited to plants that spread from a central crown and have a clumping growth habit. Numerous types of perennial plants and bulbs work well. However, plants that have taproots need to be divided by cuttings or seed rather than splitting.
When to divide? While mostly dependent on the type of plant and your climate, most plants do best when divided every 3-5 years or when they are overcrowded. Most plants prefer to be divided in the early spring or fall, while some plants can be divided at any time, and other plants do not like to be disturbed and are best divided when they are dormant.
To divide dig up the entire clump of the plant, carefully divide the crown and root ball into two or more sections. Most of the time, hands do just fine, but sometimes a sharp knife or garden spade is needed. Once divided, shake off the excess soil, remove dead growth and replant.
Numerous plant species are propagated by stem cuttings. Most of which can be taken during the summer and fall. Woody plant stem cuttings root better if taken in the fall or dormant season.
A cutting is taken from just below a bud or the vegetative plant part which is then severed from the parent plant. Taking cuttings with a sharp blade reduces injury to the parent plant. Dip the cutting in rubbing alcohol or a mixture of 1:9 bleach to water ratio to prevent disease transmission. Remove flowers, buds, and lower leaves to allow the cutting to use its energy in growing. Use a rooting hormone to encourage growth. Place stem or cutting in bright, indirect light. Root cuttings can be kept in the dark until new shoots appear.
There are many types of cuttings, so research what is best for the specific plant.
Once cut, you can use water propagation by placing the cutting in cool water. Roots will begin to grow. Once the roots are half an inch long, plant in soil. Wait too long, and the roots won’t acclimate to the soil.
Melissa - Mulching and Insulation
Mulching provides a protective layer around your plants and over your soil. It can be made of organic material like wood chips, pine needles, and straw or inorganic materials like rocks, rubber, or landscape fabric. There are many benefits of mulching: weed control, water retention, and curb appeal. In most cases, a layer of mulch that is 2-4 inches thick is sufficient.
Mulch can also provide protection to plants during the winter months. Another excellent insulator of plants is snow. That thick blanket of snow can protect your plants from winter winds as well as providing moisture in the spring. Wrapping your trees and shrubs in burlap, bubble wrap, or plastic can protect them from ice storm damage as well as provide protection from deer or road salt. However, research has shown that most trees really don’t need to be wrapped and will come through winter just fine if their placement is correct.