During the coldest of days and extreme weather events, we want to ensure our soil, plants and outdoor structures are best protected from the elements.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Continue to mulch your garden beds as needed
Ideally, you want to mulch your beds well ahead of the winter freezing weather but if you haven’t yet aim for a thick layer of mulch around the base of your plants. This mulch can be leaves, straw, hay, newspaper, wood chips, wool, or any other insulating material. The benefit of this mulching (among many others) is that it will add organic matter to your soil.
Vegetables should be mulched well before any frost is predicted. Intense cold can damage roots and tubers - carrots that freeze often turn to mush when thawed, and the starch in potatoes converts to sugar which leads to an unusual and unpleasant flavour. Basically, it's best to prepare for winter early and mulch well!
Protect your container plants
Container plants also require additional protection. In the soil, roots are protected from frost by the thick winter mulch and snow, but containers are exposed to freezing temperatures from all sides. Many container plants die in the winter because their roots freeze! You can wrap the containers in multiple layers of bubble wrap or - best of all - heel them in. This means burying them in bark mulch, leaf mulch, or even in the soil for optimal protection.
You can also move potted plants close to the foundation of the house and under the eaves to benefit from extra warmth and protection.
Reinforce hoop houses
If you are in an area that will expect snow over the winter you will want to ensure your hoop house can withstand some snow load especially if they are constructed out of irrigation pipe. It's easy enough to put in some temporary posts - they don't have to stay there all year. This slight inconvenience that can save your precious greenhouse from collapsing under the snow.
Protect your plants in hoop houses and greenhouses
It’s helpful if you can take some steps to reduce the temperature fluctuations during the cold of winter. Heat sinks or thermal masses can help to trap daytime heat which can then be released during the night to protect plants from freezing. Large barrels of water that have been painted black are good examples of heat sinks. When placed in a greenhouse, ideally against the north side, the water will heat up during the day which will slowly be released into the air during the cooler nighttime temperatures. Heat sinks are an inexpensive way to moderate hoop house and greenhouse temperatures.
Here are some further ideas:
- Build a compost pile or two inside the greenhouse. It will provide heat, and also even out the fluctuation at night.
- Cover your plants with cold frames - even inside the greenhouse!
- Line the paths with flagstones or gravel. The stones absorb heat during the day and give it off slowly during the night.
- Large terracotta planters and pots filled with soil also offer thermal mass.
- Keep chickens in part of the greenhouse during the winter, or attach the chicken coop to the greenhouse. Their body heat creates warmth, and so does their fresh manure.
- And if you have electricity - put up a string of Christmas lights - it actually generates a lot of heat (the old-fashioned ones, not the new LED lights).
Order your seeds
After all that cold work outside, it's time to curl up by the fire with a big mug of hot chocolate and get lost in next year's seed catalogues!