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Winter Is For Garden Planning

Winter Is For Garden Planning

By Home Garden Seed Association
Photographs courtesy of Home Garden Seed Association

If you were super organized, you would have taken notes at the end of the garden season, and your seeds would be stored in optimal conditions. What to do when would be obvious. But if, like most of us, you only start thinking of the current year's garden when the new catalogs start to arrive, an organization plan can help! 

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Wrap seeds in moist paper towels. Check them after the number of days specified on the seed packet. If germination is less than 50%, buy new seed.

Gardening, Month by Month

January and February

Sort through your stock of seeds from previous years. In most cases, you'll want to discard any that are more than two years old, or at least do a germination test to make sure the seeds are still viable. Some seeds, notably onions and parsley, should be bought fresh each year. 


Draw a rough garden plan, a visual that will help you see which vegetable and flower varieties you will have space to plant. Be sure to include flowers and annual herbs in your vegetable plot to attract beneficial insects. 

Plan for succession. For example, tomatoes can follow a radish planting. A fall kale planting can use the same space as a row of spring lettuce.

Order seeds. That's the fun part!

Don't forget cover crops. Even in small gardens, buckwheat, oats, and rye act as soil builders when used to cover what would otherwise be bare soil during summer or winter dormant periods.

Your planting zone will determine the best time to start seeds indoors. Don't rush it! In much of the country, warm season crops such as tomatoes and eggplants don't need to be started until April. Whatever your location, gather your seed starting supplies—a quality soil mix, grow lights, pots, liquid fertilizer, a spray bottle—so you'll be ready. A heat mat is helpful also.

Build a cold frame. It can be as simple as a 12-inch high bottomless box covered by a sheet of plastic.

This is the time to direct sow cool season plants such as peas and spinach in cold winter regions, but only if the soil is workable.

Do a soil squeeze test: squeeze a handful of soil into a ball and drop it. If it breaks apart, the soil is dry enough for planting.

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Move cool season transplants out to a cold frame, if you have one. If not, you can "harden them off" by bringing them outdoors in above-freezing weather.

Many plants can be transplanted or sown in the garden even before the last frost. These include lettuce, broccoli, kale, and arugula. 

Keep on top of cool season weeds. They're notorious self-sowers!

If you planted a winter cover crop, cut it back before it develops seed heads, then turn it under. Wait two weeks before direct sowing in beds that have been planted in a cover crop.

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Plant zinnias to attract butterflies to your garden.


Plant warm season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, basil, and squash outdoors when nights are consistently above 50°F (10°C).

Plant lots of flowers.

Mulch between rows, using straw, wood chips, pine needles, or whatever you have access to. Permanent planting rows or beds are best, as the soil will remain uncompacted.

Gather stakes, cages, and trellises. The best time to support tall plants is before they need it. 

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Basil does double duty: the leaves flavor your foods, and the flowers attract pollinators. 

June, July, August, September

Weed, harvest, plant. Plant a crop of fall greens in late August. 

Enjoy the insect activity on your flowers. Keep an eye out for beneficial predators, such as syrphid flies, lady beetles, and lacewings. Note which flowers attract the most pollinators.

Keep notes on your garden. Which varieties did well? Which disappointed?

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In many regions, spinach seeds can be planted in fall too, and mulched over the winter. They'll start to regrow in spring, when the days lengthen.

October, November, December 

Pull out diseased plants.

Plant garlic.

Plant a winter cover crop in empty garden beds. 

Draw next year's garden plan, while this year's successes and failures are fresh in your mind. Rotate your crops from year to year. Keep a file of your garden plans.

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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