Once I had a visiting friend comment, “Everyone is so hospitable (here); I’ve never seen such smiley people”. I’ve realized it’s probably because we know something that the others don’t, and I think it’s time to break my silence. As much as we like the sun, heading out in shorts and t-shirts when it gets to be about 55, there’s something to be said for gardening in the colder zones (5 and lower). I admire tropical gardens, they’re my eye candy, but gardening in the cold is really where it’s at, and has taught me to be a better gardener.
Three Secrets Revealed
We’re efficient organizers. Disinfecting and putting away pots and planters at the end of the year is a lot of busy work, but failing to do so can doom you to scraping your car windows every morning before work unless you make room in your garage. Even growing your own plants, it’s surprising how many cheap plastic nursery pots you wind up keeping just in case you need to share a plant. And for those of us who just can’t toss a seed catalogue because they’re so much fun to look at; if guests leaving your powder room know you’re a gardener based on the hefty stack of seed catalogues spilling over the back of your toilet, it might be time to finally get caught up on organizing them. The amazing thing is how quickly we can do this since we’ve probably already read them.
Winter gives us the time to catch our breath. Growing in cold climates reminds me of the arctic tundra; a couple of months of warm weather and a lot of growth, followed by a deep freeze. Lucky tundra, nature takes care of itself, but if you’re a northern gardener, then you’re the one who gets to coax things along, watering, pruning, propagating, the whole shebang. April/May-November is such a busy time, and even though it can give you joy, there’s something to be said for the break winter provides. You’re suddenly given the chance to explore other interests such as:
- Reading (Gail Tsukiyama is a new favorite author)
- Trying a new culinary experience like skipping supper and going right for the S’mores
- Learning how to do something you’ve always wanted to try (Last year it was learning how to play the Irish tin whistle)
- Finding new music (Carolina Chocolate Drops are amazing)
- Going on vacation to somewhere warm, after all winters can seem so long sometimes!
Winters might last several months, but we don’t even have to stop gardening when there’s snow on the ground if we don’t want to, we’re that good. And I don’t mean houseplants either! For diehard wintersowers, the beginning of winter gardening fun begins on December 21st with a raucous wintersowing party. Wintersowing is the process of planting seeds in moist soil, in a covered container (often in milk jugs which acts as a mini green house), and placing them outside. The freezing and thawing cycles that the seeds go thru in the winter aids in germination. Last year, I had close to 100% germination rate with no damp off. It’s been three years since I’ve kept anything more demanding than a few canna seedling inside, I wintersow everything. Here are a few shots of my favorite wintersown plants:
A few of the benefits of wintersowing are:
- You don’t have to fuss over tender seedlings that dry out quickly, or suddenly keel over from damp off
- You don’t need a greenhouse
- Once you place the jugs outside you can neglect them until it starts warming up
- You can get great germination from annuals, perennials, fruits and vegetables
- Hardening off plants becomes a thing of the past
- Eventually you’ll be doing the Happy Dance when you see your first sprouts
If this all sounds too good to be true, visit http://wintersown.org/to learn everything you’ll need to know about wintersowing. Gardening in the north is kind of exhilarating, if we can do that, we can do anything. And putting up with that much snow and cold makes us all that much more eager to get outside and garden when it does warm up, with a gigantic smile on our faces.
If you live in zone 5 or below, what is your favorite thing about gardening where you live?
About the author: Lisa Ueda offers home gardening tips at The Frugal Garden. Her aim is to inspire, awaken and motivate new gardeners into discovering their inner green thumbs.