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Best Practices for Home Gardens During Winter

Best Practices for Home Gardens During Winter

AUBURN, Alabama– Winter is here, but for home gardeners that does not mean it is time to head indoors.Best Practices for Home Gardens during Winter

There are several best practices for home gardens during winter. Planting cover crops, keeping your garden clean and mulching are just a few of these practices. “Right now is a good time to plant a cover crop if you’re not going to plant vegetables in the fall,” said Mallory Kelley, horticulturist and regional agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“A lot of them [cover crops] are legumes, so they add nitrogen to the soil, which helps boost your crop when you plant for the spring, helps with erosion and adds organic matter to the soil, which is good when you plant in the spring,” said Kelley.

Examples of cover crops in Alabama include lupin, crimson clover, hairy vetch and a number of other legumes. A more extensive list can be found on the Alabama Cooperative Extension System website. If you are not going to plant a cover crop, Kelley recommends keeping your garden clear of old crops and weeds. Sanitation practices are effective in boosting the success of a vegetable garden.

Disease is another large concern for gardeners. “If you have a big problem with diseases, you may also want to think about soil solarization in the wintertime,” said Kelley. Soil solarization is the process of essentially cooking the top layer of the soil, which will kill the weeds, seeds and diseases that exist there. This prepares the soil for the upcoming spring and allows for fresh crops to be planted.

Another way to prepare the soil for the spring is mulching. “If there’s anything you can do to help suppress weeds, add organic matter, equalize moisture levels and retain moisture, it’s mulch. I’d say that it is the key to any garden. Mulch is your best friend,” said Kelley.

Further tips for late winter and early spring include planting trap crops and adjusting the pH balance of the soil. A trap crop, such as a sunflower or a sorghum, attracts pests away from the edible crops. This allows the gardener to spray the trap crop to kill pests without spraying the edible crops. To adjust the pH balance of the soil, lime can be added. Lime can be added any time of year, including winter.

Cover crops, sanitation, soil solarization, mulching and more can be effective techniques for a winter garden. Using these tactics will lead to healthier soil, which will lead to healthier crops in the spring.

To learn more about how to enhance your garden and landscape, check out Alabama Extension’s “Gardening in the South” series. You can find the series on iBooks.

Based on proven Master Gardener training and seasoned with university research, the “Gardening in the South” series of books is packed with information, tips and tricks to being a successful Southern gardener.

Have a gardening question? Call the Master Gardener Helpline. To reach the helpline, dial 1-877-252-GROW (4769).

Photo Credit: Wheelbarrow, Snow, Winter, Garden  License: CC0 Public Domain

About Eric Callaghan


  1. It’s not too late to plant a cover crop? I wanted to plant one in the fall, but didn’t get around to it. So, I can still plant one now?

    • You could plant collards, turnips or mustard greens. These are your best choices this late in the season.

  2. Where I live we didn’t have much snow this year and I’m little bit afraid my crops won’t grow at all. Is that possible?

    • Lack of cold or chill hours can impact some fruit crops. Your best option is to consult with your area Cooperative Extension office if you live in the United States.

  3. Thanks for the tips, Maggie. Do you think broad beans would be OK for a cover crop at this time of year?