Transitioning from ­summer to winter ­gardening

›› Alysha Punnett

A winter garden differs from a spring/­summer garden in a number of ways:

Rate of Growth
Plants don’t grow at the same speed in colder months. Instead, the lower ­temperatures slow growth down to a snail’s pace, so think of your winter garden as outdoor cold storage.

Amount to Grow
Because you won’t be able to continually harvest new leaves from things like lettuce and kale, you’ll need to plant more than you would in a spring garden where new growth is fast. A good rule of thumb is to plan on doubling the number of plants you would normally grow.

Instead of battling drought and aphids, the major winter garden maintenance involves keeping plants protected from a deep freeze (freezing temperatures that last more than a few days). In our climate, you don’t need to grow things under cover 100% of the time, but you will need to keep an eye on temperatures. If a freeze is in the forecast, be prepared to place some floating row cover or a piece of plastic over your plants for temporary protection.

Mulch’s Role
In spring/summer growing, mulch is used to prevent the soil from drying out and protect it from the burning sun. In winter growing, a thicker layer (4-6 inches) ­insulates plant roots and prevents them from freezing.

Some things you plant in the ­summer you will harvest in winter. But some you will wait until early spring to ­harvest. ­Purple Sprouting Broccoli is a good ­example; the plant won’t grow to maturity before the cold sets in, but as soon as the weather starts to warm they will put on a growth spurt and you’ll begin eating florets in March.

It can be difficult to figure out how to plant your winter garden when your ­summer garden is in full harvest mode. A handy tip is to poke winter ­varieties amongst your summer plants. When your summer plants are done, cut them at soil level and leave the roots to rot in the ground, where they will return nutrients to the soil and create air spaces for the other plants to make use of.

See our Winter Gardening Factsheet for more info and if you’ve missed the June/July seeding window, the Compost ­Education Centre has you covered with our upcoming annual August Organic Plant Sale, August 18th from 10:00am-1:00pm! More information at