The leaves are beginning to change from green to orange, the abundance of fall decorations are hitting the store and pumpkin-picking is in full swing. It’s time to clean out your flower pots and put your gardening tools in the shed.
Wait, forget that last sentence.
Just because fall is approaching doesn’t mean it is time to hang up your trowel. If you want to garden all year round, consider buying a greenhouse, which allows plants to still flourish in the colder fall and winter months. A true greenhouse will cost you anywhere from $600 to a few thousand dollars, but it may be worth it if you are looking to take advantage of your green thumb all year.
For beginners wanting to experiment with gardening in a greenhouse without committing to buying the building, Green Horizons Garden Center manager Jason Dubbert recommends constructing a cold frame, which he described as “the simplest greenhouse.”
A cold frame, Dubbert said, is a box-like structure usually built out of wood or PVC pipe that’s covered with polyfilm or acrylic. Cold frames mimic that of a greenhouse, protecting plants from fall and winter weather, while still letting in sunlight.
Unlike a greenhouse, a cold frame usually doesn’t regulate temperature as well since there is not a heat source. Also, cold frames tend to be much smaller.
A cold frame can be purchased for around $300, or you can build one yourself using just a few tools and components found at most hardware stores.
Green Horizons uses polyhouses, or polytunnels, during their growing season and to store plants throughout the fall and winter.
Like cold frames, polyhouses protect plants from the winter climate, but they are more comparable in size to a greenhouse and can be heated. Uniquely, polyhouses are built right into the soil and covered with a polythene sheet. Plants can then be planted right into the ground with the protection of the polythene or set up on tables, similar to the inside of a greenhouse.
“The plants are dormant in the winter,” Green Horizon’s owner Joan Penno said.
Then in February, they will fire up the propane heaters and prepare for the growing season, but during the colder months, they store shrubs and plants in the polyhouses to protect them from the elements.
A flourishing garden year-round
One of the most essential tricks to being a successful year-round gardener is knowing what plants can still thrive in the cooler months.
“You can grow lettuce, mainly late fall and early winter. You can do a lot of different greens, like kale and collard greens throughout the winter,” Dubbert said. “You can also get a second round of cold crops in, like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages.”
There are also a handful of flowers that flourish in the colder weather, like winter pansies, crocus flowers and lenten roses, also known as the Christmas flower.
In any season, water is the most essential nutrient for plants.
Cindy Crecelius from Jefferson City’s Gardens 2 Go recommends keeping a closer eye on how much water your plants are (or aren’t) receiving in the colder months.
“Sometimes, if we don’t get rain or snowfall, some people may need to water their gardens or their trees and shrubs even though their irrigation is turned off,” she said.
Overwatering can be an issue as well, so check that your pots have holes in the bottom for drainage. When watering your plants, remember to water the roots, not just the leaves. By just misting the leaves, you are leaving a perfect place for bacteria to grow. In the winter, most plants just need 1-2 inches of water each week. It is important to check on your plants every day to confirm the soil is moist.
The ideal temperature for a greenhouse is 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit, author and master gardener Jeanne Grunert said in an article from Love to Know.
In the fall and winter months, using an infrared heater — as well as small heating pads that lay flat underneath the potted plants — help regulate the temperature inside the greenhouse, keeping it consistent throughout the night and on cloudy days.
“You have to be aware of the freezing and thawing of the soil in the container,” Crecelius said. “With larger products, like trees and shrubs, freezing and thawing is not good for them. That container should be insulated to help maintain a constant temperature.”
Adversely, on days it is sunny with higher temperatures, turning off the heaters and opening the greenhouse doors allows for more airflow and invites insects to naturally pollinate.
Make sure your greenhouse has windows and an adequate ventilation system, and if your structure is lacking these features, consider setting up a fan. This will help with air circulation in the greenhouse as well as dry any condensation that might attract pests and unwanted bugs.
No matter the season, each plant has a different way of thriving and needs specific care to flourish.
“Some people do hand pollinate,” Penno said, adding if you notice your plants are not blooming or producing fruit, you may need to pollinate them by hand, especially in the winter.
To manually pollinate your plants, use a small paintbrush (a Q-Tip would work, too) and brush it over the middle of the male flower to pick up the pollen, and then, roll the bristles over the center of the female flower.
The male flowers usually grow in clusters of three to five and have no fruit at the base; whereas, female flowers bloom alone with small fruit following.
If the weather is nice and your plants are still not blooming, you may want to move them outside.
“It’s better to take the plants out of the greenhouse and let Mother Nature run its course,” Penno noted.
Surrounding your fruits and vegetables with flowering plants also helps with pollination because flowers attract more bees and other beneficial insects that will fly from plant to plant.
With a greenhouse, any season is gardening season. Knowing how to take care of your plants in the colder months is essential to being a successful fall and winter gardener. Using these tips and tools, your green thumb will come naturally.