10 tips for planting vegetables in cold weather

Vegetable gardening is typically a warm-weather endeavor, stretching from late spring until late summer or early autumn depending on the maturation length of the vegetables being grown. Most plants need the light of a longer day and hotter temperatures for optimum growth. There are some, though, that grow best in the cooler temperatures of early spring or late fall: green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, kale and chard; and root crops such as carrots, beets, turnips and radishes.
If you are planting cool-weather vegetable varieties in late summer/fall or early spring, there are some important aspects to keep in mind. Follow these 10 tips to have better success when planting in cold weather.
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1. Time planting dates around expected frosts
If planting in the fall, account for the expected frost/freeze date in your area. Get seeds in the ground early enough to give them time to fully mature before the threat of hard frost. When planting in the spring, plant according to seed package directions – many cool season crops can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring, or approximately two weeks before the frost-free date.
2. Opt for varieties with shorter growing lengths
When purchasing seeds, look for plant varieties that are quick to mature. A shorter growing length helps ensure plants are ready for harvest before the weather turns unfavorable.
3. Work soil well and add compost
Your garden soil was taxed by the preceding growing season, especially if you are planting in the fall, following harvest of the summer's bounty. Work the soil well to break up any clods that formed and add a couple inches of finished compost to rejuvenate it.
4. Apply a light dose of fertilizer
Cool-season crops are fast growing; some varieties such as lettuce and radishes are ready for harvest in as little as 30 days. After planting seeds, apply a reduced rate of fertilizer to get seedlings off to a good start.
5. Hold off mulching until seedlings establish
Usually it is recommended to mulch garden beds after planting because of the many benfits noted by DoItYourself. In this case, give the seeds time to germinate and seedlings the chance to establish themselves. Pushing up through a layer of mulch uses energy they need for growing quickly.
6. Plant in succession
To ensure a continuous harvest before the weather turns too hot or too cold, plant in two-week intervals. This gives you a steady supply of produce during the short growing season.
7. Water regularly
Cooler weather means garden soil won't dry out as quickly as it does during the hot months of summer, but it's still important to water regularly. Keep the soil moist, preventing it from drying out.
8. Apply compost tea three to four weeks after germination
After seedlings have sprouted and taken off, give them a boost of nutrition about a month into their growing season. Home Composting Made Easy explains the benefits of using compost tea as a garden additive and the step-by-step process to make it.
9. Keep beds weed free
Cool weather crops want to put as much of their energy as possible into growing quickly. Weeds in the garden bed will thwart their efforts by taking valuable resources such as nutrients and water. Pull weeds after they sprout or use a pre-emergent (explained by The Garden Counselor) to minimize competition with the vegetables.
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10. Protect from extreme temperatures
Planting vegetables late in the season or early in the spring always takes a chance with unexpected, inclement weather. Protect crops by covering them during a freeze warning, or build a cold frame in the garden bed for a more long-term solution.


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