What's on the Market for Winter Gardeners?
The bounty of items available today for cool season gardening and for plant protection is simply staggering.
The internet is not the only place to view all your options because discount and big box stores, nurseries and home improvement outlets are also on the fall gardening band wagon. Even gardeners on a budget can come up with their own homemade plant protection with a few tips and some household items.
Cool soil makes growing even hardy fall crops a challenge. One of the best ways to extend the season is with gardening fabric. You can drape this lightweight material over any structure to create a hoop house, greenhouse, row cover, or modified cold frame. It even works stapled to the ground to directly heat up the soil for quicker germination, just raise it when plants sprout. There are several weights available and different mixtures of material. The most expensive rolls are not necessarily the best so do some research before you purchase to ensure you get the type that's right for your purposes. Agricultural fabric is heavy enough to be used as a frost blanket over trees, shrubs and other sensitive plants.
Hoop houses are available in many sizes and constructions. They keep plants warm, sheltered from light freezes and are lightweight and portable. Most are just metal wickets or large hoops of metal or plastic covered with cloth or plastic. They are easy to set up and even construct yourself. PVC pipe curved and staked to the ground make an easy do-it-yourself frame. There are many weights of clear plastic from which to choose. The weight depends upon the severity of your weather and how long you want the structure to last. Gardening plastic is heavy enough for a greenhouse but you can also get a thick construction plastic that is cheaper and lasts nearly as long.
There are many cold tolerant vegetables which can survive in hoop houses or greenhouses, without external heat. Broccoli, carrots, beets, lettuces and some onions are among the list. New varieties are released every year in an effort to help garden enthusiasts enjoy their favorite hobby and lower their grocery bills. Cover crops are useful as green manure and soil amendments but also to swathe fall and winter vegetable crops.
Small structures like cloches and water walls lengthen the season and are easier to store in sheds and compact spaces than hoops and covers. A cloche is an old gardening tip that gives shelter to smaller plants and is useful for early spring gardening to warm soil and prevents frost damage. Most are glass but you can now purchase breathable plastic models, some of which are collapsible. Water walls are either plastic or poly and are composed of cells which you fill with water. You can also tie together plastic liter soda bottles and fill them with water. A better way to focus the sun's heat is to paint them black. Soda bottles make great temporary cloches too, when you cut off the bottom and use them to cover new seedlings.
Another very useful season stretching construction is a cold frame. There are very fancy models to purchase or you can build your own. They come in various sizes and models, from wooden to plastic troughs covered with glass lids or poly. The variety that is raised up on legs offers a perfect solution for small space gardeners and will fit on a small lanai or patio. Movable cedar constructed frames with polycarbonate cold frame tops can travel to whichever area of the garden needs protection. You can also choose to build one yourself with an old window. Surround a raised bed with straw bales and lay an old window or piece of glass on the top for a mini greenhouse effect.
Vegetables aren't the only plants that need protection. Northern gardeners with a yen for the tropics often buy flowers and plants that aren't suitable to their winter climate. A greenhouse is a great way to overwinter these tender specimens. You can contract a professional builder, order a kit, or search online for a plan that you can build yourself. Prices range from many thousands of dollars to just a few hundred for a pop-up model.
Many types of specialty covers exist for extended winter landscape protection. Shrub shrouds with zippers shelter bushes and small trees that might become damaged in an icy freeze. They are mad of poly, plastic, and even fleece. Frost blankets set over tree forms or stakes can insulate several plants or one large specimen. Plant bags made of frost fabric surround hanging baskets and planters. The "Rosy Cozy" is a housing especially made to protect the rosarians prize plants. Outdoor heat lights work under most covers to increase the temperature and prevent freeze damage to late season developing fruits such as oranges.
No matter what type or level of winter shelter you may need for your garden there is a product designed for you. If the purse strings are too tight, use old blankets, burlap or straw bales to help extend your growing season and delight in the fruits of your labors. Shopping around for ideas is half the fun and you can get great tips and t