Cold climate gardening can take a bit more preparation and thought, especially in the shoulder seasons where the potential for frost is real.
Here we offer ten of our top cold weather gardening tips that can help you extend the season and have a successful harvest.
Using these tips will ensure you can grow a successful garden anywhere, even in the subarctic!
Track Your Weather, Especially In The Shoulder Season
For most gardeners, they can be relatively care free about the weather over the primary growing season. During the shoulder seasons, however, you should be paying much closer attention to the weather than you usually do.
Low night temperatures can have the risk of bringing about frost. When frost settles on your plants, it can be disastrous in many cases. For some plants, such as peppers, it can permanently harm them and possibly cause them to die.
The risk of a potential frost is highest when temperatures get around 36 degrees and below. Most plants really don’t like temperatures in the 30’s anyway, but frost is the real killer.
Knowing when to bring your plants inside and when you can leave them out is a vital skill in gardening. It depends on the conditions and if you’re able to pay attention, you can get free outdoor growing energy even during times where frosts are likely to occur.
Extend Your Season With Frost Tolerant Plants
There are many types of plants that are frost tolerant, even some that improve their flavor with a bit of frost!
These are great for early and late season options that can extend your gardening season outside of the typical frost boundaries.
Common frost tolerant vegetables include sweet peas, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Root vegetables are also a great choice with carrots, onions, turnips and parsnips offering a bit of early and late season survival.
There are some vegetables that improve with frost, these are commonly spinach, kale, carrots, collard greens, Swiss chard and endive. Mature rhubarb will often survive extremely hardy winters and be the first to produce in the garden, offering a nice early season garden treat.
Harvest Your Garden According To Weather Conditions
The late gardening season is always a bit challenging as it can often be hard to predict exactly when the first frost will set in.
While first and last frost dates are commonly known for various areas, mother nature doesn’t follow a schedule. Frosts can come early or late.
It’s helpful to prioritize your harvests according to the plant’s tolerance for cooler temperatures.
For all frost sensitive plants, you should work towards harvesting them before first frost. These plants are always the first priority for harvest.
Many plants will tolerate cooler temperatures, and even a light frost. You can hold off on harvesting these types of plants, taking full advantage of the late gardening season.
Just remember in the late season, winter is coming. It’s unavoidable. Keep an eye on the prize and harvest that garden before winter sets in!
Use Frost Cloth To Extend Your Season
Frost cloth, also called remay cloth, is a technique that can be used to protect your garden from frosts.
It can be used in the early season, especially if an unexpected late frost occurs and your garden is in the ground. Simply cover your plants and they will be exponentially more likely to survive that frost.
In the late season, the weather isn’t just going to change to winter one day. First frost is the first time frost reveals itself, but there are plenty more good garden days that can be had at that point.
Frost cloth can extend the season for those frost sensitive plants, protecting them from the first few frosts. You can easily get a fair bit more season than you normally would by doing so.
Just keep in mind that outright cold temperatures (sub 40F range) are less than ideal for most plants. At a certain point, it’s really time to harvest as frost protection features diminishing returns.
Use Cold Frames, Hoophouses Or Greenhouses
While this is a luxury for many gardeners, it’s often not all that expensive to build a hoop house from PVC or cold frames from old windows and a bit of lumber.
Maybe you all ready have raised beds? It’s a fairly inexpensive project to add a hoop house to them. It can be done from fairly inexpensive materials, including PVC and greenhouse plastic. You can even build hinged hoophouses that give you easy access to your protected garden.
Cold frames are also something that can be helpful. Cold frames are typically raised beds, built from a bit of lumber and an old window. The bed is built to the window’s dimensions and then the window placed over the bed. Most crafters will put the window on a hinge, allowing for easy opening.
These really have an advantage in the subarctic as the window can be easily removed and stored more securely for winter. As with hoop houses, they offer roughly a two week season extension on either end of the season. Or a whole month’s worth of season extension overall.
When you’re talking about season extension with cold frames, that can also improve the effective climate zone you’re growing in. A cold frame can offer up to one entire zone (or even two) improvement for the purposes of growing perennials.
In the subarctic, that means you can grow plants that do well in zone 3 to 5, but that opens up your options up a lot. They do have to be low growers to fit in a cold frame, but your options are still greater.
Use Varieties That Do Well In Cold Climates
Cold climate plants will excel when grown in the subarctic. The tendency towards cool summers in the subarctic offer a huge advantage for those colder climate plants.
Warm climate crops, like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, are a lot more finicky.
These often need extended periods of warmer temperatures over the evening to allow flowering, which is the basis of fruit creation. The comparatively low subarctic night temperatures can often prevent flowering for these plants.
When growing these types of plants, using varieties that are known to fruit and flower with lower temperatures is very important.
It may be desirable to seek out specific seed suppliers that offer these varieties as the seeds you will commonly find may not adequately fruit or flower in your area.
Use Raised Beds To Keep Soil Warmer
Raised beds are known to increase soil temperatures by a fair bit, which can really benefit a lot of plants.
Typically, most raised beds are created from dimensional lumber, which can be quite costly. Thus, they should largely be used for plants that will benefit from the increased soil temperatures.
Also, raised beds don’t necessarily have to be enclosed in wood. They can be simply built from the ground itself, using the wide-raised-row technique.
Raised beds allow the sun to warm the side of the soil, which can keep the soil well above the ambient temperature of the ground. In the subarctic, it’s beneficial to align your rows east to west so the exposed face can be warmed by the southern exposure.
Build A Container Garden
Similar to raised beds, a container garden is extremely flexible and offers warmer soil temperatures than bare ground techniques.
One of the best advantages about container gardens is you can grow plants anywhere. We use our containers on our deck, which coincidentally provides a very natural protection from moose.
The most important thing with container gardens is to ensure that the container size is large enough that the plants won’t dry out too quickly. It’s often better to slightly oversize a container than to under size it.
The container gardening concept has major advantages in subarctic growing, enough that it has become one of our core techniques.
Also, It can be somewhat costly to fill many containers with soil, so making your own soil with compost, top soil, sand, perlite, vermiculite, peat moss and/or coco coir can be a cost saving opportunity.
Invest Into A Good Indoor Plant Grow Room
If you intend to grow your garden from seed in cold climates, it is necessary to start your garden from seed indoors.
If there’s one thing we can communicate, it is to take a step back before you start spending any money and look at your overall gardening needs.
The issue new gardeners face is that they don’t necessarily understand what their needs are. We’re here to tell you, it’s more than you think. You start with an initial expectation, but the reality is quite a bit different.
We’ve seen many new gardeners go out with the expectation that they are raising seedlings, only to surprisingly realize that they are actually raising plants.
We recommend doing some initial research, learn about what it takes. More importantly, frame your expectations appropriately. It’s one thing to grow 30 plants, it’s another entirely to grow several hundred.
Plant After Last Frost Dates
In the spring, the weather can often be unpredictable and will change on a daily or hourly basis.
Spring is often deceptive, offering a “fool’s spring” most years. It literally tricks you into thinking summer is here. And then, BAM. Snowfall or deep cold temperatures.
If you want to ensure the success of your garden, wait until after your known last frost date to plant everything. Particularly any plants that are not frost tolerant. If you don’t know what that means, then wait for last frost.
While in some seasons you can cheat and get ahead with an early planting, it’s also quite possible that an unexpected frost could set in and destroy your early plants.
There is little skill to it, only chance.
At least in the subarctic, pushing the limits requires a lot of flexibility, plant specific knowledge and general testing of theories.
If you want to experiment, that’s fine. We do that too! Just understand, you can lose everything. The experts are going to tell you to wait for last frost before planting.
That’s All We Wrote!
We have an ever growing list of insightful and helpful subarctic gardening articles, waiting out there for you!
- Gardening Basics
- Advanced Cold Climate Gardening Techniques
- Growing From Seed
- Family Scale Food Production
- Subarctic Growing Techniques, Methods & More…