Beds Ready for Spring Planting, Figs and Lettuces Readied for Cold

Much colder weather has been sneaking in and out of the garden but leaving traces of its presence with some blackened leaves on frost-sensitive plants and threatening to brazenly show itself in full force sometime soon. This fall I vow to put all in order before that event rather than, on some very cold night, running around, flashlight in hand, gathering and protecting plants.

Before even getting to the plants, drip irrigation must be readied for winter. Main lines and drip lines can remain outdoors but right near the spigot, the timer, the filter, and pressure reducer must be brought indoors where they won’t freeze. I plug the inlet for the drip’s main line to keep out curious insects. At the far end of the line is a cap that I loosen enough to let water drain out. Opening all other valves along the line leaves no dead ends in which freezing water could expand to break lines.

Begonia, amaryllis, Maid of Orleans jasmine (Jasminium sambac), and other topical plants are next in importance. Being near the radiating warmth of the house has spared them recent slightly frosty nights. Colder temperatures would not be so kind. I snap the stems off the begonias right at ground level and put the pots in the basement where cool temperatures will keep the tubers dormant to wait out winter. Amaryllis plants also go into the basement. Cool temperatures and lack of water for a couple of months give these plants the rest period they need so that, brought upstairs to a warm, sunny window, their blossoms can show off their bright, red color against the achromatic winter landscape beyond.

Maid of Orleans jasmine right away gets a prominent place in a sunny window to share its nonstop, sweet fragrant blossoms.

Figs, Pomegranates, & Subtropicals Readied for Cold, But Not Too Much

Fig, pineapple guava, Chilean guava, and pomegranate are subtropical plants that tolerate temperatures down into the ‘teens so can remain outdoors for weeks to come. Still, many of these plants are in large pots, not something I want to be lugging around following at last minute threat of frigid temperatures. So I’ll gather them together in a convenient location for quick dispatch indoors when needed.

Potted subtropical plants are getting ready for colder -- but not too cold -- weather

Potted subtropical plants are getting ready for colder — but not too cold — weather

The guavas, as well as kumquat and common jasmine (Jasminium officinale), are evergreen subtropical plants. The leaves are important to these plants both for beauty and for function so they’ll make the move indoors before the other subtropicals to make sure their leaves go into winter undamaged.

Common jasmine stays out longest because some exposure to cold is needed to get blossoms in winter.

Cold Weather Vegetables for Weeks to Come

The vegetable garden is still green with endive, kale, lettuce, turnips, Brussels sprouts, arugula, and other cold-hardy vegetables. Soon, though, their cold tolerances will be tested. I’ll pre-empt that testing by covering some of the beds with tunnels of fabric (“fleece” to the Brits, “floating row covers” to us colonists) or clear plastic. No need yet to cover the plants but better to have the metal hoops which support the fleece or plastic in place and ready for the covering before that frigid night to come.

Metal hoops readied to support covers for lettuce.

Metal hoops readied to support covers for lettuce.

Not all hardy vegetables get covered; just the leafy ones — lettuce, mustard, arugula, and endive — for fresh salads in the weeks to come. Brussels sprouts and kale are so cold hardy that they can go for weeks without protection, and, anyway, they’re too tall to cover. Leeks also can stay outdoors unprotected until December, or later, then get dug up and packed together in a box or large pot to store in the basement and use as needed.

Carrots, beets, turnips, and winter radishes enjoy the protection of the earth. With a deep mulch of leaves or straw, they could remain tender and unfrozen all winter. More convenient for eating is to dig them up just before really frigid weather descends on the garden and pack them in boxes with dry leaves to store in the cool temperatures of the basement. I’m putting off deciding which option to choose.

Fresh Lettuce ‘Til When?

Someone recently told me that they gardened maniacally all summer and now they are finished for the season  . . . which reminds me of some more things that I still have to do. Plant garlic. I planted cloves back in early September; a second planting, now, will give some indication if early or late planting is better. Mulch blueberries as soon as their leaves all drop. Sift compost and garden soil into buckets to store for making potting soil in late winter. Cut down asparagus plants after the tops yellow, and mulch the bed. Clean up spent vegetable beds of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants and spread them with an inch depth of compost. Mow hayfield and lawn to expose rodents to predators and, in the hayfield, to keep blackberry, sumac, and autumn olive from taking over. Plant bulbs (a large, naturalized planting of alliums; more on that some other time).

Metal hoops readied to support covers for lettuce.

Beds readied for spring, and lettuce readied for winter

I’d also like to divide older plants in a flower bed and dig out weeds that are starting to think they’re home. And build a rustic fence to hid the propane tank for the greenhouse.

I’m not yet ready to throw in the trowel for this season.

6 replies
  1. Mari
    Mari says:

    Thanks for the encouragement to keep going! I sure understand the desire to take a break though. Wish I had your discipline. I did plant a little lettuce – and a few other things – in No. Cal. so quite a few options. I like your metal hoops (I don’t really want to do the pvc pipe thing) – can you tell us about them? Did you make them or buy them? Your garden is beautiful. I use a lot of straw for mulch, and even so there are lots of weeds and it is not as pretty as yours for sure. Great, great job, Lee. Love your updates.

    • Lee Reich
      Lee Reich says:

      Thanks for complimenting my garden; sometimes I look at it too critically, focussing too much all that needs to be improved. The metal hoops are zig-zag wire that’s available in 10 foot lengths at building supply stores for laying between courses of concrete blocks for strengthening. Some kinds are H-type design rather than zig-zag. I cut them in half and the 5 foot pieces are just about right for my 3 foot wide beds. (Six foot long pieces would be a little better.)

  2. alice stewart
    alice stewart says:

    my garage door is an old fashioned double door so not too much cold air comes in when we go in and out of the house. does not freeze. i bring in my potted figs, bananas, geraniums and they go dormant for the winter. i water once or twice during the winter. in march the fig buds start getting bigger and by the time i take the plants out in late april there are small figs and leaves.

  3. Kathy Violet Fern
    Kathy Violet Fern says:

    Thank you for kicking my butt! I will clean up my beds, I will! I have managed to only bring inside those items that should not freeze i.e. pottery sun from Mexico. You have also inspired me to become way more organized so that I have trays of lettuces planted in my stand alone (non-heated) greenhouse to lengthen the season. I am so impressed with your tropical pots! To grow guava or pomegranate seems luxurious. You have also reaffirmed my decision to leave my plants in the cellar to go dormant while I migrate. Thank you.

  4. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Our garden is almost gone now for the season. This is my first year growing Brussel sprouts. I was getting discouraged for a bit seeing these giant plants and no sprouts. I think I finally see them now coming on the stalks. Wondering if the cold weather will get to them before they’re actually ready to be harvested. I live in Northern MD.


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