Turn, Turn, Turn: Commencing the Winter Wind-Down in Your Bay Area Garden

by Matt Solis


Despite the cold temperatures, there are several ways for gardeners to stay productive throughout the winter. Photo: Hansen Landscape Contractor (2014) 

Most Bay Area residents enjoy the year-round temperate climate, but it’s gardening enthusiasts who reap some of the greatest benefits. In addition to having an exceptionally broad horticultural palette from which to draw, local gardeners have the advantage of an extended timeline in which to grow and harvest. Even when midwinter temperatures eventually put the freeze on the bulk of gardening activities, there are numerous ways for gardeners to stay productive. Here are some helpful tips for maintaining your garden during the winter season:

Keep harvesting winter-friendly crops. While most crops go into dormancy once the cold weather settles in, there are several that continue to produce. This includes root vegetables like carrots, radishes, beets and onions; cole crops like broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts; and leafy greens like lettuces, spinach and chard. Unlike most above-ground vegetables, lettuces and other leafy greens continue to mature and germinate in winter climates, which means new transplants can be installed every few weeks throughout the season. You can protect these and other above-ground veggies from frost by covering them with a blanket or row cover when chilly temperatures are forecast.

Put non-producing sections of your garden to bed. Bay Area gardeners may benefit from an extended curfew in terms of production, but at some point, the greater part of your garden will need to be put to bed. This primarily consists of maintenance tasks like pruning and clearing plant beds of debris and remains. Since many plants will be entering dormancy, it’s a perfect time to prune, as well as to identify and remove any signs of disease. Once all unused areas have been cleared, sow a cover crop of fava beans, field peas or similar leguminous plants—this will minimize soil erosion and act as a source of nitrogen, which will invigorate the soil for the coming spring.

Be water-wise. Most people have an “all or nothing” mentality when it comes to watering their gardens, but in reality, proper irrigation requires a more nuanced approach. While it’s good to reduce the frequency of irrigation in conjunction with the shorter, cooler days of fall, you shouldn’t stop watering completely in the winter, as dry soil makes plant roots more susceptible to freezing. A great way to keep your soil hydrated without overwatering is by adding rain sensors to your irrigation system. By delaying your irrigation timer for two to three days following rain, you can take the guesswork out of winter watering.

Pre-plant bulbs and other gradual bloomers. Mid-to-late fall is an ideal time to plant spring bulbs like daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, as well as Allium vegetables like garlic and shallots. It’s also a good time for planting many perennials and California Natives. Plant proactively to set yourself up for a beautiful and flavorful spring season.

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