The mild temperatures of Zones 9-11 allow gardeners the opportunity to grow vegetable and ornamental gardens all year long. Winter gardening is a fantastic way to bring color and vibrance to the landscape during the long winter months. While everything might not thrive during this time of year, if you know just what to plant, you can have a bountiful garden that is the envy of your neighbors.
Check out our Monthly Organic Gardening Guide By Zone for the best plants to plant to extend your growing season, maintenance routines to perform, and tips for dreaming big about next season’s garden.
December Garden Planning
Gardening chores may have slowed a bit, but December is a great time to reflect on your garden endeavors. Look back at the successes and pitfalls of past seasons and forge forward with new ideas and enhancements for the coming year.
Review Garden Success & Stumbles
It is an excellent time for starting a gardening journal if you don’t have one already. Chart seed and plant varieties, their planting specifications, days to germinate and mature, and keep notes about what worked well and what didn’t. This chart will help you plan from year to year with knowing when to sow seeds, plant with optimal spacing, when you can expect blooms, and when to harvest your plantings.
Seed catalogs should start popping up in mailboxes at this point in the year. This is the perfect opportunity to sit back, get cozy, peruse the catalogs, and dream of what you’d like to plant in your spring, summer, and fall gardens. Ordering seeds early can ensure that you get the seeds you seek before other gardeners snatch them up.
If you have friends or community members who are also passionate about gardening, you might look for a seed swap nearby or perhaps start your own. Often, whether through seed saving or an overflow of seeds in packets, you may have extra seeds. Add some diversity to your garden this year by swapping and sharing seeds with other gardeners. Embrace the opportunity to connect with other gardeners and try something new in the garden.
When you aren’t harvesting your winter garden vegetables, pull out your garden journal, and dream a little. Sketch out some ideas or clip garden plan ideas out of magazines to give you visuals to aspire to. Perhaps there are even some indoor construction projects that you can do, like create a climbing structure or a raised bed to be added to your garden this spring.
Winter Garden Maintenance
Zone 9-11 gardeners don’t have to let their gardens hibernate for the winter like other zones do. Therefore, there is much less to do in the form of fall and winter cleanup and plant protection.
- Cut back spent plants to about 6 inches and add non-diseased organic matter to your compost pile.
- Add compost to your gardens to enrich and amend the soil after each harvest and plant some cover crops in gardens that are not being used for December planting or fall harvesting. Both will help to improve the soil and help combat erosion.
- Add a thick layer of mulch to your garden beds for added insulation of roots and in order to keep the soil warm.
Garden Tool Cleanup
This is the ideal time of the year to maintain your garden tools to keep them in the best working order and to eliminate any disease that might be present upon them. Not only does tool cleaning and maintenance ensure that you have what you need for garden work, but it also will keep your garden free from diseases that may have plagued your garden last season.
- Start by using steel wool or a metal grill brush to clean any debris off your garden tools.
- Wipe surfaces with a damp rag.
- Use coarse sandpaper to scuff away any signs of rust on metal surfaces.
- Dab vegetable oil onto a rag and wipe metal surfaces.
- Use a piece of sandpaper to slough away any rough or splintering spots on wooden handles.
- Wipe wooden handles down with a rag wet with linseed oil.
Healthy gardens start with a robust and nutrient-rich soil structure. If you do not already have a compost pile, create one today and add to it all winter long. Developing an ongoing composting system is one of the best things you can do for next year’s garden. Compost is also important when your gardens are being utilized all year long. This can put a strain on the nutrient levels in your soil. Side-dressing crops with compost can enrich the soil and help your plants thrive.
Organic food and natural green and brown items decompose together to create well-draining soil, high in nutrient content and filled with beneficial microorganisms. While other regions are covered in snow zone 9, 10, and 11 gardeners are lucky as they can continue to collect natural composting materials such as leaves, brush, and grass clippings. A rule of thumb for compost is to have 30-parts of brown ingredients, which are carbon producers, to 1-part green ingredients: the nitrogen producers.
Brown Composting Materials
- Pine needles
- Vegetable stalks
- Wood shavings
- Dry leaves
Green Composting Materials
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Grass clippings
- Hair clippings
- Alfalfa meal
- Coffee grounds
Mulching Your Garden
Mulch plays a vital role in the garden beds during the growing season, but it is also essential to add mulch in the fall and winter months. Mulch insulates the soil and protects perennial plant root systems. Warmer soil also helps microorganisms to thrive and remain active even during the coldest of seasons.
In areas that do not have a lot of wind, mulch may be all you need for the protection of your winter crops. Adding a thick layer of mulch can help regulate root and soil temperatures, adding insulation when a winter chill comes through the area.
Mild temperatures invite December planting, but many vegetables grow better as transplants during this time of year compared to plants that have been directly sown. Start seeds indoors in seed trays in early December to give seedlings a good head-start for later winter planting.
December is also a great time to get a jumpstart on some indoor seed starting with seeds that require a lengthy germination or maturation period to prepare for February planting. Seed trays with covers and a sunny window or grow lights make growing seedlings indoors a breeze. Tend to the seedlings throughout the gap in planting over the month of January. If freezing temperatures do happen to roll in, container planting can be brought indoors for added protection.
Temperatures in this zone are relatively mild, and thick mulching and row covers will extend your gardening season and protect your plants. In some areas, winter may bring some chance of freezing temperatures, greenhouses and cold frames can offer added protection from weather conditions.
Root vegetables and greens are good performers in greenhouse environments during this cooler season. Traditionally, some of these crops should have been planted in late summer and early fall for a winter harvest. To figure out the ideal planting date for a winter harvest, you must examine the days until maturity on the back of the seed packet and count backward from the time you want to harvest the crop.
If you are looking to grow more tender plants like some lettuces, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc., a greenhouse can provide additional warmth and more sunlight needed for such plants to thrive. Use trial and error and see what successes you have in your region. Make a note of what works and what doesn’t as you gear up for next year’s winter crops.
Just as temperatures dip down a bit during Zone 9-11 winters, they can also rise significantly. If growing in greenhouses, be sure to ventilate your greenhouse and water plants well on hot days so that your plants do not wilt under extreme temperatures.
Outdoor Winter Gardening
Gardeners in Zones 9-11 can grow nearly every delectable vegetable without having to fret about winter freezes. Planting in these regions can extend from February through December, so it is vital to set forth a solid planting schedule.
Winter Gardening Vegetables and Fruits
Plant these delicious vegetables during the month of December, when the days are still mostly sunny. Be sure to select an area of the yard for your winter garden that receives a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight per day for best results. This is the best time of year to plant cool weather loving plants like broccoli, cauliflower, and greens which tend to bolt and attract garden pests in hot climates.
It is also possible to have some frosts in this zone. It is a good idea to have a cotton blanket or row cover to protect plants from the destruction that a freeze can bring. Row covers can also help to protect plants from destructive pests that are plentiful all year long in warm climates.
In many cases, fall and winter crops tend to do their best when they are transplanted as seedlings rather than directly sown. If you have sown seeds indoors prior to December, you’ll have a head-start on this planting season.
Try planting some of these proven winners in your December garden in Zones 9-11:
Winter Flowering Plants
If you want to get the most out of your ornamental gardens this year, consider adding some of these blooming treasures, which are known to bloom throughout the winter months.
These winter and fall flowers will add vibrancy and color to the winter landscape and will stomp out any winter doldrums:
- Baby’s Breath
- Witch Hazel
Harvesting Winter Garden Vegetables
Gardeners in the Zones 9-11 can enjoy a continuous rolling harvest all year long. If you planted a Fall crop in October and November, you will be lucky enough to reap the rewards of a harvest this December. Plants like celery, bok choy, mustard greens, lettuces, beets, carrots, garlic, onions, shallots, swiss chard, snow peas, radishes, and kale should be ready for a December harvest.
It is not essential to harvest all these delicious and healthy crops all at once. Utilize the cut and come again method of harvesting leafy greens and harvest root vegetables as you need them. Root vegetables such as carrots, keep well in cooler temperatures so you can pick them over time even after they have reached maturity.