21 Cool Crops for Winter Pots
Image by Dennis Green
Perk up your porch or doorstep with a creative combo of cold tolerant edibles.
If you have a hankering to grow food, and are weary of the gratuitous pot of pansies and frilly winter kale, perhaps you’d like to try creating a lush, colourful container full of fall and winter veggies!
Okay, there is a caveat – because of the low angle of the sun now through mid-February, your food plants won’t do much growing. However, hardy veggies will be happy in pots from which you can harvest bits of fresh organic greens for soups, salads or stir-fries. Situate the container in a relatively sheltered location out of the wind.
In cooler zones, plants will be better off in the soil rather than in pots, especially if they are afforded some added winter protection through plastic, shade cloth or a cold frame. Only the very hardiest – like kale and leeks – will grow in climate zones below 5 during the chilly months.
Along comes Valentine’s Day and, lo and behold, your plants will begin to leaf out (or up). At that time they’ll require feeding every 10 to 14 days – yes, since your plants are captive in their pots, they rely on you for their nutritional needs. Fall and winter containers don’t require as much attention as warm-weather combos but really appreciate an occasional feed with kelp or fish-based liquid, especially in early spring.
Begin with a good potting mix that incorporates peat moss and pumice for drainage. Don’t use your garden soil, because it likely won’t drain well. If you can find potting mix containing nutrients like kelp, alfalfa and feather meal, worm castings, rock phosphate and/or glacial rock dust, so much the better.
There is no need to stuff your containers full of pricey soil, however. I fill all my large pots almost to the top with leaves from huge Norway maple street trees (any leaves are fine, though). Pack them into your containers to about 20 cm (8 in.) from the top, more than enough soil for most veggies. If you’d rather, use newspapers wadded up, other pots upside down, broken-up egg cartons or an old cotton blanket or throw rug. Since your containers won’t weigh a ton, they can be moved about.
TOP TIPS FOR COLD-HARDY COMBOS
It’s fine to tuck in a few seasonal annuals like pansies, non-edible flowering kale and mums into the mix. ‘Redbor’ kale, mini orange mums and ornamental orange and purple peppers really stand out in the baroque windowboxes of the Terminal City Club.
●Add zip to winter meals – situate herbs near your kitchen door and you’ll be way more likely to use them. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are workhorses, although parsley will die back in hard frost and rosemary can be tender – it’s a good idea to bring your container indoors temporarily if a very cold night is forecast.
●Sprinkle in a little chervil seed September through October. It’s a major component of fines herbes not available in stores. Chervil lends a whiff of licorice and parsley to fish, eggs and vinaigrettes, and prefers to grow in cool weather.
●Try layering edible bulbs, such as garlic, shallots and onions, into your veggie pot – no daffodils (poisonous) or other ornamentals. Once a staple food of First Nations, native Camassia bulbs can be planted deeply and topped up with more soil, with edible starts added: grey-blue savoy or purple cabbage and leeks.
●Make use of the weird and wonderful radicchio/chicory family – so many shapes and colours are available in the seed racks of Italian grocers. Like many winter veggies, radicchio is sown midsummer. Add scallion ‘Santa Claus’ with appealing red bottoms, lacy mizuna and ‘Red Russian’ kale. For fun, sow seed for wild strawberries around the edges – it will germinate in spring.
OUR COVER CONTAINER PLANTING
Our cover shows a zippy grouping of ‘Redbor’ kale, radicchio, rosemary, oregano, collards (all from fall transplants purchased at garden centres) with lettuce seeded in early September tucked in and around. You would scissor-harvest the closely sown lettuce and get a few salads out of it by hard frost, which it won’t survive.
WHAT TO PLANT?
Our top picks for gorgeous grub to pot up in a winter tub: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (green, red or savoy), carrots (choose a late-planted, cold-hardy cultivar), chervil, endive, escarole, kale, leeks (winter), ‘Rouge d’Hiver’ and ‘Winter Density’ lettuce, oregano (Greek), pansies, parsley, purple sprouting broccoli, radicchio, rosemary, sage, ‘Santa Claus’ scallion, Swiss chard and thyme.