You can have vegetables growing and flowers blooming in your garden every single month of the year – even in the Midwest! Sound impossible? It’s really not. In fact, there are some flowers and vegetables that not only withstand Midwest winters, they thrive and produce!

Hellebore

A blooming hellebore can melt your heart on a cold winter day.

Photo Credit: ©Sheri Ann Richerson

Heather

Pretty pink heather blossoms can bring signs of life to the winter garden.

Photo Credit: ©Sheri Ann Richerson

Lettuce

If you house your lettuce in a cold frame and keep it covered during winter, you can enjoy a crisp, delicious homegrown salad in January.

Photo Credit: ©Sheri Ann Richerson

As the old adage goes, nothing comes from nothing, which means you have to do some planning before you can get anything from a winter garden. And the first step toward enjoying beautiful winter blooms is learning which ones to plant. You might not know it, but there are flowers that actually wait for the chilly months to blossom. So consider jump-starting your winter show with fall-blooming Primula. Shortly before those begin to fade, hellebores will raise their lovely heads and start to flower. (Some varieties actually begin blooming in November and continue on into summer.) Come December or January, heather blossoms should begin to appear, only to be followed by the cheerful blooms of witchhazels in February. What a delight to walk outside with snow on the ground and see these cheery flowers!

Don’t forget those annuals, too! Even the winter pansies seem to bloom intermittently throughout the coldest season and still have enough oomph left to put on a spring show. And of course, we have to talk about bulbs. If you’ve planted those early bloomers – like winter winter aconite, snowdrops and crocus – in fall, you can watch them put on a late winter/early spring bloom festival that’s sure to chase away any traces of cabin fever.

But winter gardening doesn’t have to stop with flowers. Do you find yourself longing for freshly grown produce? Then it’s a winter vegetable garden you need! It just requires some planning and the right equipment, including mulch, plastic covering and a cold frame.

A good candidate for your winter vegetable garden is lettuce. The key is covering the plants to give them shelter and keep them warm. (And you might have to wait to try this until next season, but if you plant certain crops around the middle of July and offer them protection from the cold, you should also be able to keep peas, radishes, spinach, carrots, turnips, arugula, mâche, parsley, dill, Brussels sprouts and cabbage growing several months longer than normal.) I generally blanket my winter vegetable crops with a frost cover and use a 6-mil plastic for the cover of my cold frame. This allows my vegetables to keep producing plenty of tasty food – including the delicious Brussels sprouts I harvested on New Year’s Day!

Finally, let’s not forget those perennials seeds. The official Midwest date to begin sowing them is December 21 (but you can sow them after that date, too). You can use clean 2-liter soda bottles and plastic milk containers for this. Just cut into the containers to create a “flip top” (so you’ll have a mini-greenhouse), and drill six holes in the top and bottom of each. Then fill the “greenhouse” about ¼ of the way with a mixture of 50 percent peat moss, 25 percent vermiculite and 25 percent perlite. Add a small covering of vermiculite, and sow your seeds directly on top. Don’t cover the small seeds unless they require darkness to germinate. (In the event you’ve got some larger seeds, simply push them about ¾ of the way into the soil, leaving part of the seed exposed.) By May or maybe early June, you should have small plants to transplant.

There are a lot of ideas for burgeoning winter gardeners, so don’t feel like you have to try them all at once. If you’re an adventurous soul, plan a winter garden, order a cold frame or consider building a hoop house and think about what you want to grow. For the dabblers, start by trying some of the winter bloomers planted in a window box or container (or even in a flower bed if your ground’s not frozen). The fact is, you don’t have to hang up your gardening gloves come winter – you just need to work around Mother Nature. It may be cold outside, but nothing can warm your heart on a chilly day like fresh vegetables from your garden or pretty flowers blooming through the snow.