As gardeners, we tend to overlook the importance of the winter months. The weeks of cold are simply a long break between when the last crops of the fall are harvested and the first of the spring can finally be planted. During this time, many of us step back from our outdoor plots and beds. We turn to tending houseplants, or we buy packets upon packets of seeds in preparation for the upcoming spring. But chances are, few of us actually consider or appreciate what is going on in our gardens during the winter months when it is too cold to plant.
Winter may not be a gardener’s favorite season, but it is actually quite important for the growth and development of the plants we nurture. As the growing season wanes, plants begin to prepare themselves for the colder months. Sugars and carbohydrates travel from leaves to roots, creating a store of energy that nourishes the plant through weeks of low temperatures and lessened sunlight. As winter sets in, plants go dormant. Especially important for perennials, this pause in growth prevents freezing temperatures from damaging plant structures, and ensures that plants survive even without ideal amounts of sunlight, warmth, and water.
Winter is often necessary for plant success later in the year. Exposing plants to prolonged periods of cold temperatures (a process known as vernalization) induces the flowering process. This is a requirement for many plants in order to reproduce and to produce seeds. Dormancy may be not be interesting to watch, but it is an important part of plant growth and development. Without it, our gardens wouldn’t be the same.
The Cooperative Gardens of Narberth have also been dormant over the winter months. But this time has provided us with opportunities for growth just as it has our gardens. We’ve used this period of quiet to plan and prepare for the season ahead, and are excited to get started.
As the winter months come to a close, we look forward to the beginning of spring and planting season. But we also recognize the importance of our dormancy, and all that we have planned and accomplished in the quiet. So to winter: thank you and all that you bring for us and for our plants. And to spring: welcome. We can’t wait for the changes and growth that the season will bring.