Winter gardening in the Lowcountry

Story by Nancy Renner

Winter is a great time to garden in the Lowcountry. For newcomers it’s especially exciting to learn that many vegetables including lettuces, arugula, radishes, spinach, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, kale, beets, collards, bok choi, brussel sprouts, peas and turnips can be planted from seeds and transplants and will grow throughout the winter. With our sandy soils most vegetables will need a balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10 about once a month. Some vegetables like collards, spinach and other greens will benefit from an occasional side dressing of nitrogen 30-0-0. Some herbs including parsley, cilantro and dill may overwinter, and seeds can be sown outside for perennial herbs such as thyme, sage and rosemary.

Ornamental cabbages add color and interesting textures to your winter landscape and container gardens.

Perennials and spring bloomers

Winter is the best time to plant and transplant perennials, ferns, ground covers, trees and shrubs. This gives their roots a chance to get established before warm weather and the top growth begins. Be sure to keep them well watered. Speaking of watering, monitor the amount of rainfall we get during the winter and consider watering weekly if there’s limited rainfall. When there’s a freeze forecast, thoroughly water your plants early in the day prior to the freeze to help prevent damage.  

Seeds of some hardy annuals such as larkspur, bachelor buttons, hollyhocks and sweet peas benefit from planting during the winter for early spring blooms. A new favorite has been planting ranunculus for early colorful spring blooms which make lovely cut flowers. 

“Winter Sowing with Milk Jugs” is an easy, fun way to expand your collection of perennials and experiment with new ones. Make a “mini-greenhouse” by cutting horizontally around a gallon plastic water or clean milk jug just below the base of the handle leaving a ½ inch hinge, poke lots of holes in the bottom (a heated Phillips head screw driver works well ), add 3-4 inches of moistened seed-starting potting soil, plant  perennial seeds according to package directions. Use duct tape to secure your “mini-greenhouse” back in place. Label the jug with permanent marker. Do not put cap on jug and check occasionally for moisture. Usually nature’s precipitation is sufficient. For additional details and tips, google Winter Sowing with Milk Jugs. 

It’s not too late to plant daffodils here in the Lowcountry. Some varieties of daffodils that do well in this area include Ice Follies, Carlton, Pink Charm, Saint Keverne, Rijnveld’s Early Sen-sation, Thalia, February Gold and Kedron. DO NOT REFRIGERATE any of these. 

Container gardening

Incorporate vegetables- mustard greens, kales (lance and curly), swiss chard and decorative cabbage – in with your winter landscape and container gardens.  These vegetables add color and interesting textures and look great with mums, pansies, snapdragons and violas. Try some of these in hanging baskets for color through the winter. Even if you have limited space on a deck or a balcony, make your own salad bowls. Just use a shallow container, fill with potting soil and sprinkle leaf lettuces, arugula or mixed baby greens seeds on the soil. Keep moistened, fertilize occasionally, snip and enjoy fresh greens in your winter salad.

Plant ranunculus in beds and borders, cutting gardens and containers. Their early colorful spring blooms make lovely cut flowers. Ranunculus are good companions for other spring flowers such as primroses, pansies and larkspur.

Prepare for Spring 

Begin your soil preparation after the holidays with a soil test which will provide guidelines for soil amendments needed to help attain maximum plant growth. Samples can be dropped off at your local Cooperative Extension office or mailed in. For details refer to soil samples on the Clemson website.

Test old seeds 

Have some packages of leftover seeds and wonder if they are still viable? If stored properly (in a cool and dry environment), many seeds can last for years. To test old seeds, dampen a paper towel and place 3-10 of the same variety of seeds on it and roll it up. Use a Sharpie to write seed name on the towel. To keep towel damp, it can be placed in a zipped-lock bag. Check seeds in about 5 days to see if they have started sprouting- may take longer for some seeds. If a number sprout, seeds are viable. Find more details by searching on line under “Testing Old Seeds”. 

Enjoy gardening during our pleasant winter days!

Expert advice

Maintaining poinsettias

  • Poinsettias prefer moderate temperatures (65-70 degrees) and 6-8 hours of indirect/diffused sunlight (not direct sun) 
  • Keep away from cold drafts and blasts of hot air
  • Keep moist but do NOT allow to sit in water (poke holes in bottom of foil wrap)
  • They are only mildly toxic to cats and dogs who ingest the plant (contrary to myth that they are dangerous!) 

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