Top Tips for a Stunning Winter Garden
Image by K Kendall
With the temperature plummeting, nights drawing in and distinct air of dampness enshrouding us all, it can only mean one thing – winter is upon us.
But before you snuggle on the sofa with a fresh cuppa, bowl of Irish stew and The Walking Dead box set, you need to tend to a few basic chores in your garden.
Winter is undeniably a maddening time for gardeners, infuriatingly presenting soil that’s too wet or frozen and little much else to do other than feed the birds and work out your gardening itinerary for the following year.
Or is it? Well, there’s quite a lot you could be doing actually, with winter offering the perfect opportunity to tidy things up and get everything in order in good time for spring.
Tidy the Borders
Dig up annuals and add them to the compost heap. Beds can be replanted with winter bedding – wallflowers, bellis daisies and pansies, for example – to create a vibrant, colourful display next spring.
Move poorly placed plants, divide perennials and cut back faded perennials to about 5cm above ground level (but not too neatly, as some look fantastic covered in dew and project beautiful winter silhouettes, as well as offering shelter for insects).
When you’ve tidied your borders, cover them with a generous layer of bark chips, compost or well-rotted manure. The worms will do the hard work of digging it for you.
Clean Out the Greenhouse
Give the greenhouse a thorough clean out. Also wash any trays and pots, repair and oil any tools and just dispose of any that have outlived their usefulness. Giving your greenhouse a vigorous scrub will also keep those creepy crawlies and pests at bay, stopping them from hibernating and making an unwelcome comeback next year.
Also wash the windows inside and out- to let in as much light as possible- and use disinfectant to clean any fixtures, benches and glazing bars. Ensure you hose everything down afterwards, particularly those harder-to-reach, dusty, dark corners.
If you really want to banish those bothersome bugs, the best solution is fumigation. To do this, move all the plants outside, shut the windows, light a sulphur candle in the centre of the floor (making sure to speedily evacuate), and shut the door. Wait a few hours for the smoke and fumes to disperse – after which your greenhouse should be totally free of any pesky pests.
Drain and Lag
Draining and lagging standpipes, irrigation lines and outdoor taps will save you unfathomable expense and irritation, particularly if the season produces a particularly hard frost.
Prepare for Next Year’s Soil
Beds that would normally lie bare in winter are fine to leave alone until the soil becomes too hard. Use organic matter – leaf mould, manure, compost – to replenish its goodness. Don’t worry about making it aesthetically pleasing; the winter elements will break it all down anyway, and it will make planting in the spring unquestionably easier.
If you want the soil to be text book perfect, pile on a layer of organic matter and mix it by turning it over with a spade, so it’s buried deep below the surface. Seem like too much work? Fair enough – just mulch the bed and let the worms do the rest.
If your soil is heavy clay or thin, forking it over will suffice for the time being. Excessive digging will only rake up infertile matter leaving chunks of rock-solid clay over winter, and will be pretty much impossible to break up next year.
Rake Fallen Leaves
Fallen leaves prevent air and light getting to lawns and plants, the damp, dark conditions are also perfect for slugs, snails and a whole cornucopia of fungal diseases. Nevertheless, over time they’ll break down and decompose into fantastic rich leaf mould, nature’s very own soil conditioner.
Just rake them up and throw them into an ad hoc frame made of wood or chicken wire. Alternatively, black bin liners spiked with air holes will do the trick – but if he leaves are dry then dampen them first (though what are the chances of that?)
On average, leaf mould takes about a year to mature – or two years if it’s oak leaves - and is a superb, free home-grown substitute for peat and excellent top dressing for woodland plants such as rhododendrons.
The first rule of lawns is not to walk on it when it’s frozen or sodden, as you can do a significant, sometimes irreparable, damage.
Make sure you regularly rake up leaves, as leaving them will create a breeding ground for disease.
Spike the lawn to improve the level of surface aeration and drainage, and sprinkle moss killer and autumn feed. Weather permitting, you can lay down new turf and, if you’re intending on laying a new lawn or sowing in the spring, you’ve still got time to get the ground in good order to it’s in the best possible condition.
And what would your lawn be without a regular once-over with the lawnmower? Exactly, so make sure you book it in for a servicing.
One of life’s greatest winter pleasures is watching birds in the trees from your living room window, flapping wildly around a table of nuts and fat balls.
But the reality is that the falling temperatures make it a tough time for birds , and frequent supplies of fresh water and food are even more crucial to survive the shivering months and emerge in fine form and good health to breed next year.
Put out fresh, clean water, good quality bird food and fat (or suet) balls – making sure it’s all well out of the reach of prying cats who pose a threat to our feathered friends during the winter.
Sort Trees, Shrubs and Climbers
Plants are reasonably dormant during the winter and there’s sufficient warmth in the soil so they can settle before the real tough, inclement weather arrives. Now is also a good time to plant and move bare rooted trees, climbers, shrubs and hedges.
Trees and hedges should last a lifetime, so preparing the soil properly is key when planting them. Click here to prepare the soil properly.
Prune Your Roses
There’s nothing as romantic as winter dew drops on a red rose, or this immortal flower’s timeless symbolism of love, longing and desire. From a practical standpoint, winter is the perfect time to plant these vibrant red flowers. Here’s how you can grow roses and get the best results.
You can prune existing roses by roughly half to avoid ‘wind rock.’ Burn all the fallen leaves too, as this will prevent fungal diseases which could manifest and affect the soil next year.
Pare Back Those Perennials
Snip back those perennials so they’re between four and six inches tall – but don’t do this before the first major frost, as the upper plant’s vitality and strength drifts to the root systems to be stored for the winter. Cutting them back too early means the energy stores won’t reach the root, so only cut them back when the plant is dead.
Maintain Garden Equipment
Looking after your garden also means you need to look after your gardening equipment. Before you relinquish the lawn mower to the darkened corner of the shed, it’s worth getting it serviced so it’s in good working order when you need it next spring.
Sharpen your shears and secateurs and give forks, spades and other tools a thorough wash, making sure you dry and oil them properly to prevent rust. Linseed oil is a very good protector of wooden handles.
Decomposing leaves can turn pond water stagnant and foul, as well as blocking pump filters. Make your life easier by collecting leaves before they flutter into your pond – you can add them to the compost heat to make leaf mould. You can safeguard your pond by placing a fine meshed net across it and pinning it down with bricks.
Clear Out Compost Bins
Clearing up those vegetable plots and borders creates natural fodder for a compost heap – and now’s the perfect time to do it. Make good use of last year’s compost around the garden so you can make room for this year’s waste. If the compost isn’t quite ready, improve the decomposition process by turning it and creating a new heap. After all, when it comes to maintaining your garden, there’s no such thing as too much compost.
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By Lee Gilbert
Category: Articles, News & Tips