Winter is certainly not a dead season in the garden. Evergreen shrubs come into their own as their deciduous neighbours lose their leaves. We appreciate the value of subtle and bold leaf variegations, shining berries and colourful, textured bark. Brave flowers scent the air and add to our enjoyment of the winter garden.
Some plants need a little help to get through the colder weather and for others this is a time of preparation for the coming season. There is certainly plenty for the winter gardener to do.
1. Protect cordylines, young acacias, and other tender plants from frost using horticultural fleece. Plant cosies are easy to use and effective as they are made from heavier gauge fabric that affords even greater protection. Gather foliage loosely together and slip the cosie over the plant, remove in milder spells.
2. Move pots and containers close to the walls of the house where possible. The eaves will protect them from excessive winter wet and they will be more sheltered from cold drying winds. Remember to water them in mild spells. Raise pots off the ground with pot feet or pieces of tile to allow free drainage and prevent waterlogging.
3. Keep off the lawn in frosty weather. Walking on grass when it is frozen causes damage and blackening of the sward. In mild, but reasonably dry, weather grass can still be cut at any time during the winter months – this maintains the lawn at a reasonable length and avoids a long lush lawn in spring that is difficult to mow.
4. Keep paths and patios free from algae and slime – this is slippery and dangerous in damp weather. An effective path and patio cleaner is available that is simply brushed or sprayed on to the surface – this can then be left to wash away with rainfall or be hosed down. No scrubbing is needed.
5. Prune roses when the plants are completely dormant in mid to late winter. Floribunda and hybrid tea roses are hard pruned to a few buds above ground level. Shrub and English roses are pruned lightly to promote bushy, twiggy growth that produces more flowers. Collect all prunings and leaf litter to prevent spread of disease.
6. Apple and pear trees are pruned in mid-winter and sprayed with a winter wash to kill over-wintering insect eggs and fungal spores. Washes based on tar oil are no longer available because of their residual effect in the environment. Use an environmentally friendly winter wash based on natural plant oils.
7. Autumn and winter is a good time to think about soil conditioning. Fallen leaves can be raked on to flower beds between shrubs and trees and then covered with a layer of well-rotted farmyard manure or good garden compost – earthworm activity should do the rest as the worms gradually drag the leaves and compost down into the soil.
8. Fallen leaves should be raked from the grass and paths. Do not throw them away. Instead gather them and put them, damp, into large plastic bags. Close the bags and stack them in a corner of the garden – the leaves break down into superb compost in 12 – 18 months. An easy way to collect leaves from a lawn is to set your rotary mower on the highest setting and mow-up the leaves. The mower chops them and adds a few grass clippings accelerating their decay.
9. If storing fuchsias, geraniums or other tender patio plants keep plenty of air circulation around the plants and water cautiously. The colder they are stored, the drier they need to be. Removal of foliage helps to prevent fungal disease from thriving and keeps air moving through the plants. If problems arise cut back removing two thirds of the top growth and most of the leaves.
10. Feed wild birds regularly and think about putting up nesting boxes ready for spring. Not only will they be welcome visitor to a winter garden, they will also help to control insect pests, slugs and snails – reducing the need to take other measures.
Andrew McIndoe, from Hillier Nurseries, who have won 61 Gold Medals at Chelsea Flower Show, is Consultant Editor of The Hillier Gardener’s Guide: The Winter Garden, published by David & Charles 26th October 2006, priced £14.99 paperback. You can purchase it at all good book shops, or online at Amazon.
If you found The winter garden: The winter garden: Top 10 tips for bold colours and easy maintenance helpful, you’ll find more tips for gardening through winter on our Gardening channel.
© Andrew McIndoe/Hillier NurseriesTags: Andrew McIndoe, Gardening, winter garden Last modified: October 17, 2022