Winter colour in your garden

Don’t mothball your garden over the winter months. Paul Ward has some tips to add colour all the way through to spring.

winter colour

For many gardeners the onset of autumn is the trigger to denude all shrub and plantlife back to ground level. However, there is an alternative to this scorched earth approach and a few hours work coupled with some creative thinking can enhance your garden with new hues even in the deepest of winter.

Start thinking about winter flowers

  • This more than any other is the season where we can sit back (can any real gardener sit back in the garden though?) and appreciate what we have helped nature to produce. While it is still possible to plant container grown plants, they are not going to amount to much this year and are for the future. It’s more of a time for planning the hard landscaping items in the garden. Is your deck or patio large enough, do you have one at all, would a permanent built in barbecue area be useful?
  • Sow seeds of winter flowering pansies. These are another of the easier plants to grow from seed and if started off now will be good strong plants by the autumn and so able to flower throughout the winter period finishing off with a final flourish in the spring. Both are strictly speaking perennials and can be kept going, but they are never again as good as they were in the first, so are best discarded and replaced. One of the main reasons I grow from seed rather than buying them as plants is that you can get a group of all your favourite shades and colours, particularly effective in containers if all of one colour. If unsure go for violas,  smaller prettier flowers and often more vigorous.
  • A good time to take softwood cuttings of shrubs. Cut a piece of new stem about 6 inches long and remove all flower buds and all but the end 3 or 4 leaves. Place several of these around the rim of a small plant pot filled with a mixture of sand and compost. Water and place in a shaded place, don’t allow to dry out. Check the bottom of the pot after a month or  so and pot up individual cuttings when you see roots sticking through the drainage holes.  I always feel that it’s worth trying almost any plant by this method. Even when I read up how to propagate a particular plant I usually try this method as well anyway. It’s so simple, it’s done at a time of the year when it is warm and you’re often out in the garden, and cuttings  are frequently plentiful from prunings.
  • Shrubs and climbers can be layered now as well. A technique that works with many varieties and is often successful with the more difficult plants. A fairly young shoot is brought down to ground level and a part of the stem buried about an inch or two deep with a small mound of soil on top, it may be necessary to peg particularly whippy shoots with a wire hoop. Then that’s it, it will take longer to root than in other methods, but scores in that there’s little need to look after the cutting as the parent plant makes sure that it’s kept alive. Best left for a about year before detaching and planting or potting up separately. 
  • Keep watering containers regularly. I think it’s so sad when they are neglected and what began as a vibrant collection of flowers dies slowly over a few weeks for lack or regular attention. I’ve already spotted a few that are on their way out on my usual dog-walking route. Contrary to popular belief containers are not a low-maintenance option, far from it.  If you don’t need to water them daily, they should be checked daily as a hot day, particularly if there’s a drying wind can suck all of the water out of a container. When planting up any containers, then always go for the largest you can afford so they don’t dry out so quickly. Water, feed and dead-head regularly for the best show.
  • Keep dead-heading perennials and shrubs such as roses. This keeps them producing more flowers rather than putting their energy’s into seed and fruit production. A daily round of the garden in the evening is ideal if you can manage it, or as often as possible otherwise if not.
  • Water autumn and spring planted trees and shrubs during hot dry spells. If you “baby” trees and shrubs through their first summer, them you’re usually fine from then on. Give them an occasional thorough soaking though rather than a daily drizzle as little and often teaches them to grow shallow superficial roots rather than encouraging long deep roots that help  them fend for themselves.
  • Look for “suckers” on roses or grafted trees. These are shoots of the wild-type rootstock that the ornamental foliage is grafted onto and will emerge below the graft union which should be fairly obvious as a knobbly irregular region at the bottom of the stem or trunk. If left, then the rootstock being more vigorous (hence its use as rootstock) will take over the ornamental part of the plant.
  • Keep pruning spring flowering shrubs as they fade, they can be pruned back to get a good display next year. Forsythia, Ribes (flowering currants),  Kerria japonica, Chaenomeles (Japanese quince) and early flowering Spireas should all be pruned regularly to keep them vigorous and flowering well. They’ll have all finished flowering by now and any formative pruning or restraining of over-vigorous shoots is best done as soon as possible. Ideally each year you should cut out one in three or four of the oldest braches down to ground level. In this way, the plant always has  plenty of growth left and no branch is allowed to get old. 
  • If you have a neglected plant, then they can withstand being cut pretty much right down to the ground, drastic renovation is best carried out over at least two years though. Leaving some of the more upright and further back shoots intact so as to keep the plant going rather than dependent on reserves in the roots when recovering.

By Paul Ward

Last modified: December 30, 2020

Written by 9:23 am Gardening