The winter gardening guide
Freezing weather and short days make us all want to huddle up indoors and hibernate. Your garden is sleeping too. But there are still important winter garden jobs that can be done – and luckily not all of them are outside.
Spring cleaning … in winter
It might seem a little early for spring cleaning, but there are no wasted moments in our gardener’s calendar. The quiet winter months are an ideal time to restore a bit of order to your garden.
Tidy up sheds and greenhouses ready for the spring growing season. Greenhouses especially benefit from a bit of TLC. Scrub floors and shelving with detergent to kill off pests and fungi, and wash greenhouse glazing too. Removing dirt and algae allows more light to reach new seedlings, promoting healthy growth.
February is a good month to tidy up lawn edges. The worst frosts should be over – walking on frosted grass can damage your lawn – and the lawn isn’t actively growing. Trim edges and repair path borders that might have been damaged by the winter weather. Ornamental grasses can be cut back now too.
Stay frosty: prevent winter damage
Keep an eye on frost damage during the winter. If you have an outside tap, you might want to make it cosy over winter by fitting it with an insulating jacket (available online or in many DIY stores). Another solution to prevent your tap freezing is to turn off the water supply inside the house, using the tap’s shut-off valve.
A frosty garden looks beautiful, but an ice-covered pond can deprive your fish of oxygen. Install a pond heater, or keep a hole open in the ice by floating an inflatable rubber ball in the water – a good use for any stray footballs that might have landed in your garden. If you have a pump or filter, keep it running to prevent it freezing up.
If you are working on soil beds, use a plank or board to spread your weight and prevent compaction. Compacted soil is bad for plants and also increases the risk of surface flooding.
The best times to prune
Most plants sleep through the winter months, making this a good time to sneak up on them and give them a thorough haircut. Shrubs and trees like maples and birches, as well as vines (such as grapevines) should be pruned before the New Year. Pruning these plants later can make them “bleed” sap, damaging the plant.
If your pruning hand is aching, other plants can be left until February. This is the time to prune winter-flowering shrubs like viburnum or cornus. And if you’re lucky enough to have a wisteria, prune this now too, making sure it looks glorious come April.
Don’t be stumped
Removing old stumps can be difficult, but if you have one that you’ve been meaning to tackle for ages, why not add it to your New Year’s resolutions and take care of it before spring? Any damage or disruption to surrounding plants will grow over by the summer, and the activity will certainly keep you warm.
This is also a good time of year to plant new trees or shrubs, so why not fill the hole with something new.
The calm before the storm
So far, only the snowdrops have given any indication of what’s to come. But as winter turns to spring, your garden will burst back into life. A bit of preparation now can ensure you’re ready for the rush.
Add compost or mulch to beds, giving plants the nutrients and conditions they need for their coming growth spurt. Adding mulch will reduce weed growth, as well as helping to retain water during the drier months ahead. Hard as it is to believe on a cold February afternoon, soon the sun will be out and rain will – hopefully – be scarce.
Another key way to prepare is by installing water butts to collect rain water. Doing this before spring will allow you to make the most of April showers. And full water butts can prevent you being caught out by hosepipe bans, keeping your garden green all summer long.
An empty winter’s garden is also the perfect blank canvass for planning new garden features. Why not use this time to plan a new pond, raised beds or new planting?