Winter is the season when nature seems to go to sleep and your garden is only a far resemblance of its colourful spring or luxurious summer days.
But beneath that frosty cover, there is still plenty of life going on and plenty of ways to enjoy your garden in the winter months and prepare it for sping.
So here below are some tips to fulfil the itching gardener inside of you and the craving of some time in the fresh air.
There are many plants that can add a magnificent pop of colour to your garden even in the winter months.
They are called evergreens and among them it's worth considering:
- Griselinia littoralis: native to New Zealand, it's an excellent hedging plant which brings yellow flowers in the summer and purple fruits if mixing both sexes together.
- Pittosporum tenuifolium: known as Golf Ball, it's the perfect choice for shaping topiary (art of cutting plants into specific shapes), thanks to its compact rounded shape. Great when potted or when mixed with other ornamental grasses.
Bare Roots Plants
Bare roots plants are plants sold without any soil around their roots, a much more economical way to fill your garden.
There are many plants which are available and are best to be planted in winter:
- Deciduous fruit trees, such as pears, apples, peaches and plums.
- Roses, which are dormant in the colder months.
- Perennial plants and edges, such as beech, hornbeam and yew.
- Crocus Sativus: blooming from late-winter, they are a great source of nectar and pollen for queen bumblebees emerging from hibernation.
- Cyclamen Coum: adorning your hedges from late winter with dainty blooms in pink, purple and white, the look best when planted abundantly around trees, in mixed borders and in front of shrubs.
- Eranthis hyemalis: with its golden buttercup flowers, it's an excellent ground cover plant, perfect for planting beneath trees or naturalising in grass.
- Daphne: lifting your spirit with its strong sweet scent, it is the perfect choice near paths and your doorways. This evergreen plant will make its best display of flowers in the later winter months.
- Everlasting Daises: a native Australian plant, with their thick papery petals and the pollen filled centres, are constant food for bees.
Winter is a good time to prune young deciduous trees. When all the leaves have fallen, it's easier to see the tree structure and spot dead or diseased stems that should be removed and you are also less likely to spread diseases through pruning wounds.
A good starting point for pruning any plant is, in fact, to remove dead stems, crossing branches, water sprouts and suckers to allow your tree to grow more vigorously when spring comes.
However, not all plants should be pruned in the colder months so here below there's a short list of the most common ones that will benefit from it:
- Shrubs: to maintain a solid privacy wall of green, shear the new growth frequently in late winter.
- Hydrangeas: the old wood can be pruned out and the shrubs pruned back for healthy flowers next season.
- Roses: pruning roses in winter is a must because it helps to reduce disease, encourages air circulation and lets more light in. Top tip: apply also a seaweed-based product to condition the soil, which will help the plant with frost resistance.
- Apples, peaches, pears, plums, cherries: since these are fruit trees, the goal is to reach a better crop rather than a fool bloom so a winter pruning is recommended to open up the tree to more light.
- Currant bushes, blueberry and gooseberry: the stems that are 3 years old or less are the most productive ones so to maintain your fruit plant healthy, prune them down about a third each winter, cutting the stems off at ground level.
- Grapes: need extensive pruning each winter. Grapes grow best when they develop a main stem (trunk), two main lateral branches (cut to a length of 8-12 buds) and two secondary ones (cut back to 2 buds) for renewal spurs. After three years, all buds will have grown into fruiting canes.
PREPARING THE SOIL
The more prepping work you do in winter, the easier it will be to have a flourishing garden in spring!
First of all, frequently remove dead leaves from the ground as they prevent the rain from getting through and put them in your home compost bin to transform them into nutrient-rich compost.
Aerate your soil with a lawn aerator and mix in some soil wetting agents such as seaweed additives. Watch out for pools of water when heavy rain comes: it means the soil underneath has become hydrophobic and needs additional attention.
Remove all the weeds periodically to prevent them to mature, seed and spread through your entire lawn. Use a week killer agent or do it by hand making sure to remove the roots in their entirety.
VEG - PLOTTING
Your veggie patch can still give you a lot of satisfaction even in the colder months, both by planting for future veggie feasts and by harvesting winter crops.
Winter is also the perfect time to tidy up your veggie plot, which is now emptier, remove weeds and enrich the soil with compost.
Growing an eco-friendly garden is easier that what you might think, here are some basic tips:
- Purchase or create through your home compost bin a natural fertiliser.
- Consider a drip irrigation system to avoid water waste.
- Prevent pest infestation using pest repellent plants such as sage, basil, lavender and oregano rather than using chemical products.
- Plant some veggies together such as peas and broad beans or tomatoes and carrots.
What to plant
Now it's the perfect time to plant dormant winter plants such as asparagus, brassicas (such as brussels sprouts and cauliflowers), lettuce and Chinese vegetables.
You can also plant garlic, fruit bushes, raspberries and rhubarb to enjoy in the next season.
Microgreens can also be grown indoor all year round and take only a few days to be ready.
What to harvest
There are plenty of veggie that you can harvest in the colder months, and some actually taste even better after a frost, such as parsnip and snow peas!
Get ready to pick cabbage and cauliflower, broccoli and broccolini, brussels sprouts, kale, winter lettuce, leek.
Garden wildlife could really struggle in winter, when temperature drops dramatically and water and food sources become scarce. There are however some inexpensive ways for you to help your local wildlife survive and make your garden bee-friendly in the colder months.
- A good selection of mixed seeds, which can be bought as cakes or balls and attached with strings to your garden trees, will provide small birds and squirrels a source of high fat nutrients. A fresh coconut, cut in half, is also a great feeder (make sure to not use dedicated coconut though!), as well as cracked corn and dried fruit (only in the colder months).
- A fresh water bowl will be welcomed by small birds which still need to bathe and drink in winter as much as in the hotter months.
- If you can, consider planting trees that will fruit in winter such as holly, honeysuckle, ivy berries and apple trees: their flowers will give nutrients to pollinating insects. Grow ivy to give shelter from heavy rain and provide a late nectar source.
Lastly makes sure to never lit a pile of logs or dead leaves for your bonfire before checking for small animals that might be keeping warm underneath. If possible, rebuilt the pile in another location to make sure to not injure any wildlife.
If you are still looking for something to do, then tiding up your shed is definitely something you'll appreciate in the busier season ahead.
Tackle those small repair jobs you have been postponing, dust away all the cobwebs, give a good clean with a solution of water and vinegar, throw away (if broken) or donate older pots you don't use and sharpen all your tools and lawn mower.
A little bit of work now will pay off in the spring!