The joys of winter gardening by Stephanie Hafferty

Posted Monday, 05 December 2022, 9.26am

Grow your own expert Stephanie Hafferty shares her top seasonal gardening tips and why getting outside at this time of year is so beneficial:

Shorter days, grey skies, cold winds and rain can make winter somewhat off-putting for gardeners. It’s rather tempting to stay indoors with a mug of hot tea, perusing seed catalogues and keeping snug.

I’d like to encourage you into your waterproofs and wellies, and tempt you outside to experience all that winter gardening has to offer. There’s so much to enjoy. One of the remarkable things about winter gardening is how even just 30 minutes or so outside makes you feel reinvigorated, a perfect antidote to winter sluggishness.

It’s always surprising, no matter how grey and gloomy the day looks from the cosiness of indoors, once outside it’s usually not too bad. As well as helping to keep you fit, winter gardening is very good for mental health.

Here are some of the jobs I enjoy during the winter.

Mulching with compost

Winter is an ideal time for mulching beds. Spreading 1-2 cm of compost, such as Dalefoot “green bag” Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, or homemade compost from your heaps, helps to protect the soil from harsh winter weather and feeds the soil life, which in turn prepares the soil for the next year’s sowings and plantings. It also helps to keep weed seeds from germinating. In the spring the beds will be ready for filling up with the new season’s veg.

Mulching with leaves

Raking up autumn leaves is an enjoyable winter task, a good work out and you get lots of excellent mulching material too. I only clear leaves which are on annual veg beds (they can create a slug habitat and in the UK take around two years to break down) or which have fallen on lawns and paths, where wet leaves can be a slippery hazard. I allow any leaves that have fallen on borders or wild areas to remain in situ, to slowly rot down and feed the soil.

Mulching borders with leaves not only feeds and protects the soil, but helps to create a fantastic habitat for all kinds of creatures to live in, or forage in. Decomposing leaves are great for all kinds of fungi, too.

Always rake gently and with consideration for anything that may be hiding in the leaves.

Make leaf mould

Well rotted compost made from leaves is known as “leaf mould” and is very easy to make using old compost sacks. I always keep sacks from bought-in compost. They have so many practical uses in the garden.

Make holes in the sacks with a garden fork or similar sharp object, fill with fallen leaves and tie the top with string. It takes around 18-24 months for the leaves to mature into leaf mould, so pop these sacks behind the shed or in a corner until the contents have rotted down. This compost is then ideal as a mulch or use to make your own potting mixes.

Tip: always use strong compost sacks (such as Dalefoot) to make leaf mould. Flimsy sacks will break down over time, shedding micro plastics and shredding into plastic waste that is harmful for wildlife.

Hoe, hoe, hoe

During cold winters weed seeds are usually dormant, but if the winter is mild they can still sprout. A regular hoeing helps to keep weeds in check. You’ll thank yourself in the spring!

Clear paths and paved areas

Keeping paths and paved areas swept isn’t about having the perfect garden, but safety. Icy and wet weather can be dangerous, so keeping leaves and debris off areas where you walk will help to reduce accidents.

It’s also a rather nice physical job, good to warm up on a chilly day.

Check outside taps and water sources

Cold weather can cause burst pipes, so it is worthwhile checking all outdoor water sources and either turn off the supply, or insulate well. You can buy special insulation for taps. I usually stuff old compost sacks with bubble wrap and tie them around outside taps to protect from cold weather, after turning the water supply to them off.

Winter wildlife

Every day I refresh the water dishes that I put out for wildlife to drink and bathe in. Shallow dishes freeze quickly, so it is important to make sure that birds and other creatures have access to fresh water when the weather is cold. Cleaning daily helps to ensure that these vital water sources are hygienic and do not spread disease.

If you have bird feeders, remember to clean those regularly too.

Piling up garden debris from winter pruning, weeding and plant clearing in corners creates a lovely habitat for all kinds of wildlife to hibernate and seek shelter in, and also makes a valuable foraging ground for birds and other creatures to hunt for food.


Grow your own expert Stephanie Hafferty lives on a half acre homestead in West Wales, where she grows as much as possible year round using no dig methods. In 2023 she will be hosting courses at her home garden, find out more on herwebsite: Tube:


Winter Som Tum-style salad
This salad is based on one of my favourite Thai dishes. Som Tum is traditionally made with green papaya and can be very spicy. In this recipe I have adapted this dish to use vegetables which are seasonal in the UK during wintertime.

Parsnip is surprisingly delicious raw - do give it a try.

This makes enough for 4 people with plenty of leftovers for the next day (depending on your appetite!)

60g unsalted roasted peanuts
75g grated parsnip
75g grated swede
75g grated cabbage
75g grated kohl rabi
2-4 garlic cloves, according to taste, chopped
1-2 Thai chillies - according to taste
1 tbsp chopped coriander stems and roots (if you have them)
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves or parsley

wedges of lime

For the dressing

1/4 cup lime or lemon juice
1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
salt and pepper

Deseed (if you want to reduce the heat) and chop the chilies. Put in a pestle and mortar with the garlic cloves and coriander roots/stems. Add a little salt and carefully pound to make a paste. Protect your eyes and be careful not to touch anywhere sensitive until you have washed your hands. Add half of the peanuts and crush.

Whisk the dressing together.

Place the grated vegetables in the pestle and mortar (if large enough) or put in a sturdy bowl with the chilli paste. Pour over the dressing, mix thoroughly using a spatula or wooden spoon and then gently pound the salad with the mortar or a large wooden spoon or rolling pin, using the spatula to turn the salad as you pound. The idea is to bruise the salad ingredients, rather than pounding into a pulp. This takes 3-4 minutes.

Place the shredded leaves on the serving dish and add the Som Tum. Sprinkle with the coriander leaves and peanuts.

Serve with wedges of lime.

Alternatives: replace the root vegetables with: golden, chioggia or white beetroot, kohl rabi, carrots, celeriac, crisp apples

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