Like the rolling seasons, the gardener never stands still. So, as we gingerly step into winter, we need to be prepared, and so does our garden. By getting those necessary jobs done now, will ensure our precious green spaces can meet Jack Frost head on and pass through unscathed to greet spring with a warming embrace.
So, let’s welcome in winter with a celebration of rich harvests and warm suppers. Carve goulish faces on homegrown pumpkins, collect precious seeds and look ahead to a new growing season.
Although temperatures may be sliding, it’s still not too late to get your spring bulbs into pots, containers or straight into the ground. Just remember, to plant them three times their height and try using Dalefoot’s Bulb Compost. Due to its natural free draining properties, it’ll prevent bulbs from rotting if left in heavy soil.
As garden perennials retreat back into the soil and annuals wither, this is the ideal opportunity to increase your plant stock for next year, before the first frosts arrive. Lift and divide large clumps of perennial plants by hand, or use a garden fork. Re-plant where you want to see them bloom next year, then give the divided plant a thick mulch with Dalefoot Composts Lakeland Gold. This will not only help protect the rootball from the harsh winter weather but suppress weeds and retain root moisture. In fact, any unused veg beds or vacant flower borders will appreciate a tidy up. Remove all weeds, large stones and re-cut edging. Apply a thick mulch to the entire growing area and avoid covering over plants, as they can bring on rot. Over winter, the compost will leech valuable nutrients which will reinvigorate the soil in time for spring growing.
Deciduous trees will be losing their leaves and revealing their true structure, as they head into a period of dormancy, making it an ideal time to prune. Before making the first cut, take a moment to access the tree and think about the three ‘Ds”: dead, damaged and diseased. Prune any branches that fall under these titles, maintain overall shape and try not to prune too hard. Winter pruning of wisteria can also be done by cutting summer side shoots back to no more than three buds, and ensure structure is firmly tied into its support.
These dormant months are where bare root plants come into their own. From roses, to trees, these are easier on the wallet compared to bought potted varieties. Before planting, place your bare root plants in a bucket of water for half an hour, as this will allow them to re-hydrate. Dig the hole at least twice the size of the plant’s roots and about twelve inches in depth (length of a spade’s blade). Backfill, firm in well and water. Add a thick layer of mulch around the plant to help protect roots from the winter weather. Taller specimens may require staking and tying in. This method also applies to the veg garden for bare root fruit varieties, including: apples, pears, black currant, red currant and raspberry canes. However, keep in mind raspberry canes roots are planted just under the soil surface.
With most leaves fallen, this will give you an excellent blueprint to your garden. It will reveal hard structures, paths and borders. So, take the opportunity to make any repairs to fences, structures and outbuildings. Most plants will be dormant, or retreated back into the soil, so there’s little chance of damaging them.
Annual summer planting will now be bursting with valuable seedheads, so why not take those seeds for next year’s floral displays. Simply place seeds into a brown paper bag or envelope, label and place somewhere cool and dark. There, they will happily sit until you’re ready to sow. Or, try giving nature a helping hand and leave those seedheads, and spent flowers, for the garden wildlife. Not only a great food source and shelter, but they can add structure to what can otherwise be a bare garden during the darker months.
And whilst you’re thinking of winter wildlife, clean and replenish all bird feeders, baths and tables. Keep water bowls topped up, and if cold weather strikes, don’t allow them to freeze over. Hedgehogs will be looking for somewhere to hibernate, so consider building or buying a hedgehog house. Failing that, leave a large pile of leaves and sticks in unkept corners of your garden, as this will give both hedgehogs and other creatures somewhere to take refuge.
If the weather takes a turn for the worse, retreat to the shed and carry out maintenance on your gardening equipment. Whether it’s cleaning and sharpening hand tools, or giving the lawn mower a service, and draining off the fuel, before storing it away for winter. Clean and tidy both shed and greenhouse, then wash and store away pots and trays and sweep floors. Not only are you making these areas spring ready, but you’re preventing the build-up of possible pests and diseases.
Disconnect and put away hoses and protect/insulate garden taps and pipes so they don’t freeze, crack or burst. Outdoor pots and containers may need be placed on bricks or clay feet. This will not only help drain excess water but leaving them on the ground can cause them to crack due to frost. For expensive pots, try wrapping them up in horticultural fleece or bubble wrap.
There’s no getting away from it, Christmas is on the horizon. So, if you’re growing potatoes for the big day, they may now need protection to get them through the colder weeks ahead. For bag-grown spuds, move them to a frost-free area of the garden that still gets plenty of sunshine and isn’t exposed to the wind. If they’re in the ground, they may require earthing up, to both protect and produce a greater yield. Check plants regularly to make sure they haven’t been affected by blight or pests.
For overgrown rhubarb, now’s the time to lift, divide and replant. Use a sharp spade to divide the crown into several sections, each piece should have at least one healthy growing bud. Remove fading foliage and replant at the same depth as before. Mulch around the crown with Wool Compost for Vegetables & Salads, ensuring you don’t cover over the planted sections.
Growing brassicas should be netted to stop hungry pigeons and other animals feeding on them. If they’re growing tall, stake and tie them in to prevent wind rock. Growing parsnips, swede and Brussels sprouts always taste better after a cold spell, as this weather turns the vegetables’ starches into sugars. When harvesting, try to do it on a frost-free day and use a fork to gently prize them from the soil.
Whether it’s a heated greenhouse or a warm sunny windowsill, try growing winter greens. Mustards, microgreens, pea shoots and winter salads (miner’s lettuce, lambs lettuce and rocket) are all good candidates. Fill a seed tray or pot with Dalefoot’s Wool Compost for Seeds, tamp down and gently scatter the soil across the surface. Apply a thin layer of compost to cover over the seeds, water gently and place somewhere warm to germinate. For a sunny kitchen windowsill, try growing herbs such as chives and mint.
With your garden now ready to tackle the cold months ahead, it’s only right you should reward yourself with a cosy homemade soup with some of your grown produce. Winter is a time to take stock, breathe and make future plans. So, find your spot in front of a warming fire and take the time to reflect on what you’ve achieved in your garden or allotment this year. The new growing season maybe a few months away but it’s never too early to start drawing up seed lists, ideas and growing plans for next year.
I’m Ade Sellars the Good Life Gardener, and I’m a gardener, presenter, writer and content producer, with a passion for growing my own food in my kitchen garden. As well as running my own gardening business, I write for magazines, produce tailored video content for gardening brands, flower shows and outdoor events and I regularly deliver talks and demonstrations around the country.
I co-write the award-winning gardening and food blog, Agents of Field, with my wife Sophie;
Instagram: agentsoffield / adesellars