As the leaves cascade from the branches it’s nature’s way of telling us winter is almost upon us and it’s time to start prepping the garden ready to face the icy days ahead.
So, I caught up with our ace team of horticulturists to find out what tasks they’re tackling in order to get gardens winter-ready over the next few weeks and here’s a few jobs that you may want to take care of to make sure your garden is prepared for the ‘Big Chill’ and gets off to a head start come spring.
As winter comes around many plants will enter dormancy, meaning that there is less weeding and watering to do. However, it’s a great time to focus on jobs like repairing fences, maintaining wildlife homes and checking your compost bin structures for any damage. Winter is also the perfect time of the year to prune roses and plant trees or shrubs, so long as the ground isn’t frozen yet. Not to mention the leaves to be cleared up.
Gardens this time of year start to look darker, as though they’re coming to their end. This however, is a very natural process. Often our gardeners have had clients ask them to dispose of “dead” plants and flowers, but in fact they have just become dormant and will bloom again in spring or summer next year. So, it’s worth checking with someone in the know or looking up a plant, if you’re not sure whether it’s meant to be evergreen or if it naturally ‘dies back’ in winter, only to shoot up again in spring.
Preparing your perennials is important when getting your garden ready for winter. Most woody perennials can be cut back to 4 to 6 inches tall. However, make sure not to do this before the first frost. The first frost sends a signal to the plant that it’s time to take all the energy stored in the top of the plant and in the top of the and slowly move it down to the roots, where it’s stored for the winter. If you cut them back too early, the energy stores won’t have travelled down into the roots and will be lost, leaving the plant with less vigour to boost its regrowth next year.
Perennials are named so because they come back each year, but that doesn’t mean that they last forever Whilst some are long-lived, others may only live a few years, depending on the species, so again, it’s worth checking their expected lifespan to gauge whether a plant is just dormant or has, in fact, bloomed its last. To encourage a beautiful repeat performance from herbaceous perennials, our team chose just the right time to cut back, mulch, feed and clean.
Usually they’d be cutting back by mid-autumn, after flowering, but this season has been so mild that we’re only now seeing the first frosts and beginning to cut back herbaceous perennials. Cut herbaceous (non-woody) perennials right back to the base of the plant and clear the soil of weeds and debris. After that, you can put mulch around the plant and feed them. By laying down mulch it will help build a layer of insulation for your plants to keep them protected over the frosts and make sure their roots are not damaged over winter.
Whilst cutting back, the horticultural team are always on the look-out for plants that may be diseased and showing signs of leaf-spot, mildew or rusts. Any parts of a plant that are showing signs of disease, damage or distress need to be cut off and disposed of, (but not into a compost bin or heap as this will contaminate the compost and spread disease around the garden as you use it).
Some herbaceous perennials can be left by choice, either for winter interest, structure or height in the bed. You may also choose not to cut back in order to leave seed heads for birds and bugs. They love the nutrients and use the foliage as shelter, and it won’t do any harm to leave the cutting back until spring, in most cases. It just depends on your aesthetic tastes.
Cleaning paths is often overlooked but becomes an important task. Wet and cold weather is the ideal breeding ground for mildew and algae. This mould growth can soon become very slippery underfoot and dangerous to walk across. Areas to pay particular attention to are stone steps and pathways and timber decking areas which become very slippery when wet and covered in moss.
Finally before planting in spring it’s important to clean your tools, pots and other gardening utensils. Much of your winter garden prep is about maintenance. Cleaning your tools now (and frequently) prevents a build up of bacteria, which can infect plants. And while you’re at it, give those secateurs, shears and loppers a good sharpening, so they’ll give nice, clean cuts, not rough splintery tears. A good, sharp, clean cut makes it much less likely for disease to enter a plant (and looks a lot tidier too).
By getting a head start on your gardening for winter it will help protect your plants and flowers throughout the season so when it comes to spring they are ready to bloom again. Our gardeners are using bark as mulch around this time of year as not only is it adding extra nutrients and keeping moisture in the soil, it also helps to protect the plant roots from the harsh weather conditions. Not only does it help protect the plants roots but it also helps prevent weeds growing around them.
I sat down to write this, the snow began to fall, leaving Oxfordshire under a dusting of snowflakes, which couldn’t be timelier. I hope this has given an idea of how to get your garden winter-ready, but if you’re unsure about your garden’s care and simply want it taken care of by our friendly team, then please get in touch and tell us about your green space.