This Month in the Garden: Winter is Coming: Tips to Preserve Your Garden During the Cold Months

It has been a spookidly warm autumn but do not be lulled into a false sense of security; irrespective of what went before, winter brings wild winds and cold weather. So late autumn is a good time to take some elementary, precautionary measures. In doing so, come spring, you and your garden will be ahead of the game.

It is worth pondering the fate of birds and insects in your garden during these inhospitable months. Keep the water in your birdbath clean and topped off, ditto the bird feeders. If there is a quiet spot out of sight of tidy-minded passers-by, you could consider making it hibernation city. Just collect old logs, bundles of sticks, leaves and branches into an untidy heap to encourage hibernating wildlife. This heap will then act as a magnet for pollinating insects and pest predators. At the end of winter, they wake up and supplement the population of good guys in the garden.

There is also cutting down and tidying to be done. Most urgent is to rake up leaves that make paths slippery and kill patches of lawn. You might want to think about pressure washing concrete/stone paths – they may become slippery if you don’t. Small leaves from deciduous trees can be put in a heap where they turn into leaf mould.  Rose and fruit tree leaves tend to harbour disease and need to be binned or burned. Any structural shrubs or trees which have grown wayward branches need pruning back into the shape you want. Branches should not cross, otherwise they may rub and create a wound. At the same time remove any diseased, damaged or dead growth.

Never prune when the weather is freezing or when sub-zero temperatures are expected within 48 hours. Subject to this overriding rule, hedges can have a very tiny trim where they have sprouted before the frosts come, but allow enough time for new growth to harden off. While you are clipping your hedging, whenever your arms get tired, have a little weeding moment at the base.

Cut back perennials that look lost and faded but keep the ones that look good shrouded in frost. Compost all these trimmings, but before you do so, empty your compost bins of last year’s well-rotted compost and use that on the beds once you have cut everything back. The soil looks much better with a layer of black compost as mulch, weed suppressant and joy for worms all at the same time – how is that for multi-tasking?

Cut large rose bushes back by about a third. Don’t bother with careful pruning, if you have lots you can do this with a hedge trimmer.  Proper rose pruning happens in early spring.  This quick ‘haircut’ is to reduce the chance of your roses being rocked around by the winds.  Stray shoots from climbers and ramblers should be tied in while they remain pliant.

Soft fruit bushes (such as currants and gooseberry) will need pruning as well.  This is a fair-sized topic that you can find a good article on the subject herewhich will guide you through the intricacies of old and new wood and fruiting spurs.  While speaking about fruit, nothing will ripen any further so any remaining fruit on the trees should be picked and stored, fed to the birds, or composted.

Some fruit trees will need pruning in winter. The golden rule here is you can prune any fruit that has a pip (apples, pears etc) and you cannot prune any fruit that has stones (plums, cherries etc). While you are there, check stakes and ties on your trees to prevent strangulation and apply tree grease. November is the best time to prune walnut trees- they bleed less. 

Evergreens are the ones to watch in winter. They continue to transpire and need watering if young or newly planted. 3 cm (1.18 inches) of rainfall a week is necessary, and you need to supply the shortfall. It is the drying wind that is so pernicious. A protective, temporary barrier will stop this. Such a windbreak is an idea for any newly planted hedge in an exposed position.

Pots can be planted with pansies, ornamental cabbage and dwarf boxwood for winter interest. Any pot that you leave outside which is not truly frost proof may need wrapping in bubble wrap in severe frosts.

The virtue of all this tidying is that you actually get to see your fences/ trellis/ greenhouse again, presenting the perfect opportunity for repairs, cleaning of glass (don’t forget the roof), seed trays, application of wood preservative to exposed timber and decking-and crucially clearing leaves from gutters and down-pipes. If these empty into water butts then these should (I know, I know) have an annual scrub to remove algae. Winter is the time because they have a chance to fill again before dry weather next year. Outdoor furniture needs to be taken indoors or wrapped with tarpaulin. Genuinely outdoor furniture can be titivated with a clean and, where relevant, a generous application of reviving teak or furniture oil. Machinery can be serviced and tools oiled and sharpened before being put away.

All that is done you can go inside and, instead of putting your feet up, start wrapping Christmas presents!
The contributing author of this article, Julian de Bosdari is a garden writer and owner of Ashridge Trees, a UK based gardening site that specializes in hedging and hedging plants. The site is full of valuable information, and if your visit their advice page, you will encounter numerous articles on all facets of gardening.

As Always…Happy Gardening!

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