You never know what winter will bring but theres one thing for certain, there will be cold, wet and frosty weather before Spring arrives, however that’s no reason to be sad, it happens every year and we should celebrate the fact that for once the weather is on our side. No, I have not lost the plot.
Every garden needs a spell of cold wet weather to recharge the soil with water, to give our plants a rest and hopefully reduce the numbers of pests and diseases that have been causing mayhem through the warmer months.The trick is to carry out tasks in the garden when the ground is not soddened, and ideally on a bright sunny day, it may not be scorching but wrap up well and the rays will cheer you up. If you grow perennials and woody plant from seed you will know that many of them need a spell of cold weather to break seed dormancy allowing them to germinate in the spring.
I walk around the garden every day, often clasping a hot mug of tea, the fresh air and calmness encourage me to think about what we are planning for the garden and remind me that there are still plants to move and prune, not immediately but before plants start into growth. Winter gardening is as much about reflection as it is about tidying up.
Keeping an eye on your plants is key to avoiding damage from strong winds and frost which can break branches and damage spring blossom. Climbing plants are a of great value in a garden, they don’t take up too much space in the border with most of their effort focused in producing long climbing stems and flowers that fill the gap between the shrub and tree layre, or softening fences, walls and buildings. Checking ties regularly will make sure that those climbers that are not self clinging will not be damaged or their branches snapped by strong winds. A mulch of well rotted compost now will help rejuvenate them, followed by a handful of general fertiliser in spring.
We are right in the midst of the traditional planting season for what we term, ‘bare root’ plants. This simply means that they are not grown in a container, but in the open ground, and are best lifted in the dormant season to avoid stressing a growing plant. They are often cheaper too, especially helpful if you are buying a few such as a hedge or a fruit garden. The ‘bare root’ season normally runs from November to late March/April, after which the they can struggle a little and need more attention such as extra watering. You can also buy plants grown in containers too and although they can be planted out at any time of year they do also benefit from planting during the Autumn and Winter, allowing the plant to settle in and avoiding the need to water regularly.
Not everyone has room for a fruit tree but soft fruit bushes can be planted amongst border plants, or in containers. Many can be trained on a frame, fence or wall and whilst they may not produce masses of fruit the taste of a handful of freshly picked soft fruit on breakfast cereal is amazing. If you are tempted to try Blueberries be mindful that they prefer an acid soil so if you have a limey soil they are best grown in containers. A clue as to whether your soil is acid, is if Rhododendrons and Camellia’s grow well in your garden then it is usually on the acid side.
There are various schools of thought regarding when is the best time to cut back herbaceous perennials (Plants that die back to ground level), and the truth is that so long as the dead top growth is removed before the new shoots start emerge in spring thats fine. Many can provide winter interest and seeds for garden birds. There are no specific rules and if you like to tidy up as soon as the stems have died back thats fine, but plants such as Eryngium (Sea Holly) Echinacea, and Agastache are good for the birds so simply cutting the seed heads off and putting them on the bird table will give them a treat. We compost all our garden prunings, and where they are a little woody we put them through the shredder which helps them rot down quicker. Indeed last years prunings are now the mulch we are dressing the borders with, a very satisfying feeling.
Happy ‘New Year’ Gardening,
Next Month, (Hardy veg to sow now, tidy Hydrangeas, sort out plan supports and finish hedge cutting before the birds start nesting.)