Winter gardening: how to prepare the garden and jobs for the winter
Just because winter is here, it doesn't mean there's nothing to do in the garden. Rosie Fyles, head gardener at Chiswick House, explains what winter gardening needs to be done
There isn't a lot happening in the garden during the winter months but it is a great opportunity to have a tidy-up and a clean, and to prepare for the gardening season ahead. Here's a few useful tasks for you to do in the garden before the cold winter weather descends, with recommendations for handy equipment.
It’s common to think that after November, the garden is ‘put to bed for winter’ and that there are few winter gardening jobs and generally, not much going on. When you’re a professional gardener, people often comment, ‘It must be quiet for you now…’ No, the quietest time for gardening is August, not December. Christmas arrives and we gardeners need a good rest.
During a largely hard frost-free winter is when we complete the jobs to make next spring the best. It’s optimism and hopefulness that spurs us on. From bulb planting to lawn re-edging, topiary shaping to mulching, winter tends to be a bit frantic.
Winter gardening jobs
Think about your outside seating
Both at home and at work, I’ve been creating places to sit outside through winter. It’s not something I have spent that much time pondering before, but this year it’s important. What’s genuinely surprising is how many different spots in the garden capture warm(-ish) winter sun. As one of your winter gardening jobs you might need to identify the sunniest place for morning coffee and another for afternoon tea but it’s worth it and it feels like a discovery, even if you’ve had your garden for years.
Here's our piece on the best garden furniture and seats.
Re-assess your winter garden
One of the best winter gardening jobs you can do is take a good, long look at the winter garden you have created. Have a seat and take in the views that you most regularly have of your outdoor space; cast a critical eye over what you see. In many cases, the garden might look a bit empty or ‘shabby’: there might be gaps where colour should be.
Plant for you and the birds over winter
If you lack evergreen plants, take some time to first think about your preferences and then what your visiting birds might like too. Planting evergreen shrubs with long-lasting fruit might be the aesthetic improvement and wildlife food source your garden needs. Look at crab apples for warm colours and Pyracantha to train and shape formally, around windows and along fences. If you do one thing differently for wildlife, don’t remove lots of ivy. Take modest amounts if you’re using it for wreath making but leave the fruit for birds – Christmas lunch is for everyone. Here's more on how to create a wildlife garden.
Don't miss our piece on how to create an edible hedgerow.
Think about wildlife in the garden in winter
In winter, take a few moments to do three things to benefit wildlife in your garden:
- Provide water at ‘bird height’ (away from hunters) and ‘hedgehog height’, easy to sip from with tiny, short legs and no wings. Keep this water clean and unfrozen.
- Grab some logs and sticks and build a log pile. You can spend hours or just seconds, but the important thing is that afterwards, don’t touch your creation unless to add to it from above. Intact, unmoved and degrading it provides shelter, warmth and food, depending on what you are…
Read Rosie Fyle's previous columns here
Clearing away debris
During the season, clutter builds up in the garden. Old supports, mouldy netting and broken pots need to be cleared away, and forgotten vegetables need to be pulled out and composted. Leaves will have scattered themselves across paths and need raking up. Use a broom with hard-wearing bristles, that are perfect for removing stubborn, damp leaves from paving or decking. If leaves cover vegetable beds or borders, leave them be; they are a great natural option for mulch and add nutrients to the soil.
Spruce up your paving slabs
Use a pressure washer to blast away the growth that accumulates on wet stone, which can become slippery and unsightly when left for too long. . It's also worth taking some time to clean the space between the slabs with a small paving brush. This will give your patio or path a more professional appearance.
Here's our list of the best patio washers.
Put out bird feed
The wildlife in the garden need as much help as possible through the winter months. Remember to top up bird feeders with seeds and nuts to keep the birds happy. Here's our list of the best bird feeders around.
Clean out and tidy pots
You might have some seeds growing in pots in the greenhouse already, but unused pots could do with a good clean out with a flowerpot brush, Oxford Brush Company (pictured) for a sturdy option. Tidying and sorting your pots allows you to see what you have and what you need for the season ahead and it's a good opportunity to check your pots for damage - any that are broken or starting to crack can be used as crocks in the spring.
Sharpen your tools
Garden tools have a hard life but if you keep them in peak condition they will continue to be a pleasure to use and will remain sharp and efficient for many years. Use the darker days to clean and oil up wooden handles, file and re-shape edges and sharpen blades with a diamond sharpener or sharpening whetstone.
Don't miss our guide on how to sharpen tools.
Cut back untidy branches
Check pruning times for individual trees and shrubs but for many winter is the perfect opportunity. Once the last of their leaves have been shed, cut back any branches that hang too low or look untidy. The lack of foliage allows you to see the full shape of the tree so you can prune it back to your preferred shape and size. Niwaki have a great range of shears, secateurs and pruning saws.
Rosie Fyles is Head Gardener of Chiswick House, in London. Rosie is a Trustee of Silent Space, a charity that promotes peaceful time in green spaces.
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