Every year we have the best intentions of putting our gardens to bed properly after they’ve spoiled us rotten all summer with colourful blooms, floral fragrances and plentiful fruit. But inevitably time runs away with us and before we know it we find ourselves staring out on to the sorry sight that is the winter garden, complete with ragged lawn, plant cemetery, unpruned fruit trees and sadly ageing garden furniture. But not this year. No this year we are organised and we’ve put together some simple steps to help you make sure your garden can sleep peacefully before bursting into bloom in spring.
Go through each border and remove annuals such as sweet peas, zinnias, sunflowers and nasturtiums which are over or blackened by frost. Carefully dig up non-hardy summer bulbs like gladiola and dahlias which can be safely stored over winter, and divide and move large or numerous perennials. Spread a thick layer of mulch – compost, bark chips or well-rotted manure across the borders; the worms will have a lovely time digging it all into the soil.
Make sure non-hardy summer bulbs are completely dry and free of excess soil before spreading them on slatted trays or hanging them in nets suspended from the ceiling. Remove any rotten or damaged ones throughout winter and dust some green or yellow sulphur powder on the damaged areas before allowing them to dry and storing them separately from unblemished bulbs.
First published: November 2015
Save yourself time by waiting until a good frost has caught the plants so they die back naturally before you start cutting back. If you cut back before a frost you may encourage new growth which will then be hit by a harder frost and need cutting back again. Most perennials can be cut back in autumn, but leave chrysanthemums which will stay standing for much longer and can act as fantastic winter mulch.
Remember that any plants that are diseased or have suffered from pest problems should be disposed of, not composted. We like to leave the seed heads of some perennials and most grasses to provide visual interest in winter; just picture how they’ll look in the snow or with frosted cobwebs strung delicately between them.
Pick the plump pears and glossy apples from the trees, dig up root vegetables and potatoes from the vegetable garden and filter out any which are blemished or showing signs of damage as these won’t keep for long. Spread them out on shallow stacking trays and keep in a cool and airy outbuilding which won’t be caught out by a nippy frost. Check the fruit and veg each week and remove anything that is damaged or rotting as these could affect the rest of the crop.
After the annual fruit harvest you’ve hopefully got crate-loads of delicious apples and pears safely stored away so now’s the time to get your razor sharp secateurs out to do some gentle pruning. Remove any dead, dying or diseased branches and cut out any branches that are crossing over each other. If branches are growing into the centre of the tree, cut them too as they may prevent sunlight getting to it.
Aim to take off between 10-20 percent of the overall canopy in the winter. Work around the tree evenly to thin out the branches and don’t overdo it. If in doubt, stop. You can always cut more next winter but you can’t put back what is now lying on the floor. By removing the old wood you are encouraging new wood to grow and it is the young wood that will bear fruit – with any luck!
After the children have enjoyed kicking their way through the irresistible piles of fallen leaves, rake them up (the leaves not the children), place them in a bin liner, moisten if dry, fasten the top loosely and store out of sight for up to two years to form a rich and nutritious leafmould.
The end of summer doesn’t mean inevitable doom and gloom for the garden. It’s also a good time for planting. Before the ground begins to freeze, plant your spring bulbs including snowdrops, tulips, daffodils, crocuses and mini narcissi. Plant them at two or three times their own depth and two bulbs’ width apart and make sure you plant them the right way up.
Autumn is also a great time for planting new trees and shrubs as the soil is still warm. The addition of autumn rain will encourage them to form a strong root system that will help them flourish next year. Warm, moist soil is also perfect for grass seed. Scatter some weed-free topsoil on those sad-looking bare patches of lawn and over-sow ready for an immaculate lawn come spring.
Clean and dry the Barbecue. Put the fitted cover back on and store it safely in a garage or outbuilding ready for its first outing next summer. Treat hardwood tables and chairs with protective oils as the oil needs a while to soak in to be efficient. Do it before you put them away for the winter so they will be ready for spring. Store them in a dry outbuilding and place any soft furnishings in loose plastic bags in an indoor cupboard away from damp and rodents.
The paint on aluminium garden furniture tends to chip after years of use but a fresh lick of paint will make it look as good as new. A wire brush will get rid of any algae. You can then use an aerosol paint to give it a quick makeover. Store it safely for next year or place a bench in a well-chosen spot in the garden to enjoy the afternoon winter sun.
Make sure outdoor taps and pipes are well-insulated and protected from impending frosts. When the leaves have finished falling, clear out gutters and drains to avoid problems with blockages.
And now for our favourite bit – a spick and span garden shed. Unfortunately that means you might have to roll your sleeves up and get a bit mucky. Check for holes where rodents or damp can get in and block these up. Sweep floors and clear and clean work surfaces. Throw away old wiry paintbrushes and empty paint tins and dispose of broken tools safely.
Clean and sharpen the blades on garden tools – after all, blunt tools are about as much use as a chocolate kettle. Make sure there’s a place for everything and more importantly that everything is in its place.
Don’t forget that during winter our garden friends still need sustenance and somewhere to sleep. Make sure the birds can still find seeds, the frogs and toads can hide amongst the dead leaf litter and the hedgehogs can find somewhere safe and cosy to hibernate. Birds will keep overwintering pests at bay so it is important to keep them on your side.
Disinfect bird feeders and stock up on your residents’ favourites – peanuts for the blue tits, great tits and nuthatches, meal worms for the robins and wrens and mixed seed for the house sparrows and chaffinches. Blackbirds will polish off old fruit if you leave it on the grass for them. Make sure they also have access to water. Avoid cutting hedges until the end of winter as these will provide valuable shelter to birds and give them more time to eat the berries.