Winter jobs to do in the garden
Before hanging up your tools for the winter and retreating indoors to enjoy the festive season, a final clear up in the garden helps to get everything ready for the months ahead.
Long autumns and mild winters can bring problems like waterlogging, rotting and a build up of pests. Being prepared will ensure that you nip potential problems in the bud, and your garden will be ready for spring. Whilst there are important maintenance jobs to do, we also have a few ideas for ways to keep some life in your garden during the colder months.
Tools & materials required
November & December's gardening checklist
You might need:
Dig over bare ground
Now that most of your plants are finished, empty flowerbeds and vegetable plots should be forked over and some well-rotted manure or compost turned through the soil. This increases the nutrient value of the ground ready for new plants to be planted next year.
Make sure the areas of soil you are turning over are completely empty. You want to avoid disturbing any spring bulbs you have planted ready for some colour early next year. If you have wet, clay soil don’t attempt to dig it now. It’s best left until the ground starts to dry out naturally in March or April at the latest.Shop compost & soil improver
Be prepared for the bad weather
November and December bring cold weather, wind and rain. Whilst we can snuggle up indoors away from the elements, our gardens have to tolerate whatever is thrown at them. We have a few ideas and suggestions on how to protect your garden from damage from bad weather.
The odd cold night is no problem for large containers of winter bedding and hardy patio plants, but if a continuous cold spell is forecast then tubs will need to be wrapped in newspapers or bubble wrap. If you are concerned about the plants themselves, use horticultural fleece, or cover them with hessian stuffed with straw.
You can also move them into your porch, greenhouse or conservatory. If you don’t have one of those, move them to a shed or garage; they’ll be okay for a few days in the dark.
If you garden on clay soil, or in low lying situations where water gathers, it’s worth growing any plants that need good drainage in raised beds, alternatively grow them in pots and move them undercover for the winter. Move any tubs of plants against a wall for shelter and stand them on pot feet to aid drainage.
Strong winds are a big problem in all but the most sheltered of gardens. Move top heavy plants in tubs that stay outside all winter close to a wall for shelter and for extra security tie them to some trellis or a couple of wall nails.
Cut back any branches of trees so they aren’t touching greenhouses, conservatories or windows of the house. This should prevent them causing damage in strong winds. Check the bases of fence posts; if they are rotting replace them now to prevent the whole fence coming down.Shop plant ties & protection
Clear fallen leaves
While the red, gold and yellow colours of fallen leaves may make a picturesque carpet on your lawn, you need to keep on top of them. If they cover the grass completely, and aren’t removed, the grass is starved of light and quickly becomes prone to fungal diseases and bare patches. A garden vacuum makes light work of removing fallen leaves from patios and lawns.
By raking away the leaves, and continuing to mow your lawn in mild weather whilst it is still growing, you can keep your grass in good condition. Be sure to mow on a day when the grass is dry and the ground isn’t soggy. Make sure you raise the blades of your mower as you do not want to mow the grass too short.
Leaves can be made into leaf mould; an excellent compost. Place the damp leaves in a black plastic bin liner, tie a knot in the top and fork a few air holes in it. Place the bag in a sheltered position in your garden and leave it for one year. Let the leaves rot down for another year if you want to use it as a soil conditioner.
Get rid of pests
Although garden pests are less active over the winter months, they don't disappear completely. Aphids can cause a problem all year long causing stunted growth and curled or distorted leaves. An organic way to manage aphids is to check the leaves of plants and remove any eggs you see.
Snails congregate in groups in the winter, at the foot of walls, and under plants or tubs. They love to feast on young plants & leaves so to protect your plants hunt them out and you can usually dispose of large numbers at a time. Do this after dark when they are most active. A torch will help you spot them.
Prepare for spring
Save yourself time and money next year, by making sure that all your garden equipment is cleaned correctly – doing this will prevent any tools that have rusted or rotted, as well as any plants being overcome with infection or pests.
- Scrub your hand tools – remove all the soil and check for damage. Oil metal tools including shears and loppers to protect them from rust, and give bare wooden handles a coat of linseed oil.
- Wash flower pots and seed trays in diluted disinfectant solution. Descale and clean watering systems.
- Clean your greenhouse. Pests and diseases can linger in nooks and crannies ready to attack new plants in spring. Disinfectant every surface thoroughly – if your greenhouse stands on hard, bare earth, scrub the disinfectant in with a stiff brush.
- Now is a good time to plant bare root roses, these can be planted any time between now and March.
- Plant fruit trees and bushes if soil is workable and not too wet.
Attract and feed garden birds
In winter, when night temperatures can plummet to below freezing, good quality food will help to sustain visiting birds through harsh conditions.
Most of us like to have a tidy garden, but try and leave a few areas where bugs can thrive, such as a pile of old logs or rotting leaves. The birds will enjoy this area too.
It’s a good idea to clean bird baths and drinking water containers regularly, every few days. You should scrape droppings and old, discarded food off bird tables and feeders before you add fresh food. If you adopt a regular cleaning routine, you’ll be helping your visitors to stay healthy. Remember, cleaning should be done outside, wear rubber gloves, and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
Festive pot plants
Once the routine gardening has slowed down outside, you may want to start paying attention to the pots indoors. Decorating your home with festive plants is an ideal way to bring in the holiday season. Poinsettias are a modern Christmas classic. To keep them looking their best for as long as possible, place them in a warm, bright room that keeps an even temperature. You should also keep them out of any cold draughts. For more help taking care of your poinsettia, read our article on how to care for your poinsettia.
Orchids are another popular choice for Christmas. They need a steady temperature of 16 to 21°C and high humidity. This is best achieved by standing the pot on a dish of damp pebbles. Give them a watering about once a week, then let the pot drain. But don’t use tap water - boiled water that’s been left to cool, or better still rainwater should be used. We also have an article on how to care for orchids that includes more tips on how to care for your plant.