This time of year is the perfect opportunity to get in the garden before the real winter chill hits. You may think it's time to slow down when it comes to your garden; however, there are still plenty of tasks and jobs that are best to be done now, to ensure a beautiful and vibrant garden for spring.
Here's how to prepare your garden for winter in four stages.
Clean your lawnmower and oil your tools
It’s essential that you take some time to care for your tools before storing them away for winter.
As your lawnmower is one of the most expensive and important pieces of gardening equipment you own, it needs to be correctly looked after. Before storing it away, remove any grass clippings from underneath, this will help to prevent rust and avoid your blades from jamming when you next use it.
When it comes to other gardening tools, they need to be thoroughly cleaned. Once cleaned, wipe them down with an oiled rag to prevent rust and corrosion whilst stored away.
Now is the perfect time to start pruning some perennial garden plants, although they’re not demanding plants, you want to keep them under control before winter hits. Pruning is done for many reasons, including encouraging flowering, to promote a strong growth and root system and to stop diseases from taking hold. Add all unwanted matter, apart from diseased plants or seeds, to the composting heap.
Clear your paths and garden of any leaves to prevent slipping and for a tidy outdoor space. Once you’ve raked them up – don’t throw them away. Again, add them to the compost heap, as leaves are known to make one of the best composts. Over time, the leaves gathered will break down to a rich humus, which can improve the soil’s structure and moisture holding ability.
Leaving weeds this time of the year and removing them in spring may be tempting, however, by doing so you’ll be encouraging pests in your garden, in the exact space you'll be planting next spring. Pull them up, roots and all, and add them to your compost pile.
Dig up dying annuals and remove decaying foliage from perennials
Unlike perennials, annuals do not come back season-to-season, therefore, it’s the perfect time to remove the dying annuals and add them to your compost heap. Also, make sure to cut off any decaying foliage from perennials to restore tidiness and structure your garden.
Remove organic debris from ponds
Rotting leaves or any dead aquatic plants can put stress on your pond’s oxygen levels and may put your fish and other pond life at risk. Ensure that all debris is removed from the surface and from the bottom of your pond to keep your water and fish healthy.
With all weeds and dying annuals removed, you can prepare your soil for spring planting. Dig over your plot and incorporate compost into the ground. Adding nutrients this time of the year means that the soil has time to be enriched before spring hits.
Cover furniture and parasols
Garden furniture can be vulnerable to damage during the winter weather; therefore, investing in a cover can keep your garden furniture safe from rain or snow. It will also guarantee the furniture’s high-quality condition and ensure it’s ready for use once spring hits.
Move tender potted plants into the greenhouse
The cold winter weather, particularly frost, can cause the moisture in plants to freeze and damage the cell wall. This can result in the plant's growth becoming limp and distorted. Tender potted plants cannot survive in the winter weather; therefore it’s essential that they be moved into your greenhouse or porch to be protected from the frost.
Cover delicate plants with mulch and cover with cloches
Add a thick layer of mulch to delicate plants to prevent the soil from freezing. This helps to regulate the soil temperatures and plants will have access to moisture during cold periods.
Finally, protect your plants with cloches. Cloches function the same way a greenhouse would and will protect your low growing plants such as vegetables, strawberries and cut flowers. They aim to shield your plants from the weather to encourage growth and they also work as a physical barrier that blocks pests and diseases.
Dig up tender summer-flowering bulbs, put them in a warm dry spot for the winter such as a garage.
Tender summer plants require that extra care during the colder months and need to be looked after accordingly to bloom again in spring. The bulbs should be lifted during this time of year, before the soil freezes, so that they can be re-planted in spring in the right conditions.
Dig the tender summer-flowering bulbs up, carefully not to damage them, and cut off any excess foliage and brush off any loose soil. Once this has been done, store them in a warm, dry environment with good air circulation to so they can dry.
Turn off water features, remove pump if possible and wrap any features with bubble wrap to prevent frost damage
When getting your garden ready for winter it’s essential to turn off any water features that you may have and remove the pump if you can. Leaving your pump inside the water feature makes it vulnerable to freezing and could cause the pump to crack, particularly if it repetitively freezes and thaws. Remove the pump if possible and store it away to protect it from damage.
You should also wrap your garden water feature with bubble wrap if you are unable to store it away, to protect it from the winter frost.
Plant bare-root trees and shrubs
Autumn is the best time of the year to plant bare-root trees and shrubs. Although there is a chill in the air, the soil is still warm, making it the ideal conditions to start planting.
- Stand the roots in a bucket of water for a couple of hours before planting; this is to ensure the roots are moist.
- When preparing the soil, make the hole three times the width of the root ball and disrupt the soil to reduce compacting.
- Add a stake for trees or tall shrubs for extra support
- Once planted, water thoroughly and mulch over the root ball with garden compost.
Plant spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips
Spring flowers are useful for adding colour and a vibrancy to your garden. To make sure that by springtime your garden is full of life, the best time to plant your spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips is now, before the first frost.
With daffodils and tulips, plenty of sunlight is key, as well as good drainage. As a general rule, plant bulbs should be planted in holes 3 to 4 times as deep as the bulb itself. You should also add compost into your bulbs’ planting holes to encourage lively blooming.
Plant winter flowers to add colour through the winter
Don’t wait until spring to enjoy a vibrant garden full of colour, plant winter flowers such as primroses to add splashes of colour to your garden that you can admire throughout winter.
English Primroses are beautiful choices for winter, available in a range of bright colours and sizes; they’ll add life back into your outdoor space. Plant them in a partially shaded spot, with well-drained, rich soil and water regularly.
Feed your borders with nutrient-rich organic material
The soil is key to growing quality plants and vegetables.
In natural landscapes, the land is left untouched and because of this, organic matter accumulates in natural soils to a high level. In your garden, due to regular digging, raking, hoeing etc, the soil loses this organic matter that keeps plants thriving. During the autumn, it is recommended to add organic matter to your soil to increase its quality and to help your plants flourish, even in the colder climate.
A soil that is high in organic matter retains moisture during the dry spells and drains easily in wet weather, creating the perfect environment for growing.
Feed the birds
Winter can be a tough time of the year for birds. Not only is there less time for them to hunt due to shorter days, but also their food is much harder to come by and birds must retain fat to survive the coldest of nights.
Leaving some food out for your feathered friends in a bird feeder will help them get the food that they need to survive. However, make sure you do some research before you start, as it’s important to know the right things to provide and what can be deemed dangerous for them.
It is also recommended there is a constant supply of water for them for both drinking and bathing. To avoid the water from freezing over, add a small floating ball to the dish to ensure the birds can always get access to water.
Look after your garden wildlife
With a few tiny actions, you could make a huge impact and help your garden wildlife.
- Hedgehogs: Hedgehog numbers are constantly declining; therefore food and fresh water will help them to survive during this difficult time of the year. They’re your garden’s friends and can be fed tinned dog or cat food, or you can buy specially made hedgehog food. Also, bonfire piles are appealing shelters for hedgehogs, so make sure you check it before you light it!
- Squirrels: Squirrels are usually only active for a few hours a day in the winter due to hibernation. During these few hours, they need to find the food they need and it would be great if you could help them and make their searching that little bit easier! Provide them with a mixture of nuts, such as hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds as well as chopped apple and carrots.
- Frogs and toads: Your pond may freeze over during the colder climate, suffocating any frogs or toads beneath the surface. To prevent freezing, simply float a ball on top so your pond life will have enough oxygen. Also, if you have a compost heap, this is a cosy habitat for toads and frogs, so make sure you check it before you use it.
Provide overwintering habitats for insects
Everyone needs a safe and warm environment to stay in this winter, including insects. Providing overwintering habitats for insects will allow them to return to your garden in spring to pollinate, help decompose dead material and serve as food for birds.
You can help in a few ways, including not tidying up! Leaving piles of twigs, leaves and even wood stacks can become a safe haven for your garden insects during the colder months.
Although it might be tempting to leave your garden tasks until spring – gardens never sleep and there’s still plenty to be getting on with.