Tips to get your garden winter ready, including; seasonal bulb layering and protecting your spring and summer plants so that they’re ready to thrive again in the new year.
We are all becoming so much more aware of how important it is for our physical and mental health to get outside into nature. Most of us have experienced the sense of calm that comes with spending time in and around nature – the fresh air and distractions of the great outdoors can help to soothe the mind, and reduce the symptoms of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
It’s no surprise then that a growing number of health professionals, community workers, naturalists and academics are advocating the use of ‘green therapy’ – time spent immersed in nature – to help those living with mental health difficulties.
“Just being outside, caring for plants and experiencing the seasonal changes in your garden can be therapy in itself.“
I discovered this first hand at the beginning of the year after sadly loosing my dad on Christmas day. When we eventually got back home I instinctively got myself out into the garden, on my own, on a frosty, January morning and spent a couple of hours caring for the garden. It was just what I needed, it gave me time to process everything that had happened, and after spending days in a hospital room with no windows, the fresh air (although freezing) made me feel so much better.
Did you know that there is actually a natural antidepressant in soil? It’s true, it’s called mycobacterium vaccae and it has indeed been found to mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide. The bacterium is found in soil and may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you feel more relaxed and happy. Studies were conducted on cancer patients and they reported an improved quality of life and a reduced stress levels.
It’s been a challenging year for everyone to say the least, we’ve all spent an unusual amount of time cooped up in our homes, and I know that getting out into the garden or even caring for herbs on a windowsill or pot plants on a balcony has been therapy for a lot of us. It’s equally important to ensure that we experience and enjoy nature during the winter months too – perhaps even more so when serotonin is in such short supply.
So I’ve put together a list of some things that you can do to help you get out into the fresh air and start to get your garden winter ready.
Stage 1 – Cutting things back
Many plants should be pruned in the winter months, while they’re dormant. Pruning in winter encourages flowers and fruit, can encourage a good shape, promotes strong growth and helps to stop disease taking hold.
Trimming perennials after flowering finishes in autumn helps to improve their appearance and flowering. However, you can leave some stems over winter to provide homes and food for wildlife, and then trim back in spring. Using a knife, shears or secateurs, cut stems close to the ‘crown’ or dormant base of the plant – if there is any young growth, cut to just above it.
Grasses and Ferns
I take the opportunity to thin out my ferns and grasses at the start of autumn too, just to tidy them up. They grow like crazy at the end of the summer and combining that with wind and heavy rain makes it all look a little overgrown and untidy, so I trim back any dead leaves on my ferns and run my hands through the feather grasses to pull out any yellow and dried foliage – make sure you wear gloves to do this as you will be surprised at the cuts that you can get on your hands from dried grass.
Tomatoes and Courgettes
Summer fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and courgettes will need to be trimmed off, pulled out by the route and discarded. They are unlikely to grow again the following season unless you live in a really warm climate. Don’t be tempted to just bury the route into the soil either as there is a possibility that your fading tomato plants might have a disease, insects or a fungus, and burying them directly into the garden risks infiltrating the soil with these and passing them on to next year’s crops.
I’ve added some bay plants to my two empty tomato pots to add a bit of winter greenery – after all you can never have enough bay leaves in your stews and winter cooking.
Stage 2 – Herbs
Wet conditions kill more herbs in winter than the cold, so place container-grown perennials such as oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary in a sheltered position against a wall or against the side of the house or garage. This will reduce the amount of rainfall hitting the pot by around 25 per cent.
Raising the pots onto bricks, ‘pot feet’ or on blocks of wood will expose the pots’ drainage holes, allowing them to drain more freely than if placed directly on the floor. As water expands when it freezes, this action may also prevent pots from cracking.
Trim evergreen herbs into a dome shape (it’s a good idea to remove any remaining flowers in the process). This will help to protect them from high winds or snow. Don’t prune back too hard though, as this will create deep cuts that may not heal.
Place basil and other tender herbs in a well-lit, frost-free position, but be wary of windowsills as temperatures much below 5°C will kill them. Avoid watering these plants in the evening so they don’t have wet roots at night, and harvest basil leaves from the top, not from the sides.
I’m creating a cold frame by adding some transparent plastic sheeting to the rolling veggie patch that we made this spring. I plan on keeping the basil and parsley under there if we have a cold snap and I will also be using it to grow lettuce and kale throughout the winter. Ensure that you open greenhouses and cold frames during the day if temperatures are warm.
Stage 3 – Weeding and Cleaning the Deck
Pull out any weeds and give the garden a good sweep. You want to avoid the autumn leaves turning into mulch and making your deck or pathing stones stained and slippery.
The second step in my tips to get the garden winter ready is to wash the deck or patio pathing stones. This is the key to preventing the growth of algae, moss, mould and mildew during the winter. Ideally you would use a power washer to spray away dirt and debris quickly. We don’t have a jet wash but I always give the garden a clean with a firm brush and a patio cleaner that contains added mildew protect to help prevent the build up over the winter, as decking can become a bit like an ice rink when you get a lot of heavy rain.
Stage 4 – Getting Wrapped Up
Once everything has been hosed down and cleaned from leaves and other debris, replace the covers on your barbecue, put away the gardening or cooking equipment so it doesn’t get rusty, bring in the summer lanterns and cover any tables or fire pits. I know it doesn’t look as pretty when it’s all covered up, but trust me, it will last you a lot longer if you take care of it all and protect it from the rain and the rust.
Standing things vertically and leaning them in corners will also help to protect them from further rain damage.
Stage 5 – Adding Seasonal Colour
In a small garden, creating a border display that lasts throughout the season, rather than just blooming for a few weeks, you would need to combine early, mid and late spring bloomers – but with limited space at your disposal, you run the risk of having great big gaps between the display.
You can avoid this and ensure that you have seasonal interest all year round by placing colourful, seasonal pot plants around the perimeters of your garden. I recently discovered a cleaver idea developed in the Netherlands called the ‘lasagna’ planting technique. It’s a method that allows you to have a pot filled full of blooms that flower in early spring and are then followed by more and more varieties of flowers as the spring and summer progresses.
I couldn’t wait to try this out for myself. The thought of those first bulbs sprouting in late February as a signal of spring being on its way and then continuing to change throughout the season sounds absolutely dreamy.
Here’s what I did:
Most spring bulbs be can be grown in a bulb lasagne, but for the display to work you need to ensure that you pick three types of bulbs that look good together and will give a display of flowers that will last for several weeks. Try to choose bulbs that grow to different heights as this will create a more striking spring display.
- Choose your container
- Add a layer of gravel across the bottom of your container for added drainage.
- Add a thick layer of multi-purpose compost.
- Plant the latest flowering bulbs first with the roots facing down and cover completely with a layer of soil.
- Continue layering your bulbs in date order with the earliest bloomer in the top layer.
- I’ve added a winter plant to the top of mine to add some colour and interest until late January when I will remove it to let the new shoots come through.
Here’s what I used:
Bottom layer –
- Multi-purpose soil
First layer of bulbs –
- Allium atropurpureum (flowering May to June)
- Multi-purpose soil
Second layer of bulbs –
- Tulipa ‘Negrita’ (flowering mid-April)
- Multi-purpose soil
Third and final layer of bulbs –
- Galanthus elwesii (an early flowering form, January into February)
- Multi-purpose soil
Winter plants to top it all off
Wrapping up the tree ferns
Now is the time to wrap up your tree ferns for the winter and protect them from the frost. I’ve already written a full blog post about this which you can find here.
I keep the leaves on until the spring as we live in London so it doesn’t get too cold, and I love to leave them on for extra greenery but you may want to cut yours back now too…but you can read more about that in the blog post.
And finally, put out your bird feeders and bird baths to ensure that the wild life have some food and water over the cold winter months. Algae may have formed in existing bird baths over the summer, and warm water is a breeding ground for bacteria so ensure that you give your bird bath a thorough clean and sterilise it before putting it cack out and re filling with clean water in the winter.
So there you have it. My 5 top tips to get your garden winter ready – I’ll meet you back here in early spring for more garden chat. I hope that you found this post helpful.