Preparing your garden for winter
Shrubs and Trees
Before they shed their leaves many shrubs and trees take on their autumn leaves, making a spectacular display before the onset of winter. However there are jobs to be done now, planning and planting for the years to come.
Watering- So now is the time to remember to water regularly during a dry autumn, in particular those more recently planted shrubs and trees. You should also remember to keep watering shrubs in containers, though probably less frequently as the season goes on.
Weeding – You have hopefully been weeding around your shrubs, but do keep on top of the weeds now since some fast growing annuals still have time to grow, flower and drop their seeds.
Planting – You can prepare your site for the planting of new trees and shrubs in advance, digging and forking over the soil and then leaving the ground to settle for a few weeks. You can, however, also plant immediately after digging.
Bare-rooted shrub or tree – Dig a hole which will be large enough- depth and width, to allow the roots to spread out naturally, and drive in a stake three or four inches from the centre. Place it so that it is on the side of the tree away from the general wind direction.
As you keep the tree upright, add some compost, and then the soil, shaking gently as you do to ensure it all settles in place. Continue to fill the hole carefully, ensuring the plant is still at the right depth.
Finally the hole should be back filled, the soil firmed and a tie added to the top of the stake support – water well.
Container grown tree or shrub – Dig the hole large enough to allow compost under and around the root ball. Water the plant, and then place it in the hole, checking position is correct and then you can remove the container. Again fill in the hole with a planting mix or compost, firming it with your hands, and making sure it is level with the surface of the soil. Again position your stake as before, this time at an angle of 45 degrees so that it does not damage the root ball. Tie in securely.
Some other things to do now
Pruning – You will have pruned spring and early summer flowering by this time but you need now to prune long shoots of late summer and early autumn flowering. Give evergreen shrubs like privet the last trim now and they will remain neat until growth begins again in spring. You may like to gather ripe seeds from shrubs and trees to sow now if they need to be exposed to frost, or store them until the spring.
Patios and Pots – You can keep the colour going in your tubs and containers until the first frosts and then clear them out and decide on some flowers to give an autumn display.
At this time of year you need to pay attention to good drainage, so that water does not collect in the soil and freeze. You can put a layer of drainage material such as broken pots, large stones or even pieces of polystyrene plant trees. You could put a layer of netting over these pieces to help prevent the compost falling into the spaces between the pots.
When you have filled the container with compost, add your plants, putting them closely together to give great impact. These plants will not grow much now the days are getting colder. Leave about half an inch clear below the rim to allow for watering.
Plants to use:
- Cyclamen with shades of purple, red and pink.
- Chrysanthemums in a wide range of colours
- Ornamental cabbages or kale which have frilled leaves in varying shades, including pink, green and purple
- Winter flowering pansies
- Colourful evergreen foliage such as variegated ivies
You may plant bulbs also for spring, daffodils, narcissus and tulips for instance, but you should protect them from the worst of the weather through winter and bring out and put in position as the days begin to warm up in spring.
- Clear out hanging baskets and other containers once annuals have finished flowering, composting remains unless diseased.
- Store containers in a shed or garage if they are not frost proof.
- Move any tender perennials that don’t like frost and place under cover.
Now is the time to prepare your lawn for winter so that it can best withstand the cold weather extremes ahead.
Mowing – Grass continues to grow while the weather is fairly mild and the ground is still warm. It is usually best to leave the grass a little longer now to protect the base from early frost. Remember to collect all the grass clippings – leaving them can encourage the growth of moss.
Clearing Leaves – If you leave a carpet of fallen leaves on your lawn, the grass will soften and patches of moss may form in the underlying damp conditions. Sweep them up and keep in a corner of your garden to rot down into leaf mould. Some leaves will be drawn into your mower as you cut and the chippings and chopped leaves can be put onto your compost heap.
Worm Casts – These are very useful in the garden because they help to aerate the soil as well as recycling head plant waste, but they do look ugly on the lawn and it is best to use a stiff brush and sweep them away. If you use an acidic fertilizer in spring and summer you will see a reduction in worm casts as the worms move away from the acidic soil to the surrounding borders instead.
Aerating the lawn – Most problems with lawns are caused by soil compaction. This mostly occurs by frequent activity on the lawn, pressing the air out of the soil so that the grass dies, leaving bare patches in the lawn. Spiking the lawn with a fork and brushing up little plugs of turf that are drawn out. You can fill in the holes with a mixture of peat, loam and sand.
Things to do at this time:
- Make repairs to your lawn – bare patches and broken edges.
- Level humps and hollows which may have developed.
- Lay turf or sow a new lawn. The soil is still warm so root development will be quick and well established by the spring.
- You can brush off any toadstools that appear at this time, though they are usually quite harmless.
Finally – General autumn checklist for a healthy garden
To maintain good health of your plants including clearing up and some cultivation, carry out these tasks before the onset of winter
- Get rid of dead plant remains from your borders and vegetable beds, including weeds, and add to your compost heap.
- If you have a pond, net it now to stop falling leaves from dropping into the water, and fouling it.
- Rake up fallen leaves, to make a stack of leaf mould or mix with other compost.
- Gather vegetables, storing those not to be used now.
- Plant any new trees, shrubs, roses, climbers and perennials while the earth is still warm.
- Finish harvesting your fruit.
- Lay any new lawn areas.
- You can start your winter digging – it is good for heavy soils to be broken up and left to frost exposure.
- Give hedges their last trim.
- You can move your outdoor containers undercover before the cold weather arrives. Insulate them where they are if needed.
- It is best to raise the cutting height of your lawnmower for your last grass cut.
- Look after the birds in your garden. They help to control plant pests, so make sure you feed them well. Keep a good supply of seed on your bird table, safe from squirrels and cats. You can even hang feeds among branches, and perhaps install bird boxes for winter shelter before the nesting season in spring.