With snow falling in some parts of the UK, winter is fast approaching; the cold has arrived regardless of which season we’re in. Whilst many in the gardening game believe that the first frost brings the end of tinkering in the garden, preparing your estate for the winter will pay off no end come Springtime.
It’s important to remember that whilst activity above ground may go dormant, underground activity does not cease. In fact, trees, shrubs, annuals and bulbs are all busy, preparing for the cold by growing roots and taking in water and nutrients from the soil, before it freezes. Increase the nutritional value of the soil by adding compost. This time of year gives the worms plenty of time to work it deep into the ground and the winter weather frost and thaw cycle helps to break down soil, so it is ready for the spring.
Some gardeners become obsessed with removing dead plants and cutting back dying shrubs, but don’t get too carried away deadheading your plants; the more you leave standing, the more wildlife you encourage, especially if there are seeds involved. Whilst a plant may look skeletal, you would be surprised what the native birds can forage from them. Boost your bird numbers further by siting a number of bird feeders at various heights around your garden, ideally within a very short distance of a tree. This provides birds with a safe place to escape to if a predator frightens them whilst feeding.
With the leaves fallen, smothering the lawn, it’s time to dig out the old garden rake and collect them. Not just a matter of tidiness, your lawn has to breathe, just like every other living object and a layer of leaves can form barriers that block water, nutrients and a healthy air flow. Whilst a leaf blower is great for getting those pesky leaves off of your lawn, it is no replacement for a strong rake, which can double up as a thatch-removal tool. Not that this is a cure for a serious thatch problem, but every little helps, right? If you have an excess of fallen leaves, you can make your own compost for next Spring (although don’t be fooled – it’s not as simple as you would expect!).
Now that the living, breathing aspects of your garden are taken care of, it might be time to think about your tools, your garden luxuries and any changes you might want to make before next spring.
After a hard years gardening, it pays to keep your tools in tip, top condition. Too many of us are guilty of storing tools and gardening equipment in dark, damp environments, which is why it is not enough to simply wipe them over before a winter’s storage. Sometimes a thorough, professional service is necessary whilst they’re not in use. For hand tools, ensure any rough wooden handles are sanded down and wiped with linseed oil to nourish and preserve the wood. Once wiped over, sharpen blades, spades and hoes with an oilstone or diamond sharpening tool.
Next think about your garden furniture and outdoor living luxuries… How much will you use them over the winter? How should you store them? Do they need annual maintenance? Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and store soft furnishings in a dry place, out of the sun. If you have decided that your garden furniture has seen better days, why not start researching your next set? Some brands require lengthy shipping times, so it could be worth ordering yours now, ready for the spring.
Finally, winter can be a great time to reflect on how you have used your garden over the spring, summer and autumnal months. Without the blooming foliage of summer, you’ll be able to see the structure of the garden clearly and plan your 2018 gardening year. These quieter times also offer a perfect opportunity to install luxuries such as garden buildings, pavilions, lighting and power points to and from your outdoor living area.