OK it’s definitely Autumn up here in the North East of England, the wind is howling, the rain has been lashing down, we’ve had flood warning across the UK and the temperature has hit zero with a bit of snow falling over the weekend. Winter is definitely here and many people think they can take a step back, relax for a few months and forget about the garden! After all, the lawn has definitely stopped growing… But getting out there this weekend and taking the time to get your garden ready for winter can make a big difference next Spring.
A little time and careful planning over the next couple of months can give you some serious return on your investment next year. Instead of spending the early Spring playing catch up and fixing all the damage that a sometimes harsh British Winter can throw our way, you could be outside, enjoying your garden as soon as the first spring bulbs pop up. A final garden cleanup before the first frost should be your top priority, and we’ve pulled together a simple checklist for you to do before it gets a little too cold…
Around the garden
Until the ground freezes hard, continue to water any ‘woody’ plants, especially trees, roses and shrubs that you’ve recently planted and any evergreens you have. Evergreens especially need a good store of moisture going into the Winter as they don’t lose their leaves. This is also good time of year to transplant shrubs or small trees that you’ve earmarked for relocation. Do this job when the leaves turn color and begin to fall. Put plastic or wire mesh tree guards around the slender trunks of any new trees and shrubs to protect them from gnawing animals such as rabbits and mice. Also make sure that you fix your tree guards high enough, so that they are well over any potential snow fall.
Don’t cut your roses back now as its much better to wait until the early Spring, but if you have any hybrid tea roses you can build up some soil around the base for some additional winter protection if necessary. Whether you cut down dying perennial foliage or not when you’re getting the garden ready for winter is entirely up to you. Some gardeners like to leave seed heads and dried foliage for winter interest and to feed the birds, while others prefer to leave neat beds ready for a show of their Spring bulbs. Just remember that whatever you clean up now, you will not have to do in the Spring.
We always make sure we do one last weeding of our flowerbeds, and discard any weeds with seeds in the garbage instead of the compost. You don’t want the seeds sprouting in your garden next spring so get rid! Thinkk about shredding the falling leaves and using them as mulch on your flowerbeds or adding to the compost pile. In a season or two, they’ll make fantastic organic compost.
Rake up the leaves
To give your lawn the best possible start you need to make sure you rake all the leaves that fall off your lawn. If you leave them on they will ‘choke’ your grass. And in terms of spraying your lawn with weed-killer, the best time is around about now (October/early November). It is vital you give your lawn a final cutting as long grass can encourage low-temperature fungi. If you wish, you can apply an Autumn feed to toughen up the grass a little and spike/scarify to improve the drainage too. Once you’re done, this is also the best time to get your lawn mower serviced and the blades sharpened.
Be ready for the first frost
Start by protecting any tender plants you have, as well as pipes, planters and tools. Insulate outdoor water connections so that your indoor pipes don’t freeze or (heaven forbid) burst. After the ground has started to freeze, it is a good idea to mound some straw, bark or sawdust around any exposed roots and plant bases, particularly if you’ve got any strawberries or roses. You can also lighten your Spring workload by turning over the soil in vegetable beds now.
Before you put any flower boxes and planters away in winter storage, empty them out and leave them to soak with a mild solution of washing up liquid and bleach. Thoroughly drain/empty and store garden hoses to prevent them splitting and cracking. All your garden tools (spades, trowels, forks, shears etc) should be cleaned and oiled. Scrub them with a metal wire brush to remove any debris. Fill a bucket with a mixture of sand and oil, and glide your tools through the mixture with a sawing motion and wipe clean with dry cloth/towel – The sand will revive their edges and the oil residue will help prevent them from rusting.
October/November brings a little welcome relief from watering the garden, but as we’ve already mentioned it is vital that your evergreens get that final bit of TLC. The cold British Winter can ‘burn’ or even kill your evergreens if they don’t have enough water stored. Make sure you give them a final soak around this time. Now you can put your feet up and while you wait for the weather to change, use your spare time think of the plants that you’re going to grow next year. Why not sketch out your plans? A few hours of forethought can save you days of hard work when the Springtime eventually comes around.