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How to prepare your garden for winter

winter stems
Faded flower stems can provide beautiful silhouettes in autumn and winter.
Image: Shutterstock

Stems and foliage collapse as decay sets in, and fallen leaves cover the garden in blanket of autumn colours. Now is the time to have a good clean up and prepare your garden for the cold winter months ahead. Use this opportunity to carry out essential maintenance and put in place the foundations for next year’s garden display.

Tidy borders

winter borders
Clear away plant debris as herbaceous plants die back for the winter.
Image: Shutterstock

Many herbaceous plants will be looking rather sorry by the end of October. Arm yourself with some secateurs and cut back faded foliage and old flower stems that show signs of decay or fungal growth. While you’re at it – pull up any lingering weeds!

It’s worth being a little selective, however. Leave attractive seed heads such as Alliums, Eryngiums and Rudbeckia in place to provide structure and interest over winter. Ornamental grasses create elegant winter architecture, so leave these until the spring. Avoid cutting back evergreen perennials as these will provide valuable colour and ground cover throughout winter.

Mulch, mulch, mulch

Mulch borders in autumn
Mulch borders in autumn while the soil is still warm.
Image: Shutterstock

Once your borders are tidy, you can add a biodegradable mulch to feed and protect your soil. Gone are the days when it was recommended to dig the soil over in winter. The soil is alive with worms and other organisms that will happily do the hard work for you!

Spread a layer of well-rotted manure, garden compost or leaf mould across the surface of the soil. As they break down they will release nutrients to feed your soil, as well as improving aeration, drainage and soil texture. Try to do this in late autumn, while the soil is still warm and soil organisms remain active.

Clean out the greenhouse

 Clean greenhouse
Clean greenhouses throroughly to prepare for the next growing season.
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With winter fast approaching, utilise your greenhouse space to protect your tender plants. Remove everything from the greenhouse and sweep out every last nook and crevice to remove any pests and fungal diseases. Wash down the glass from top to bottom with hot water and a horticultural disinfectant to remove all traces of grime.

Overwintering pests and diseases will find all sorts of places to hide! Make time to wash down the staging and any pots, seed trays and tools. Any open bags of compost should be discarded too – you can use them as mulch on your borders.

Ventilate the greenhouse to dry it out before you fill it with plants again.

Protect tender plants

 protect tender plants in winter
Protect tender plants in winter.
Image: Shutterstock

Be sure to protect tender species before you lose them to an early frost! Tuberous and rhizomatous species, such as Dahlias and Begonias should be cut back and lifted from the soil. Dry them out and then store them in containers of loose, dry compost with their stems just above soil level.

Potted tender plants should be brought into a bright, frost free location such as a conservatory or a heated greenhouse. Check them over and remove any signs of pests or diseases before you bring them in. This will help to prevent the spread of infection to other overwintering plants.

Tender plants which cannot be moved will need to be protected in situ. You can use a protective layer of straw wrapped in place with a breathable cover such as netting, horticultural fleece or hessian. This works well for larger specimen plants such as tree ferns and bananas.

Rake up leaves

 Rake up leaves and add them to the compost heap.
Rake up leaves. Add them to the compost heap or make your own leaf mould.
Image: Shutterstock

Fallen leaves look messy and can provide the perfect environment for overwintering fungal diseases. Leaves left lying on your lawn will also block vital sunlight from reaching the grass so it’s important to rake them up. Don’t forget to also clear gutters, downpipes and drains of fallen leaves to prevent winter rains accumulating and flooding your home and garden.

If you own a pond, you should cover the surface with a net to catch any stray leaf litter. Leaves that are left in the water will rot down, robbing the water of oxygen during the process. Oxygen is vital for fish and other aquatic life living in your pond.

You can dispose of them or better still, make your own leaf mould! Leaves can be piled into a compost bin and left to rot down. In around 2 years’ time they will have a crumbly texture and you can spread it onto borders as a nutrient rich mulch.

Protect outdoor furniture

 treat wooden furniture with preservative
Treat wooden furniture with preservative to keep them looking at their best.
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Outdoor furniture can be an expensive investment so it’s well worth looking after it. Cast aluminium and wooden furniture will be fine left outdoors overwinter. Wash it down with warm soapy water and move it to a sheltered position if possible, to spare it from the worst of the weather. Treat wooden furniture to a coat of wood preservative to keep it looking fabulous.

Resin and synthetic woven furniture are also weatherproof but may be lightweight and can suffer damage if blown over by strong winds. Again they will benefit from a sheltered spot.

and cane furniture is best moved to a shed or garage for the winter to keep it looking at its best. Loungers and deck chairs should also be brought undercover. Don’t forget to bring in cushions, parasols and party tents too!

Maintain tools and equipment

 maintain garden tools and equipment
Clean and maintain garden tools and equipment in preparation for next year.
Image: Shutterstock

Your garden tools work hard throughout the year so a little maintenance can really pay off! Clean and sharpen secateurs, shears and loppers to ensure a cleaner cut and reduce the risk of plant diseases. Spades, trowels, and forks need a good wash in soapy water. Once thoroughly dry, all metal parts should be oiled to stop rust and keep them working at their best.

Lawnmowers and other mechanical tools will benefit from a service. Send them away to be professionally maintained in readiness for next season.

Look after wildlife

 look after winter wildlife
Attract Goldfinch with niger seed.
Image: Shutterstock

Our winter gardens provide shelter and sustanance for wildlife in winter. Your garden guests will appreciate a little help during the coldest months. Install a bird table and fill up bird feeders to cater for different species. Offer seeds, fat balls and nuts to attract a wide range of birds. Don’t forget to defrost bird baths in icy weather. Winter is a good opportunity to clean out and repair bird boxes too. Clean with a stiff scrubbing brush and boiling water only.

Don’t be too tidy! Leave an undisturbed area of the garden for hibernating wildlife. Leaf piles will encourage hedgehogs, while a bundle of old stems or garden canes will provide a useful habitat for insects. Install a log pile in an unused corner where invertebrates can take shelter.

Take some time out

 take time to review your garden
Take time to reflect upon your successes and failures this year, and make plans for next years garden displays.
Image: Dreamstime

On the coldest or wettest days, take some time to relax with a cuppa to reflect on the previous seasons! A little garden planning now will pay dividends next summer. Make note of gaps in borders, and plan continuous colour. Perhaps you could liven up doorways and patios with hanging baskets, or add some fragrance to your favourite seating area? Now is the time to place your plant order online from the comfort of an armchair indoors.

We’d love to hear your other tips for preparing the garden for winter. Just head on over to our Facebook page and drop us a line.