Gardening Through Winter

By Steve Malsher

December is in full swing and, as many of you know, the 1st was the start of metrological winter. Our second ‘Lockdown’ has finished, just in time for shorter, colder days, producing frosty and foggy mornings. The gardens are looking a little bit sad.

A friend, whom I advise on gardening and has been working at home, said to me:

“Well that’s it for this year I suppose.  If it were not for the jobs you have been giving me to do in the garden this year, especially during November, I would have gone stir crazy”.

I asked him what he meant by this and he replied:

“I have really got into gardening this year. It would have been easy for me to get up, go to the study, work all day, and not even see the sun or appreciate how lucky I am to have a garden like this. Even now in this weather, it’s great to get out and do something. But, like I said, I suppose that’s it until spring.”

I smiled, nodded and looked around the garden – which I admit is bigger than average – and said:

“You know what, that could not be further from the truth, there are literally a hundred and one jobs to be done between now and the spring so get your pen and pad and I’ll give you some”.

Three things about that conversation struck me. The first was how lucky I am to be in a profession that gets me outside the whole year and seeing some outrageous gardens in some stunning locations. The second was how important outdoor spaces are to someone’s personal wellbeing during these incredibly difficult times. To actually have a purpose to get outside, even on dreary weather days, can have a massive impact on mental health. My third thought was how much work there actually is to do in the winter months.

Gardening Through Winter

If I’m honest, I love this time of year in a garden. We have already had a couple of heavy frosts that have finished off most of the herbaceous planting, and you can now see the bare bones of the garden. Or, as horticulturists say, “structure and architecture”.

So if you have not already done so, here are some perfect jobs for this time of year:

  • Cut back and compost the dead leaves of herbaceous plants – read my recent blog on making your own mulch by clicking here!
  • If you have clay soil you should be considering lifting any Dahlia tubers
  • Mulch your borders – as long as there is no frost or snow on the ground (it’s a great job for keeping you warm on a chilly day)
Gardening Through Winter

Those of you that have Hellebores will notice that flower buds and spikes are appearing. So, in order to maximise colour in your garden at this time of year, you can prune off the big leaves, revealing the hidden colour.

It is also time to start pruning late-flowering shrubs such as Buddleja, Roses, Wisteria, etc. Late flowering shrubs tend to flower on new wood, so by pruning in winter, you give the plant time to produce this and ripen, ready for flowering next year.

Anyone who has vegetable gardens on clay soil, or are planning new flower beds, now is the time for primary cultivation (digging over) and adding well-rotted organic material (manure or home-produced compost). This allows the winter to break down heavier soil and makes it easier to work in spring.

Gardening Through Winter

It is also apple and pear pruning time, which is always a time-consuming job. It is important to note that you should leave any stone fruit like cherries, plums and gages until spring, as they are susceptible to a disease called Silverleaf if pruned in the winter.

Winter is also an ideal time to plant trees and shrubs as most of the deciduous varieties are dormant. Bare root planting for hedges and roses is now in full swing, and Nicholsons have a vast collection of trees, shrubs and hedging in stock. Our expert staff can offer the advice you need to make the right choice and, if needed,  we can even plant them for you.

As to a colourless winter garden… Well, it doesn’t have to be!

I have already mentioned Hellebores, coming in a variety of forms and colours. Vicky Clifton, our Retail Plant Manager, has some great examples in stock in the Plant Centre. There are also some exciting winter flowering shrubs and trees, such as Jasmines, Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’, Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ (Winter flowering cherry). These are all flowering now and look glorious!

For berries and fruit, I recommend any of the Pyracanthas, or Crab apples. Last (but not least), you can always look at colourful stem options such as Dogwoods or Cornus Sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’.

Gardening Through Winter

Prunus x subhirtella

Gardening Through Winter

Cornus Sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

So, I will keep busy over winter, doing all the jobs mentioned above and going out planting trees and hedges. I hope you will too! In the meantime, it only remains for me to wish you all the very best Christmas you can have. I am looking forward to 2021 and working off that turkey and pudding in the garden.