Preparing Your Garden For Winter

By Steve Malsher

Well, Autumn is now in full sway, and as with Spring and Summer, it arrived a little bit late horticulturally speaking, as a very fine September just kept giving us great sunny days.

I love this time of year and the colours it can bring to a garden, as I am sure anyone who saw the displays at RHS Chelsea can attest to. Did I mention that the stand we built for David Harber gained a 5 Star award!!! Anemones, Dahlias, Cosmos, and Verbena bonariensis adorn our gardens as well as many other plants, until first frost.

Nicholsons’ RHS Chelsea Trade Stand 2021

As a horticulturist I am always looking forward to the next season, winter. I find it incredulous that many people think we slow down as we hit the darkest and coldest of seasons. Nothing could be further from the truth. A wise old gardener once said to me, ‘Rest on yer laurels fer winter, brings yer misery and no gain in the spring’. This I have often seen in neglected winter gardens.

One job that is a constant, is leaf clearing. Oh, for someone to breed a tree that dropped all of its leaves on one day! Uncleared leaves on lawns, will result in a boggy mess come spring, and on a driveway will encourage weed growth as they break down. Other leaves in borders can harbour pests and diseases, until such time they decompose. Want nice Garden in spring? Clear your leaves.

Putting the garden to bed. Take care of your perennials as they fade into senescence. Cut back the leaves. Hollow stems can be left to encourage beneficial insects to over winter, and indeed some flower heads such as Sedums can provide stunning architectural structure to a frosted winter garden. Irrigation should be drained off and timers placed indoors to protect from frost damage. Re-Mulch the borders. We use a very fine composted bark for this; it protects the crowns of plants, insulates the ground somewhat, adds nutrients to the soil, improves soil structure, and hinders annual weeds. Want a nice garden in the spring? Put your garden to bed.

Winter pruning. For flowering shrubs and trees, we are pruning those that flower after Midsummer’s Day. If they flower before Midsummer’s Day, we prune directly after flowering. Of course, in horticulture there are always exceptions. We will also be pruning apples and pears but not stone fruit, such as Plum or Cherry, which are pruned late spring. Restricted growth trees are also not pruned in winter; that is to say, cordons, espalier, or fans. I think this is one part of horticulture that strikes the greatest fear into the hearts of amateur gardeners. Let me just say it is ridiculously difficult to kill a plant by pruning it, and at worst you will have a year without fruit or flower. However, if you are still unsure then of course contact us for the job. Want a nice flowering shrub display in late summer, and fruits on the apples and pears? Prune properly in winter.

Planting Trees and Shrubs. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is late autumn/winter. We have a greater range of trees, shrubs and hedging at this time of year, and as colder weather arrives, so does bare root and root balls, as well as container grown stock. If you want to invest in the long-term health of the planet, plant trees.

Finally, your garden does not have to be bereft of colour during the winter months as there are many options for wintering flowering herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees.

Hellebores, or Christmas rose, have a vast number of cultivars now and can offer a dazzling display. My top tip for those, is to prune back all leaves as the flower spikes start to appear, exposing the flower heads in full glory.

Viburnum x Bodnatense ‘Dawn’
A great winter flowering shrub with delicate pink flowers, as are many of the Camelia’s for late winter blossom.

Prunus x subhirtella autumalis
This winter flowering cherry, is a Nicholsons favourite for early in the season.

If you want to bring some colour to your winter garden, talk to Nicholsons. We can help make that happen.

So, you see, winter is a busy time, but the effort you put in now will pay dividends throughout the rest of the year.

Happy gardening!