As I look out at my snow covered garden I could be forgiven for thinking there is little for the gardener to do over the next couple of months. Not so. A little effort now can reap tremendous benefits for the year ahead.
I am pleased to say I don’t even need to step outside my house to begin the important process of planning for spring and summer. Sitting in a comfy chair, browsing through glossy catalogues and preparing a wish list of gorgeous plants to buy, I can ask myself what worked well last year and what improvements can I make? Were there any significant gaps in planting or are there any overgrown shrubs that now need drastic pruning or replacing? And while reviewing the planting, I can also review the overall garden design - for a garden not only needs to look good, it also needs to be practical. So if needs have changed, for example the kids have grown and no longer use the trampoline, the space can be used for something else - a vegetable patch or herb garden perhaps.
Gardening in snowy weather is definitely an armchair activity and unless you are brushing snow from shrubs and branches of trees that are suffering under the weight of heavy snowfall, it is best to stay indoors.
However once the thaw is over and providing the ground isn’t waterlogged, there are plenty of jobs to get on with.
Planting is fine as long as the soil isn’t frozen and now is a good time to plant bare root hedges and roses. A mild winter day is also the perfect time to prune shrubs, wisterias, roses and fruit trees.
Thin out the branches to increase the light and air that flows through the tree or shrub. Start with removing old or damaged branches and make a clean angled cut just above a bud in the same direction as the bud so that rain runs off easily. Remove twisted branches and any branches that cross or rub together. Stand back and make the final cuts to achieve the attractive shape you want and then admire your handiwork.
In the borders, cut back dying perennials and ornamental grasses and fork over the soil as you go, removing any weeds. If you have bare patches of soil dig it over roughly, leaving the large clods of earth to break down naturally in the winter weather, so improving the overall structure of the soil.
It is a good idea to apply a thick 5cm layer of mulch to planted areas to seal in moisture, insulate delicate plants and create a barrier against weeds. Your local garden centre is probably the best place to go for mulch and there are all sorts to choose from. But if you want to buy animal manure from a farm, make sure it is well composted. Never use raw manure directly on a border. Its high nutrient content will burn plants destroy seedlings and inhibit plant growth. Moreover pathogens in the manure will spread weed seeds and at worse make you feel ill. Certainly if the manure has an offensive odour, don’t use it.
In winter there are lots of jobs to do in the garden that come under the general heading of housekeeping. Here are just a few.
Tidy the shed.
Clean and disinfect pots and seed trays
Clean and oil garden tools
Service the lawn mower and any power tools
Get to grips with any building or maintenance jobs such as fence repairs, checking climber supports and so on
Ticking off such tasks will undoubtedly make you feel very virtuous but more importantly, set you up nicely for spring
A word of warning: in frosty conditions or when temperatures are below freezing, avoid any pruning or planting jobs. Pruning will risk dieback and new planting will find it difficult or impossible to establish.
Walking too much on borders will compact the soil and harm its structure. Walking too much on lawns is also a no-no. If frozen grass blades snap and blacken, the lawn may well take several seasons to fully recover.
So my best advice in these conditions is to stay indoors and stick with the armchair gardening.