Sustainable Living

The Winter Gardener

 Why winter is so important for our gardens

Unless you are fortunate to own a garden in the tropics, you’ll likely be counting down to that ominous first frost. The flowers have gone, the leaves have fallen and the grass is on self-maintenance mode. But as I sit indoors with a hot beverage and a booming fire, I compile my to-do list. It’s a busy time; it’s traditional to clean our homes in spring but for the garden- spring-clean is winter-clean. Whether you have a few potted plants or a small-holding, winter can be a very busy time for a garden enthusiast.

Start by clearing up. All those leaves clotting in corners and smothering your garden from those precious few hours of sunlight… gather and compost into leafmould. All leaves can be collected for leafmould and it will prove to be an invaluable soil conditioner. Collect pine needles separately to produce an acidic leafmould for those ericaceous plants, such as rhododendrons and azaleas. If like me, you don’t have pines, you can purchase sulphur chips from many garden suppliers and retailers –and these can be sprinkled around your ericaceous plants all year round.

Clean all your pots and tools to maintain good plant hygiene. Protect plants that are overwintering by taking those non-frost-proof pots and move them inside; if moving plants indoor isn’t an option, you can use a mini-polytunnel or oat straw to cover vulnerable plants. Horticulturally the year isn’t over, you can still plant out bare root trees and bushes including some hardy perennials; many can be planted out all winter, establishing themselves before the spring growth. The vegetable garden needn’t rest either, plant garlic now but keep them indoors; this will give you a larger bulb come spring.

Those leafy greens are still rotating, sowing as you harvest; you can keep yourself in lettuces and cabbages all year round when you select the correct variety.