Tips for the Winter Garden

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At this time of year the daylight hours lessen and time spent outdoors will be all the more important. With this in mind it is a good time to have a look at the ‘bones’ of the garden and plan for the year ahead.

When looking round your garden see where there may be a need for more structure, and think about the plants that that could help you extend the seasons. Structure may mean adding an arbour for plants to climb over or it may mean looking at trees, hedging and shrubs to provide more interest.

3. Hazel Arbour with Viburnum tinus'Eve Price' Claudia de Yong

A hazel arbour adds height and interest. Standard evergreen Viburnum Tinus provide structure.

Leaving some plants with their seed heads on can add to the winder garden too so look at introducing more grasses and plants that will carry their architectural qualities to the garden for longer.

Frosted seed heads

Frosted seeds heads

There are plenty of clearing jobs to be done now in the garden, especially picking up any dead and fallen leaves. Sodden leaves are a hazard on paths and paving, but also on lawns where leaves left for too long can cause black patches – watch out for hedgehogs sleeping though before disturbing piles of leaves.

Start by raking the leaves into piles and if room allows, make a netted container for the leaves, which will eventually rot down making a good leaf mould in no time. To make a container, drive four stakes of wood into the ground and staple some chicken wire around to make a cage then fill with leaves. Don’t put any leaves with black spot into the compost pile as the disease may spread, so burn these leaves or dispose of them where they can’t re -infect any plants. You can also use bin bags to make leaf mould but make sure there are holes in the bags to let any water out and aerate the contents. Seal the bags once full and place them out of sight somewhere perhaps behind a shed or garage. Do not put evergreen holly, laurel or conifers as they will take years to decompose.

Vulnerable plants will need protection from frosts and you may notice many tender plants and perennials suffering with wilt or bud drop if there has been frost. If you can get some hessian or horticultural fleece it is worth the effort especially if you have plants that are special to you.

Any small pots left outside that don’t need wrapping but some form of protection, will fare better if they are gathered together for mutual protection, close to a wall out of the way of harsh bitter winter winds which will dry the plants out or become frozen alone in the cold.

If you haven’t already cleaned your greenhouse, give the glass a good scrub inside and out, disinfect any benches, making sure you get into any corners where pests like to make their home.


Greenhouse Alitex

With a pond, try to clear all the rotten leaves and branches out to prevent any more decay in the bottom. If you leave the decaying material it will end up absorbing all the oxygen and releases the gas hydrogen sulphide. Decaying detritus will compromise water quality and supply more nutrients to nuisance weeds and algae.

If your pond freezes, it can be harmful to fish and newts if oxygen cannot get through the ice and toxic gases develop, so consider buying some specially designed polystyrene floating foam to keep areas free of ice or make a hole in the ice.

Icy Pond claudia de Yong designs

Frozen pond 

Snow will act as a blanket trapping warmth beneath a thick layer on many plants. It may image some topiary and trees with weight but if your lawn is covered in snow, tempting as it is try not to walk on it as it will damage the crown leaving it susceptible to pests and diseases. The crown is the top where the grass grows and although we think of grass as a sort of ‘carpet’, it is made up of millions of individual blades of grass with roots that can die off and leave bare patches.


Snow covered grass

A great many plants are at their best in the winter months. Some trees offer bark and stem interest, trees such as Acer ‘griseum’ display wonderful peeling bark revealing cinnamon coloured red wood beneath it’s chestnut brown stems and branches.

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 Acer Griseum, Imgae credit Cambridge Botanic Garden

The white stems of Himalayan Birch, Betula utilis var. jacquemontii ‘ Grayswood Ghost’ stand out looking spectacular especially against topiary. Look too for the various plants that can be pruned for structure and hedging such as the deciduous Beech which will often hang on it’s leaves and can be shaped into wonderful domes.

Shrubs such as the bright vibrant flamed coloured stems of the Dogwood, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ light up the darkest of garden and Witch hazel such as Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ has stunning clusters of coppery- orange flowers clinging to bare twigs.

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Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ , image credit Thomsona and Morgan 

The powerfully scented varieties of Winter Box ‘Sarcococca’ are evergreen and work well planted near the house so you can enjoy their heavenly perfume.

Herbaceous plants such as Hellebores also called the Christmas or Lenten Rose flower is an early bloomer continuing sometimes well into the Spring months right up to May. There are some wonderful coloured varieties to choose from and many have double flowers. Tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions, they will naturalise quite quickly when planted in moist well-drained soil that is in partial shade. If planted in a raised bed you can better enjoy their downward facing blooms.

Spring Hellebores Claudia de Yong DEsigns

A bed planted with Hellebores which have naturalised under an old Rhododendron