With winter fast rolling in, it’s tempting to think that the work in the garden is over for this year… But there’s still a lot to do before the cold months kick in!
Putting a garden to bed for the winter is mostly a case of clearing up, covering up and pruning back. As Autumn gives way to Winter, any plants that can survive the cold will go into a dormant phase of their life cycle, so your first job will be to clean out the dead foliage and plant matter of your annual plants to prevent them harbouring harmful microbes, insect eggs and other pests over winter.
Take care of your soil before the frosts
It looks like all life in the garden has come to a standstill, but a lot of activity continues under the soil roght up until the point of freezing. Earthworms, burrowing insects and soil microbes are all working their way through the detritus they find, while the bulbs and roots of your plants continue to grow, reaching deeper into the soil and drawing in the nutrients and water there. To keep this all ticking over, it’s important to lay down another coat of mulch now, as the mulch you put down before the Summer will probably be completely depleted by now!
Spread the mulch considerably thicker than you would in warm weather, as it helps insulate the soil and makes sure temperatures change more slowly – making dangerous flash-freezes less likely and keeping soil frozen once it freezes over. A great insulating mulch can be made from the fallen leaves of deciduous trees, which, depending on the tree type in your garden, may be very plentiful indeed.
Remove shading from greenhouses and tidy them up
The further into winter we get, the shorter the days will become, with sunlight becoming an increasingly valuable resource. Taking any shading paint off the glass of your greenhouse is a good way to maximise the light available to your plants, and can help keep the temperatures high enough for them to survive. You should use this opportunity to keep the gutters and drains clear too, since if they trap water and the water proceeds to freeze you could wind up with a real problem on your hands in the middle of winter!
The next tip is to do a little clearing-out inside the greenhouse too, since you’re already working on it. Remove the plants, give it a good sweep out, disinfect everything and let it air for a few days to dry thoroughly!
Tidy up your borders
Dig up any dead annuals and put them on the compost heap, and use this chance to move poorly placed plants. Divide overcrowded perennials while the soil is still warm enough to work with, and cutting the rest back to about 2 inches above ground level, but don’t take too much off! You risk cutting out all the shelter your garden’s insects depend on to make it through the winter.
Once everything is clean and tidy, spread that winter mulch layer thick over it to keep everything nicely insulated and begin infusing the soil with nutrients for the spring.
Do some lawn maintenance
Autumn is also the best time to revitalise a lacklustre lawn. Remove moss and old clippings using a rake and throw it on the compost heap, and make deep holes with a garden fork across any compacted areas to improve aeration of the soil and drainage across the lawn. If you have new turf to lay, lay it now to give it plenty of time to establish itself before the summer.
Lastly, a coat of Autumn lawn feed can perfectly prepare the grass for the cold months ahead!
Clear out your compost bins
Clearing up your borders, raking leaves and disposing of annuals always makes a lot of food for compost heaps, so it is the perfect time to clear last year’s compost out and use it around the garden. If it’s not quite ready yet, turn it to improve decomposition and make a second heap – compost is something you can’t have too much of!
Maintain your garden equipment
Before sealing away your garden tools for next year, it’s worth showing them a little love to make sure they’re in perfect order for next Spring! Shears, clippers and secateurs need to be sharpened, which you can have don professionally but which could be done at home too if you felt like it. The lawn mower can be sent for a service to make sure everything is in working order, and a good scrub can be used to keep your spades, forks and other soil-moving tools in tip-top condition. Keeping the metal tools dry and oiled will prevent rust, while wooden handles can be protected from the elements by linseed oil. Also make sure you keep your garden hose stored inside to prevent frost damage from splitting it.
Good luck, and enjoy getting your garden ready for winter!