The combination of lockdown and lovely weather turned many of us into green-fingered enthusiasts last year. Not just a fair weather hobby it seems there is plenty that can be done now to ensure we continue to reap the fruits of last summer’s labour – and with plenty of time on our hands it won’t be only our gardens getting a boost but also our mental wellbeing.
Gardening expert and Horticultural Director at Dobbies, Marcus Eyles, has plenty of ideas to keep you busy, prepare for spring and welcome garden wildlife. He said: “It may not be the natural time you’d think to head outside and do some gardening, but there is still plenty you can be getting on with. Spending even fifteen minutes outside will give you a burst of fresh air and help you to keep on top of odd jobs. As we approach one of the busiest times in the gardener’s calendar, planning ahead helps me to stay organised and keep on top of anything that might need repairing or replacing in the garden toolbox. With some waterproofs, a hot flask of tea and a pair of headphones so I can listen to a podcast, winter gardening has a quieter, slower pace to it, which I think we can all learn to enjoy.”
Winter gardening inspiration
- On dry, sunny days, escape into the garden to make a head start on jobs in preparation for the lengthening days of early spring. If healthy eating is in your focus after the indulgence of the festive period then why start growing your own indoor sprouts and microgreens, so easy and nutritious.
- Terrace garden
- Start thinking about your bedding displays. The most economical way to fill your tubs and baskets with your summer favourites is to grow your own from young plants and plugs. Pot up into growing trays or fibre pots, using peat-free multipurpose compost, and grow on in a warm frost-free greenhouse or conservatory until all risk of frost has passed.
- Summer flowering bulbs are available now. Perfect for garden borders and patio containers alike, chose from Begonias, Dahlias, Gladioli and more for fabulous summer colour with very little effort. On mild days plant patio pots with Lily bulbs to fill your garden with their heady fragrance.
- Beds and borders
- Where weather allows, now is the perfect time to plant new trees and hedges, creating wildlife friendly structure and boundaries to your garden. If you are planning on moving any plants in your garden, chose a frost-free day while they are still dormant to allow them time to establish ready for the coming spring.
- On frost free days take the opportunity to prune deciduous trees and shrubs to maintain their shape. In the event of heavy snowfall, use a broom to gently brush off Conifers, Topiary and Evergreen shrubs, helping to prevent damage under the extra weight.
- Cottage Garden
- Sow Sweet Peas under cover now to make strong plants for the earliest blooms. Sow 2 seeds into each re-usable deep root trainer or growing pot, keeping an eye out for mice, which have a penchant for germinating pea seed.
- If the ground isn’t frozen, you can make a start by planting bare-root roses this month.
- Hellebores are full of bud now ready to reveal their welcome blooms. Carefully cut off the foliage at the base to show the flowers in all their glory. Continue to cut back and tidy faded cottage garden perennials but leave grasses and seed heads for their architectural interest, particularly beautiful on frosty mornings, but also to feed winter birds and shelter overwintering insects.
- Fruit & Vegetable Garden
- Start forcing rhubarb now for the earliest sweetest stems. The traditional way is to exclude light by using an ornamental terracotta forcer, lined with straw for extra warmth, but equally a black bucket inverted over the crown will provide results.
- New season seed potatoes, onion-sets and shallots are available now. Place seed potatoes upturned in egg boxes to shoot (chit) in a light, frost free shed or garage. Don’t start them too early as they can’t be planted out until March.
Watch out for wildlife
Garden birds can be vulnerable when the ground is frozen and there’s little natural harvest available. You can help by setting up a bird table or adding a bird box or house to your garden, something that doesn’t require much space. It only takes a few minutes to put out some bird food, and if you put this out daily you will quickly have regular visitors. In winter, fat-based treats are best.
Making sure birds have access to clean fresh water is just as important as putting out bird food. Marcus said: “In freezing temperatures you can stop the water icing over by placing a table-tennis ball in the bird bath. And in the event of snow, check your feeders afterwards to make sure they haven’t been blocked up by snowfall.”
Wet weather advice
Ultimately rain is good for gardens, as it helps plants and grass to grow. When rain is predicted, it’s a good idea to fork your lawn, as this will aerate it. This essentially improves draining and opens up soil that may be compacted, so that moisture and oxygen can reach the grass roots. You can also dress lawns with a scattering of lawn sand, this will help with drainage for lawns growing on heavy soil and improve the general health of grass, keeping it green and moss free.
If you have garden furniture that can stay outside all year round, we would still recommend using a cover to protect it from the rain or frost. To be on the cautious side before a storm or windy weather strikes, make sure your garden furniture is stored away in the garden shed or garage.