Five things to do in the garden in late winter

Garden expert Andy McIndoe helps you to play catch up in the late winter garden.

Chitting Seed Potatoes
Time to chit seed potatoes. Image: Andy McIndoe
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It’s surprising how quickly spring comes around once we are past the shortest day. I always think I’ve got ages to catch up in the garden, then suddenly those spring bulbs start poking through the ground, buds start to swell and before you know it the grass wants cutting.

Of course there will be days when the ground is frozen and frost stays on the grass, but there are a few jobs you can still do.

  • Seed potatoes are on sale soon after Christmas and that’s the time to buy. If you haven’t got a vegetable plot you can still grow excellent potatoes in cropping bags or large pots, even on a balcony or outside the back door. The secret is getting an early start. Buy potato tubers now and set them out in egg boxes, ‘rose end’ up. That’s the end of the potato where you can see the most eyes. Keep them in a cool light place to produce chits before planting in mid-March.

    Lily bulbs in pot
    Lily bulbs in pot. Image: Andy McIndoe
  • Now is the time to think about summer flowering bulbs, especially lilies. They go on sale early in the new year and they hate to be out of the ground. Lilies are quite hardy so can be planted in the ground as soon as you buy them, or in large pots. If you leave them out of the soil until later in spring they tend to dry out and shrivel. Plant them at least three times the depth of the bulb and on their sides. This prevents water from becoming trapped in the heart of the bulbs which can cause rot. Lilies are great value and if you choose the scented varieties they can fill the summer garden with their delicious perfume.

    Helleborus x hybridus
    Helleborus x hybridus. Image: Andy McIndoe
  • Now is the time to have a good tidy up in beds and borders. The weeds will have kept growing even if shrubs and perennials have been dormant, so if you can get on top of them now so much the better. Cut back the dead remains of any perennials if you have not already done so. Hellebore buds are starting to emerge. Helleborus x hybridus looks better, stays healthier and displays its flowers to advantage if you remove the old leaves as the flowers start to develop. New leaves soon follow the flowers once their stems have reached a few centimetres in height.

    Lily bulbs in pot
    Lily bulbs in pot. Image: Andy McIndoe
  • This is also a good moment to edge up your beds and borders and possibly adjust the shape of the lawn to accommodate the planting. Gradually the edges of planting areas become less defined and the grass tends to creep into the beds as plants flop over the edges. This makes mowing tricky and leaves you with awkward areas to cut. Before the perennials start to billow and shrubs come into leaf, either widen the beds to accommodate the planting, or move any plants that are too near the edges. You may be surprised how those beds get smaller over a period of time. The shape of the lawn is one of the most important things that I emphasise on my online course on lawns at
  • For those gardening on heavy clays soils digging might be heavy and difficult. However if you can turn over the soil and leave the ground rough in the vegetable patch, or any unplanted areas, then do so. Spread compost or manure and coarse grit and leave the worms and frost to do their work over the next few weeks. If on the other hand you have light, sandy soil, which is easy to work even in wet winter weather, it will be low in nutrients and lack body so a similar application of compost or well-rotted manure now helps to improve fertility and structure.

At the beginning of a new gardening season this is the ideal time to join me on one of my online courses at MyGardenSchool.

Andy McIndoe

About Andy McIndoe

Andy has over 35 years experience in retail and production horticulture. A regular contributor to a number of magazines, newspapers and BBC Radio he lectures to gardening groups and societies at home and abroad and leads numerous gardening tours. As Managing Director of Hillier Nurseries he was responsible for the Company’s exhibit at RHS Chelsea Flower Show for 25 years, maintaining an unbroken record of Gold Medals. Andy’s special interests include hardy shrubs, trees, herbaceous perennials, flower bulbs and garden design and he has authored books on all of these subjects. His latest book, The Creative Shrub Garden is published by Timber Press in the UK and US. Andy blogs three times a week and is a tutor of several courses at the online MyGardenSchool.
@AndyMcIndoe
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