It may be cold, wet, miserable and depressing outside and you may think that your garden is silently sleeping and there’s nothing you can do outside. Cooped up inside you may be going stir crazy and dreaming of warmer weather in spring. But don’t! There’s still lots you can do outdoors to help get your garden ready for spring. Anything you do now will reduce the stress of the spring rush when days just don’t seem long enough to get everything done in time. So, what can you do? Here are my five top jobs for winter.
Some newbies to gardening believe you can’t plant anything in winter – but nothing could be further from the truth. Providing the soil isn’t frozen solid to the depth of the planting holes you’ll be digging and it isn’t waterlogged, you can plant all manner of hardy trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, fruit, roses, hedges… But keep off heavy clay soils if they’re too wet. If the soil sticks to the soles of your boots, so you get a few inches taller with every step, stay off – or use a plank of wood to work from to spread your weight and prevent damaging the soil. Obviously, anything that isn’t cold and frost hardy should be avoided until spring and this includes anything borderline hardy – including garden stalwarts such as lavender, phormiums and those so-called “hardy” fuchsias. They shouldn’t be called hardy, but “hardier”; they’re still fairly tender, but hardier than those we plant out in summer and have to be overwintered frost free indoors.
All things seeds and bulb-iful!
If you really can’t get out into the garden – get out into the garden centre! They’re mostly lovely warm places where you can spoil yourself with a warming mug of tea or coffee, a piece of cake or a full-blown three-course meal. They’ll have their new stocks of seeds, so you can take your time, take your pick and choose from the lovely selection of flowers and vegetables to grow this year. Just don’t get carried away – only buy what you need – and have space for! Nothing says sizzling summer than summer-flowering bulbs. Delicious dahlias, corking cannas, gaudy gladies and lovely lilies. Again garden centres will be getting in their new stocks of these summer beauties. And you can choose from the full range of varieties available.
Garden centres will also have their new stocks of compost – in shiny, clean bags. New compost is best, always avoid old, worn-out bags. And they usually have deals, so get your whole year’s supply in now. And if you can’t get out to a garden centre, wrap up warm at home and look through all the catalogues that have no doubt come flopping on the doormat recently and place your mail orders. Or go online and shop there.
Clean pots and trays
Seedlings and young plants are like babies – they’re more susceptible to bugs, diseases and any nasties that are going around. Get your seeds and seedlings off to the best possible start by cleaning and washing any pots and trays you’ll be using to sow seeds and grow on young plants.
Just get a bucket of warm water, a bit of household bleach, a sponge and/or nail brush and some washing-up gloves. Remove any loose compost and other debris, then soak them and clean away any grime. Rinsing well afterwards. Not only does this save you money, but it’s a great way of recycling and re-using those plastic containers. I have some pots and trays that are more than 20 years old that I clean every year after use. But then, I am mean!
Clean paths and patios
Dirty, grubby paths, patios and other hard surfaces not only look shabby – but they can become very slippery and dangerous. So give them a good clean. You could use a powered pressure washer – but they tend to just spread all that grime elsewhere in the garden! You could use a stiff-bristled broom, but that’s OK if you want to build up your muscles into the size of those of Mr Universe. Not great if you have back or other problems. Personally, I like the easy life and use a liquid patio cleaner, including Richard’s Easy Clean. If you’ve got the strength to turn on the cold water tap and carry a watering can – that’s all you have to do. Water them onto the surface and the cleaner does all the hard work for you. Nice!
Feed the birds
And finally, while it’s not strictly “gardening”, don’t forget to keep putting out food and fresh supplies of water for the garden birds. Encouraging them into your garden with tasty treats will help them survive the cold weather and your reward will be their companionship, fascinating sights and sounds throughout the year. They’ll also help with your pest control, eating away at numerous plant pests.
And don’t forget to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – #BigGardenBirdWatch. This takes place from January 29-31 and only involves an hour of your time. Find out more here.