Gardening in winter is all about protecting your plants and trees as best you can to survive the winter months. We have put together some helpful advice that will help keep your garden healthy and alive throughout the winter.
Winter is the ideal time to prune your apple and pear trees now that plants are dormant and the tree’s naked branch structure can most easily be seen. Look out for congested, rubbing growth, dead or diseased wood, and overlong branch leaders. Pruning apples and pears keeps your trees cropping well, stimulates new growth and also maintains the tree’s health. It also helps provide good quality fruit at harvest and can mean that fruit is in easier reach for picking. Use sharp secateurs for growth that is within reach; for taller trees you will need a long reach pruner and thicker branches will require a pruning saw to cut.
Winter pruning of apples and pears involves three main techniques.
- Spur pruning and thinning, to stimulate growth of fruiting spurs and prevent overcrowded fruiting.
- Regulated pruning to remove crossing or rubbing branches.
- Renewal pruning, to stimulate new young wood.
You will need sharp secateurs, a pruning saw and for taller trees long reach pruners. Remember that pruning an apple or pear tree will stimulate it to produce more growth. If your tree is vigorous, cutting back too hard will simply result in excessive young growth in spring. More vigorous trees need less pruning.
The amount and sort of pruning you carry out will change from year to year. Check young trees that have been planted in the last couple of years before the worst winter weather – make sure tree ties and stakes are fit for purpose and will support the tree through winter gales.
Check unstaked shrubs and trees planted in the last year or so for wind rock, where the roots are broken and the stem moves loosely in the soil. Plants such as buddleja that grow quickly may need pruning by half with sharp secateurs or even a pruning saw to reduce wind resistance. Others, especially evergreens such as large-leaved Trachycarpus palms, may need staking now.
Remember it is also time to protect trees from any insects that can cause damage in the cold months. Winter Tree Wash will help protect the tree from overwintering moths and insects thus reducing the amount of grubs and caterpillars that hatch and fed on young leaves and fruit.
Winter gardening will often mean snow. If heavy snow falls this month, it is worth regularly shaking it off plants such as columner conifers and evergreens. These plants could damage easily by the snows weight. Snow can be surprisingly heavy as it accumulates on foliage and branches. Even if it does not cause branches to break, it can spoil the tight form and shape of some plants. Keep an eye on conditions, especially if you carried out autumn planting. It is easy to forget that we can have dry spells in winter and that during periods of high winds evergreen plants in particular will need regular watering as they establish.
Plants in Pots & Containers
Check any plants in containers regularly as they dry out the quickest. During occasional periods of severe cold it is worth protecting some more tender plants if you have not already wrapped them up. Lag tree ferns with hessian and straw; mulch any tender perennials thickly with compost; and wrap bananas and other exotics taking their chances out doors with bubble wrap or fleece.
It is best to move potted plants under cover or at least close to shelter by house walls during spells of extreme cold when the compost and roots within may freeze. Even relatively hardy plants that survive winter when easily planted out in the ground can damage if grown in containers. You can lag pots with hessian or bubble wrap, or if its just overnight when extreme temperatures are forecast, bring the plant in. You can even cover plants with plant jackets which will give plants protection against both ground and air frosts. They will still allow air, water and moisture to reach the plants.
Plants in the Ground
It is best to give herbaceous plants left in the ground that have tender, fleshy roots such as cannas, dahlias and gingers, a thick mulch of garden compost. You can then top off with a layer of straw or leaf mould to help protect them. Long periods of strong icy winds can be harmful, especially to newly planted evergreens and those on the tender side.
Protect young plants such as bay, rhododendrons, myrtle, evergreen magnolia and pittosporum by knocking four canes or posts into the ground and wrapping hessian or windbreak fabric around. You can leave the top open. Some alpines and succulents such as saxifrages and tougher agaves, while fairly hardy, do not enjoy winter wet. Make sure they are well mulched with grit to keep moisture away from foliage and if possible try to provide shelter from above in wet weather using a sheet of Perspex or a small, well-ventilated cloche.