Winter is coming

Winter, the time of year when I start every morning in the potting shed jumping around desperately trying to get some feeling into my painfully numb fingers and toes. The time of year when thermoregulation is on overdrive and I get repetitive strain disorder just from having to take my 6 layers of clothes on and off throughout the day. I also spend 10 minutes of my lunch break gazing out of the window at the howling wind, rain and icicles hanging off of the poly tunnel, trying to prepare myself to go back outside

Protection, Protection, Protection

It would appear that each year the weather seems to be getting warmer and dryer, meaning that our winters are getting shorter.

For us at Marks Hall, a benefit of these more tolerable winters, it that the tender Mediterranean plants in the Walled Garden which we have previously struggled to grow, have had a much higher survival rate. Despite this, each year we still provide winter protection to those who need it most. I am known to go a bit Heath Robinson with my inventions and it is amazing what can be achieved with some old chicken wire, bamboo canes and horticultural fleece. 

To protect things such as Nerium oleander and Echium pininana my main goal is to create a framework that means I can fleece over the whole plant without it touching  the foliage directly. As a wet, frosty fleece can cause just as much damage as no fleece. I double up the layers of fleece, as each layer provides approximately 2 degrees of warmth. Therefore, the thickness of protection required will depend on where you live.

For other plants, such as; Aloysia Citrodora and Meltanthus Major, I simply cut them back by half and I carry out more formative pruning later on when the risk of frost has decreased. I then create a chicken wire framework around it, instead of fleece I fill it with a thick layer of bracken scrounged from the arboretum which acts as insulation, but also allows enough ventilation to the plant.

Here is a list of other ways to keep your plants safe during the Winter;

  • Mulch the root areas of tender shrubs and perennials, such as Decidous Agapanthus.
  • Move container grown plants and lift tender perennials storing them inside.
  • Leave pruning more tender plants until any risk of frost has passed, so that last seasons growth acts as protection.
  • Do not apply nitrogen rich fertilisers too late in the year as this will produce new, sappy growth that will be more susceptible to frost damage.

Undoubtedly, one of the best bits of Winter is the need to do some armchair gardening. The earlier we start planning the better. There are so many borders to be looked at each year and I always feel they could do with a change. Planning earlier means that what worked well and what did not work well is still fresh in your mind. You are also more likely to get the plants you want before the nursery runs out and it means that you can prepare the beds before spring arrives.

Winter is also the time to,

  • Make sure that all of your taps are insulated to prevent pipes bursting.
  • Cut back by half, tall leggy shrubs and perennials that are susceptible to wind rock. Every year we have to do our Roses and Verbene Bonariensis.
  • Whilst the garden is still workable and not too wet (if it sticks to your boots keep off of it), try to dig over as much of the borders as you can to prevent them turning to concrete and increasing your workload in spring.
  • Move plants that are growing in the wrong place or have become to big. Make sure to take as much of a root ball as you can and stake tall plants.

Happy Gardening

The next post will be in February.