Finally, the weather has improved after an exceptionally grey and wet October. Thoughts are now turning to our winter preparations in the garden, a chance to take stock, have a tidy and make some plans for next year.

To cut back or not cut back

Gone are the days when everything is cut back down to the ground. Encouraging nature in your garden doesn’t just stop at the feathered variety but also over wintering insects. Leaving plants to die back naturally will provide precious habitats for insects and an extra layer of insulation against winter weather. It really is a personal choice and here at Marks Hall Estate we do cut back the majority of herbaceous perennials at this time of year. It not only keeps the garden looking tidy but allows us to see which plants are doing well, where there are gaps and saves us from the job in spring when we are at our busiest.


There are of course plants that should not be cut back during winter as the foliage provides much needed protection. Ornamental grasses are one example, and these can be cut back in March/April just as the new shoots start to emerge. Some plants such as Phlomis russeliana produce fantastic seed heads, which left over winter look very dramatic on a cold frosty day.

Clearing back old foliage also gives us the opportunity to pot up any self-sown seedlings that have grown in places where we don’t need them. Pot them up and grow them on, ready for planting back out in spring.

Tulip planting

It is not too late to get those tulip bulbs planted. As they have a short growing season prior to flowering they can be planted right up until Christmas. Tulips can suffer from a fungal disease known as ‘tulip fire’ or Botrytis tulipae. Mild, wet weather can promote the growth of spores so delaying planting until November can reduce the risks. If your tulips do produce distorted, twisted leaves and large brown spots it is likely to have the disease - soil and bulbs should then be burnt. Plant tulips at a depth 2 to 3 times the depth of the bulb.

Tender plants

As the temperatures drop protect those tender plants, either with a good layer of fleece or by lifting and potting on to store in a cool space. Dahlias in a sheltered position may survive under a thick layer of mulch, but some tender plants such as Salvia ‘love and wishes’ are best lifted and stored in a cold frame.

Winter pruning

At this time of year plants enter their dormant stage and now is the time to start thinking about winter pruning. The majority of pruning can take place towards the end of February or the beginning of march. By delaying pruning, it avoids any damage to cut stems that can occur over the colder winter months, particularly during frosty conditions.

Winter pruning will stimulate new growth in spring, whilst summer pruning restricts growth. Summer flowering shrubs such as Buddleja and Hydrangea paniculata can be cut back hard. Other hardy trees, shrubs and fruit bushes can be pruned to remove any diseased, damaged, and dead branches.

Soft fruit trees such as cherry and plum should be left until early to mid-summer to reduce the chance of introducing infections.
Cornus, Continus and Sambucus all benefit from pruning back last year’s growth to produce wonderful foliage later in the season. Applying a good layer of mulch after pruning, at least 5cm/2", whether it be soil conditioner, leaf mould or home-produced compost will reap rewards next year. Mulch helps to regulate the temperature near the roots, keeping it warm in the winter and cool in the summer and it reduces weed growth in the spring.

Let us know how you overwinter and share your pictures with us on our social media channels - Facebook, Twitter and Instagram