After a busy year in the garden, the start of the cold season means that you can finally put the shovel to rest for a few months. However, this doesn’t mean that there is nothing to do until spring: to the contrary, autumn and winter are key to setting up your garden for success the following year -and here is how you can achieve this:
1.Overwinter your dahlia tubers
One of the most collected flowers in the gardening community, dahlias amaze us with their variety of shapes and colours, from trendy ‘Café au Lait’ dinner plate types to pink pompon varieties such as ‘Wizard of Oz’. A dahlia’s energy is stored in its tubers, which allow the plant to overwinter either in the soil or dug up. If your garden isn’t subject to flooding in winter, then you can leave your tubers in the ground over winter, preferably under a thick layer of much, a cloche or protective cover to keep them dry and prevent rotting. Otherwise, cut the stems when these start turning black with the cold and dig up the tubers which you can store in a cool, dry and dark room or shed over winter, ready to be planted back in early spring the following year.
2.Check on your spring bulbs
By now, you will most likely have already planted out your bulbs: these need a period of cold to get growing in spring, hence it is important to plant them between mid-September to November, preferably starting with the earlier varieties (narcissi, crocuses, etc.). If planting in pots, try different colour combinations (using the chromatic circle as your guide) and also sequence them for continuous flowering from March until June: Crocuses and Narcissi will be first, then Tulips, then Alliums. Once your tulips have started to grow, make sure that they are watered once a week if the weather is dry. Finally, use a combination of moss, pine cones, pine needles, branches, and leaves to garnish your pots and give your display a green “forest floor” effect throughout winter: it will look even better in spring when your bulbs start growing through the moss!
3.Bring your garden indoors with dried flower arrangements
When planning which plants you want to grow next year, keep some space for those that will hold well when dried to arrange at your leisure over winter. Some examples include Lavender, Echinops, Eryngium, Strawflowers, Amaranthus, Nigella and Poppy seed pods, Alliums; for foliage, try growing Bunny tail grass (which you can dye in different colours), Honesty, Pampas grass or Miscanthus. You can also forage your local area to add diversity to your indoor displays – for instance with wheatgrass or teasels. Your dried flowers can be used in wreaths, as gift wraps, or table decorations and will also add a special touch to live flower bouquets the next year- the possibilities are endless!
4.Collect samples from your favourite plants
Up until early autumn, take cuttings from your favourite perennials which you can plant in 9cm pots using rooting powder to support root development. Then in winter, start your own seed bank by collecting seeds from the dead heads of your favourite annuals and perennials. Hybrids (labelled as “F1” on seed packets) will not grow back true to type, however, any heirloom variety of flowers should grow back the same the following year. Also, don’t forget to check on your favourite plant parterres in your local parks, as dead plants usually end on the communal compost heap otherwise hence this can be a great way to expand your seed bank! Home-made seed packets also make great gifts for parents as well as green-fingered friends and relatives.
5.Look after your autumn sowings
Whilst the garden lays dormant in winter, behind the scenes a host of flowers can be sown in autumn and will grow under cover, ready for planting out in spring and kick start your garden early on. These are hardy annuals such as Calendula, Nigella, Poppies, Centaurea, Ammi majus and visnaga, Sweet peas, Snapdragons – but also biennials such as Foxgloves. Growing these during winter will give your garden an edge come spring, and provide pollinators with forage during the “June gap” as soon as the last Alliums have stopped blooming the next year.
6.Tidy up your gardening tools
Winter is the time to check that your gardening equipment, from your trusty secateurs down to your favourite pots are clean, and any debris has been cleared. Keeping your tools clean (using an alcohol solution) and sharp is key as plants will heal better from sharp cuts, limiting the risk of disease.
7.Prune and tie your roses into shape
In January and February, roses can be pruned according to the “three D’s” rule: removing dead, diseased, and damaged stems. You can also tie them back into shape – for instance, climber roses can be tied “Sissinghurst-style” around a wigwam to force horizontal branches to grow vertical shoots the following year and bear more blooms that way.
8.Forage natural materials for support
One of my favourite activities in winter is to look for natural materials outdoors, which I then use to support climbers and perennials in the garden the following year. Look for discarded or broken hazel sticks in woodland areas and off the side of walking paths to create wigwams, and weave silver birch branches around them to provide natural support for Sweet peas or Nasturtium.
9.Help beneficial predators
Aphids, black and white fly, leaf miners go into dormancy in winter; when early spring comes, if left unchecked they will quickly proliferate again and destroy many of your precious seedlings. The solution lies right in your garden: maintain nature’s balance by protecting their natural predators over winter, such as ladybugs, spiders, and in spring hoverfly larvae which feed on aphids. To give these predators shelter, do not deadhead everything when clearing your garden over winter and leave some areas untouched. You can also create habitats with branches, leaves, or compost heaps for hedgehogs and slow worms, as well as mini-ponds using buckets to attract frogs- all of which will reward you next year by reducing slug and snail populations in your garden.
10.Prepare your garden to overwinter and plan for next year
Applying a layer of much over your perennials and dahlia tubers to keep them warm during winter; garden cloches are also a good investment that will help you accelerate your autumn-sown seedlings’ growth when planting them out in early spring. Finally, now is time to start planning for next year: edit your garden by removing dead and diseased plants, and make a wish list of those new plants, seeds, and tubers you will want to add next year. To make your borders look lush and flowery year long, use the space between perennials to plant spring bulbs in autumn, and annuals in spring.
Happy winter gardening!
Would you like to see more of Alex’s gardening skills? Check out his Instagram account @theenglishgardener.
All photo credit goes to Alex Lyneel. Feature image from Unsplash.