For the green fingered and beginner gardeners alike it can be hard to know what is best for your garden in the depths of an English winter. It may not seem like a priority but once the Christmas mayhem and the New Year celebrations are over, this really is the best time to get your garden ready for the new year ahead. We found this amazing guide on the RHS website which really is so inspiring and easy to follow that we’ve shared below….
1 . Recycle your Christmas tree by shredding it for mulch
You will need a shredder and relevant safety equipment but the results are well worth the effort. Begin by cutting branches from the trunk and and put them in a shredder one by one to create your mulch. The benefits of this is that it can help treat compaction, prevent soil erosion – which can often happen after heavy rain fall – and stop the ground from freezing which is ideal for perennials.
2 . Clean pots and greenhouses ready for spring
Cleaning out the greenhouse, gutters, pots, polytunnels and water butts may not seem all that important or glamorous but there are a long list of benefits to it. By cleaning away algae, grime and moss, more light can enter your greenhouse and by keeping the environment clean you are more likely to control pests and diseases. For this large scale task we recommend setting aside a day for the task and make a plan before you begin…
Start by removing plants from the greenhouse to a sheltered area and cover with fleece protection so that they are not affected by the weather then brush out or vacuum the area to remove unwanted debris. Make sure to clean structural parts with hot detergent or disinfectant – hydrogen peroxide based products are particularly good as they are not harmful to the environment, however specialist cleaners and domestic cleaning products will do the job just as well.
Any glazed materials should be washed inside and out too – check the cleaning product on a small inconspicuous section first to make sure it doesn’t damage the glazing – and make sure to ease out any dirt trapped between window panes etc – a great way to do this is by using a flexible scraper like a plastic plant label that might be lying around in the greenhouse.
Lastly, make sure to replace any broken parts like vent controllers or drought excluders and pay careful attention to propagation areas and equipment as young plants are especially vulnerable to disease.
B) Water butts
Water tanks and butts should be cleaned out thoroughly at least once a year. This isn’t difficult and can be achieved easily; start by draining out any water by tipping the butt on its side, scrub the inside clean with a coarse brush and specific water butt cleaner or disinfectant then rinse with clean water. Refill and add a water butt freshener – this will help to keep the water clear of algae. Top Tip: you can also fit a filter to rainwater diverters to ensure your water butts are collecting clean rainwater.
To clean out your gutters put on rubber gloves and scoop out any old leaves, moss, any other debris and if the top of a fall pipe is blocked use a wire coat hanger to unblock it. To catch further leaves and debris, place a wire mesh cap where the gutter meets the fall pipe and clean out regularly. Make sure to put any debris you have cleared away onto the compost heap.
3. Dig over any vacant plots that have not been dug already
Soil digging – also known as cultivation is mostly done to bury weeds and debris, this is then followed by sowing and planting, cultivating soil improves structure by alleviating compaction and offers the gardener a chance to apply fertiliser, manure and lime.
The best time to cultivate can depend on the type of soil, for example: clay soil is best dug in autumn as it allows the frost to break up the soil over the winter which can improve the structure, whereas light sandy soils are best dug in spring (as long as the soil isn’t waterlogged or frozen, this could potentially be carried out between autumn and spring).
For most gardens, single digging (turning over the soil to a spade’s or fork’s depth) will suffice. To do this mark out a regular plot, divide it into two strips mentally, lift a small trench about 30cm wide and a spade’s depth from the end of the first strip. Make sure to move this soil to one side to keep the trench clear. Place this soil to one side, leaving the trench empty. Then lift the same amount of soil from the area just behind, and drop it back, inverted, into the original trench, breaking it up a little. Make sure to work methodically down the first strip, and then back up the second one, turning each trench into the space before it. The final trench will then be filled with soil that was left to one side from the first trench.
Double digging may also be necessary. This means inverting a second deeper layer of soil which involves more work but is perfect for creating new borders, making shallow topsoil deeper and help drainage for deep-rooted, long term plants like asparagus and rhubarb.
4. Disperse worm casts in lawns
Worm casts appear on the surface of lawns and are small heaps of muddy soil that is discharged from from the digestive tract of particular species of earthworms, mainly Allolobophora species which is a green worm. Although not harmful to your garden, these worm casts can somewhat spoil the appearance of lawns especially when trodden on and spread over the surface, this is when mosses and lawn weeds can then begin to grown.
For a non-chemical approach, worm casts can be broken up and dispersed using a wire rake with the teeth facing upwards and moving the rake from side to side – this can only be done when the worm casts are dry.
5. Inspect stored tubers of Dahlia, Begonia and Canna for rots or drying out
Tender herbaceous perennials that include dahlias, cannas and tuberous begonias and gladioli can be lifted and stored at the first warning of frost which is usually around September or November. In mild areas of the UK and in sheltered, well drained parts of the garden it may actually be possible to cut back the tops of tender plants and leave them in the ground with a thick layer of mulch covering them which will help to protect them over winter. In very cold and exposed areas, even hardy perennials might need a covering of mulch to protect them over winter.
6. Prune apple and pear trees
Many of us have apples and pear trees in the garden but it can be difficult to know what to do with them if you have never pruned a tree before. Don’t panic, it’s super easy…
The best time to prune a tree is in the winter months when the leaves are off the tree. Firstly, make sure you have a ladder (preferably a special fruit tripod ladder to get nice a close to the branches), a pair of secateurs and pruning saw.
The aim is to remove 10-20% of the overall canopy which will stimulate growth. Try to do this all over rather than just in one spot so that it grows evenly and focus on areas that seem more crowded.
BE AWARE that too much pruning can cause vigorous upright branches during regrowth that are called water shoots which is not ideal as they will crowd each other. For more information on pruning trees and what to do if you spot something unusual on your tree click here.
7. Start forcing rhubarb
Keep rhubarb free of weeds by covering the ground with mulch of composted manure (made from your old Christmas tree) but try to avoid burying the crown as this can cause it to rot. Cover the ground above the roots with 100g per sqm of general purpose fertiliser in March then regularly water to keep it moist and growing until autumn. The growth will die back in autumn, when this happens you will need to remove the dead leaves to expose the crown t frost which will help break dormancy and ensure a good grown of stalks next year.
However if you would like an earlier crop because you just can’t wait for the rhubarb any longer, you can force the stems. Cover the crown to block out any light in a traditional forcing jar, bucket or upturned pot in late winter. Cover drainage holes with with a brick or stones, when the stems reach the top of the container they are ready to harvest.
8. Plan your veg crop rotations for coming seasons
The main benefits of crop rotation include, keeping the soil fertile, weed control and pest and disease control. Changing crops annually reduces the chance of soil deficiencies as the balance of nutrients removed from the soil will even out over time. Crops like potatoes and squashes with large leaves and dense foliage help to suppress weeds which reduces overall maintenance.
If you are wondering how to do a crop rotation, this is simple; divide the garden/ allotment into equal sections plus an extra section for perennial crops (like rhubarb and asparagus) then move each section of the plot a step forward every year so that for example legumes, onions and root follow brassicas (carrots, celery, parsnip etc). For more information on how to do a crop rotation click here.
9. Keep putting out food and water for hungry birds
For us winter is bleak but we can make regular trip to the supermarket when we are hungry. For birds and other wildlife it may be worth considering they need a bit of extra help when the weather is particularly bad. Winter is the ideal time to provide food with a high fat content to help keep birds warm, if you are unsure what food to buy or you feel like making your own feeds, fat blocks or to learn how you can help other wildlife in your garden you can find out more information here.
10. Make a polythene shelter for outdoor peaches and nectarines to protect against peach leaf curl
Peach leaf curl is a fungal disease that effects peaches, almonds, nectarines and apricots. The telltale signs are severely distorted leaves that are often red in colour and/ or a white bloom of fungal spores which causes them to fall prematurely and ultimately leads to defoliation and loss of vigour.
To learn more about how to get your garden ready for the new year and for other top tips and information on what to do in your garden visit the RHS website here.