Guide to Winter Garden Jobs

Winter dormancy allows us to move plants that cannot be disturbed at other times of the year. We must, however, take care that the soil is not waterlogged or frozen. At these times it is better to leave the garden alone and catch up with maintenance instead.

DECEMBER

ORNAMENTAL GARDEN

Plant deciduous shrubs, trees, climbers and roses.

Erect training systems for ornamental climbers.

Clean, oil and store away garden tools, tidily.

Clean and prepare the lawnmower for winter storage.

Dig vacant beds and borders, and apply manure or compost.

Continue to tidy up the garden.

UTILITY GARDEN

Put up training systems for fruits.

Check all stored fruits.

Spray fruit trees and bushes with tar-oil winter wash to kill eggs of pests.

Continue to plant new fruit trees and bushes.

Check vegetables in store.

Aim to finish digging the vegetable plot.

JANUARY

ORNAMENTAL GARDEN

Plan some new features during this quiet time.

Stock up with insecticides and fungicides.

Order seeds from catalogues.

Check all plant supports; check tree ties.

Remove snow from evergreen shrubs, conifers and hedges.

Refirm any plants partially lifted by frost (this applies especially to spring bedding plants).

UTILITY GARDEN

Plan the vegetable garden, decide what you want to grow and order seeds.

Inspect root vegetables in store.

Lift parsnips and leeks as needed.

Inspect fruits in store.

Continue spraying fruit trees and bushes with tar-oil winter wash.

PLANNING NEW FEATURES

Winter is probably the best time to sit down and plan new features; at this time there is not a great deal to do in the garden and so we should have some time to think of ways of making it more attractive and interesting.

Basically, there are two ways of planning a complete garden, or even small features: either the shapes can be drawn to scale on paper or, if you are not this way inclined, they can be marked out on the ground, perhaps using a length of hosepipe or rope, or by trickling sand along the ground. Positions for any large plants, such as trees, shrubs and conifers, can be marked with canes, which are easily moved around until you are satisfied you have found the right position.

Although there are really no hard and fast rules in garden planning, it should be said that all too often people go for square shapes which do nothing to enhance the design. So often one finds a small garden with a rectangular lawn and straight borders on either side, and maybe a straight path down the middle. Such an approach is very unexciting and makes the garden look even smaller.

If you are starting from scratch, or if you want to completely redesign an existing garden, then I would suggest you start with the lawn. This could be of an informal, irregular shape, with bold, sweeping, curving edges. In most gardens the edges of the lawn dictate the shape of the flower beds, so with this approach you will also have irregularly shaped borders, with curving edges. Do not make the curves too tight, or it will make mowing difficult. Aim for gentle curves.

If you would like a garden path, perhaps this could follow one of the curving lawn edges. If not, consider using stepping stones across the lawn – not in a straight line but again gently curving or winding.

Even in a small garden you should try to create elements of surprise – you should not see the whole of the garden in one glance. This is easily achieved by erecting some timber trellis screens, about 1.8m (6ft) high, and growing climbers on them.

Even the patio for sitting and entertaining need not be square or rectangular, and with a wide range of paving stones available in all shapes and sizes, you can make virtually any shape desired. A patio, however, needs to be in a very sunny position, usually near to the house.

To make the patio ‘cosy’, and to protect it from cold winds, you could erect a screen on one or two sides – again using timber trellis panels – or, more expensively, build a screen-block wall.

A large area of paving can be a bit monotonous, so why not have part of the patio as a gravel area? Lay pea shingle to a depth of 25mm (1in) on well-rammed soil. You can grow plants in a gravel area, such as the exotic-looking phormiums, commonly known as New Zealand flax, which have attractive coloured leaves, plus ornamental grasses and yuccas. Or you may prefer to plant mat-forming rock plants.

Focal points are needed to lead the eye to particular parts of the garden, so creating an illusion of space; for instance, a statue or an urn at the far end of the lawn, or at the end of a path would do the trick. Small ornamental trees can also be used as focal points. Suitable species are the silvery willow-leaved pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’), and the false acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’), which has golden foliage.

Herbs are very popular today, so why not consider growing them in their own special garden? This can consist of a number of small beds with paths between them, perhaps formed of paving slabs or gravel. Such a garden would be a nice feature to have alongside a patio, and could even be an extension of it, for remember that herbs need very sunny conditions.

Likewise, pools are currently enjoying great popularity and are fortunately very easily constructed, either by sinking a prefabricated fibre-glass unit into the ground, or by lining a prepared hole with a butyl-rubber pool liner. Try making a pool actually in the patio.

Above left Gravel beds are excellent for growing the smallest alpine plants. If the beds are raised, they are easier to look after, and the plants are more easily seen.

Above right Trees and shrubs have been planted between the brick paving to produce an attractive informal effect.

Left This wonderful herb garden could be easily scaled down to suit the suburban gardener’s needs.

PLANT IT NOW

Provided the soil is not very wet or frozen, deciduous shrubs, trees and roses can be planted in the winter. If conditions are very bad, though, bare-rooted plants should be heeled in, in a spare piece of ground, sheltered from the weather. Dig a trench, lay the plants at an angle with their roots in the trench, and cover the roots with soil, firming only moderately. If the plants are in containers, stand them in a sheltered spot and ensure the compost does not dry out.

SHRUBS

When planting shrubs, don’t make your choice haphazardly but plan for year-round colour. You will need shrubs for spring flowering, such as forsythia and flowering currant (Ribes); for summer flowers, such as mock orange (Philadelphus) and butterfly bush (Buddleia); for autumn interest, such as berberis and cotoneasters which produce berries, and the smoke bush (Cotinas coggygria), which has attractive leaf colour; in winter shrubs such as the witch hazel (Hamamelis), which has yellow flowers, and the shrubby dogwoods (Cornus), with red or yellow stems, will provide colour.

Whether planting shrubs, trees or roses, prepare the ground thoroughly by double digging and adding garden compost or well-rotted manure to each trench. If planting bare-rooted shrubs, take out a planting hole sufficiently large to take the full spread of the roots – there should be no roots turning up at the ends. The hole should be of sufficient depth so that, after planting, the shrub is at the same depth as it was in the nursery. This depth is indicated by the soil mark at the base of the stem. To ensure that you are planting at the correct depth, place a straight-edged board across the hole before filling in with soil and get the soil mark level with this. Then gradually return fine soil over the roots, while at the same time gently shaking the shrub up and down to work the soil well between them. Add a little more soil and firm well by treading all round with your heels. Continue adding soil and firming until the hole is filled, and finish off by firming all round.

If your soil is very poor, or even if it is of average quality, consider using a proprietary planting mixture when planting shrubs. It should also be used for trees and roses. The mixture is basically peat with fertilizers added and gives the plant a good start. Work it into the bottom of the planting hole, and mix plenty with the soil that is to be returned to the hole.

Containerized shrubs are perhaps easier to plant. Carefully remove the shrub from its container, so that you do not disturb the rootball, and place it in a hole slightly wider than the rootball. Fill in the space with fine soil, working it well down and again firming with your heels as you proceed. The top of the rootball should be slightly below soil level -about 12mm (1/2in) would be ideal.

TREES

There are plenty of excellent small trees available, such as the golden-leaved Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’, the yellow-foliaged Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst’, the silvery Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’, the spring-flowering columnar cherry, Prunus ‘Amanogawa’, and the Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’, which provides autumn berries and leaf colour.

Plant trees as you would shrubs but stake them for the first year or two after planting. The stake should be inserted when the tree is in the hole, but before the soil is returned. Use a stout tree stake, about 75mm (3in) in diameter, and of sufficient length that it can be driven 450mm (18in) into the ground, and the top is just below the lowest branch of the tree. The stake should be about 25mm (1in) from the trunk of the tree.

If you are planting a containerized tree with a large rootball, you will not be able to position the stake as close as this to the trunk. Instead, use two stakes, one on either side of the rootball, and join them together at the top with a cross-piece of timber.

After planting, tie the tree to the stake with proprietary plastic buckle-type tree ties. With a single stake you will need one at the top and another half-way down. With the double-stake method, use one tie, securing it to the cross-bar. When using these ties ensure there is a plastic buffer (supplied with the tie) between trunk and stake, and do them up really tightly. They should be checked, and loosened if necessary, as the trunk thickens.

ROSES

These are planted in the same way as shrubs. Ensure the budding union (the swollen part at the base of the stem, from which the branches grow) is just above soil level.

The more formal roses, such as the hybrid teas (large-flowered) and floribundas (cluster-flowered), look better in beds on their own. Ideally, one variety should be planted per bed, although most people will include several varieties due to lack of space in the garden. The more informal shrub roses are ideal for adding colour to a shrub or mixed border.

PLANNING THE VEGETABLE GARDEN

It is a good idea to plan the vegetable plot at this time of year, while things are quiet. A well-planned vegetable garden will yield crops throughout the year so make a list of the vegetables you will need and place an order with a nursery, or buy from a garden centre.

The deep bed system is the best way of laying out a vegetable garden where space is limited. It also makes crop rotation easier to put into practice.

CROP ROTATION

This is a system whereby similar kinds of vegetables are grown on different plots each year. If they are grown for several years on the same site, the essential food supplies may become exhausted, pests and diseases may build up and crop growth deteriorate.

The soil and nutritional requirements of a particular group of vegetables are likely to be different from those of another group. By grouping together plants with the same requirements and moving them to a fresh site each year, we are able to carry out the appropriate soil treatments such as manuring, liming and fertilizer application.

The simplest rotation extends for three years, and this is shown in the accompanying illustration. For this purpose the vegetable garden is divided into three plots. The example shown is based on the plan suggested by the Royal Horticultural Society. The groups are (1) peas, beans, salad crops and onions; (2) the cabbage family; (3) potatoes and root vegetables.

FOOD CROPS IN CONTAINERS

If you really do not have the space for a vegetable plot, consider growing some food crops in containers, perhaps on a patio or along a garden path. Use growing-bags or large pots. Suitable vegetables include salad crops such as lettuces, spring onions, radishes and endives; root crops such as short-rooted carrots and beetroots; early dwarf peas; French beans; tomatoes; aubergines and sweet peppers; outdoor cucumbers; and, of course, most of the herbs.

TRAINING SYSTEMS

Full use should be made of vertical space in the garden by growing trained forms of fruit and ornamental climbers. There are various supporting systems that can be easily erected.

FRUITS

Trained tree fruits, in such forms as cordons, espaliers and fans; and cane fruits, such as raspberries, blackberries and loganberries, can be trained flat on a system of posts and wires, set in a straight line, perhaps alongside a garden path or around the vegetable plot.

You will need stout timber posts, about 75mm (3in) in diameter, and they should be well treated with wood preservative. The ends can be soaked in preservative overnight, as they are most vulnerable to rot.

The easiest way to insert posts is to use steel post supports which are driven into the ground, each post then being inserted in the square ‘cup’ at the top. Posts should be at least 1.8m (6ft) high for all fruits, and ideally 2.1 or 2.4m (7 or 8ft) high. Set them about 2.4m (8ft) apart. Each end post should be braced with a diagonal timber strut inserted well into the soil. Heavy duty galvanized horizontal wires are then stapled to the posts, and to ensure they are really tight use a straining bolt at the end of each one.

Wires for espaliers and fans should be spaced no more than 450mm (18in) apart. For cordons and the cane fruits you need only three wires: one at the top and the other two equally spaced below.

Trained fruit trees and cane fruits can also be grown against free-standing trellis screens and the stems or branches tied directly to the trelliswork.

They can also be grown against walls and fences, but in this instance you will need to fix some horizontal wires at distances apart as described above. They should be about 25-38mm (1 – 1-1/2in) away from the wall to allow air to circulate behind the plants. Fix the wires with vine eyes (available for either timber or masonry in good garden centres). Again use straining bolts to get them really tight.

ORNAMENTAL CLIMBERS

There are several ways of supporting climbers: on free-standing trellis screens as for fruits: on screen-block walls; and on fences or solid walls fitted with horizontal wires as described above. As an alternative to wires, ready-made trellis panels should likewise be fixed a little distance from the wall or fence using suitable brackets. Trellis panels come in timber, plastic, or plastic-coated steel. The last two are available in various colours, such as white, green or brown. Timber trellis should be either treated with a coloured or clear horticultural wood preservative, or painted. It looks good either white or pale grey.

An arch, over a path or gate, for instance, makes an attractive support for climbers and can be bought readymade or in kit form. Some are timber, others are plastic-coated steel.

A wooden pergola could perhaps be built at home if you are handy with a saw and hammer. They always look good built over a pathway, or over a patio where they will provide shade in summer. If it is to cover a patio, try growing a hardy grape vine over it, such as Vitis ‘Brant’. A wisteria or laburnum also looks good trained over a pergola.

Incidentally, the uprights for the pergola can be supported with steel post supports as mentioned above. Use sturdy timber, say 75mm (3in) square. It looks most natural when treated with a coloured horticultural wood preservative, perhaps red cedar or dark oak.

Don’t forget that climbers can also be grown up well-established trees, or through large shrubs. This is a particularly good way of growing clematis.

If you want to grow a climber in a flower border, perhaps a climbing or rambling rose, insert a stout fencing post about 1.8m (6ft) high, again using a metal post support. Tie the stems in to the post with garden string or twine.

THE TOP TEN CLIMBING PLANTS

Clematis. Large-flowered hybrids, such as the purple ‘Jackmanii Superba’.

Hedera canariensis ‘Gloire de Marengo’. Variegated Canary Island ivy. Cream, grey and green variegated evergreen foliage.

Hydrangea petiolaris. Climbing hydrangea, deciduous, white flowers, summer.

Jasminum nudiflorum. Winter-flowering jasmine, yellow flowers, deciduous.

Jasminum officinale. Common white jasmine, summer flowering, deciduous.

Lonicera periclymenum ‘Belgica’. Early Dutch honeysuckle, reddish and yellowish flowers, early summer, deciduous.

Passiflora caerulea. Blue passion flower, summer, evergreen.

Rosa. Climbing and rambling roses, summer. ‘Golden Showers’ a very popular less-vigorous type; ‘Mme Alfred Carriere’ is more vigorous.

Vitis ‘Brant’. Hardy grape vine, black fruits, deciduous.

Wisteria floribunda ‘Macrobotrys’. Lilac-blue flowers, spring, deciduous.

TOOL MAINTENANCE

Garden tools are expensive but will last for many years if looked after. Clean them thoroughly after use and store them tidily.

HAND TOOLS

Digging and soil-cultivating tools – tools such as spades, forks, hoes, rakes, cultivators, hand forks and trowels, etc., should be washed free of soil after use (even stainless-steel versions), dried thoroughly and the metal parts wiped with an oily rag to cover them with a thin film of oil. This will prevent rusting and make them easier to use. Stainless-steel tools do not need oiling.

Pruning tools – secateurs, garden shears, edging shears, pruning saws and knives should be cleaned to remove plant sap. This can be done with steel wool and methylated spirits. Again, when dry, rub the blades with an oily rag. All moving parts (e.g. the pivots of shears) should also be oiled, using an oil can. Flush out the pivots with oil to make sure there is no grit between the blades as this can cause damage.

MOWER MAINTENANCE

Cylinder mowers normally have some simple means of adjusting the moving blades in relation to the fixed blades and regular attention is necessary to ensure good cutting, so check the method of adjustment in the mower handbook. (Do not confuse this with the separate adjustment for height of cut.) Sharpening is needed every year. Put this in hand during the winter as you may have to wait for a while in the spring, when many people have their mowers serviced. Rotary cutters can be sharpened with a broad file (in the case of steel types only), or, in other cases, by turning the angle of the circular or triangular blades.

Drain the sump of a petrol mower each spring and fill with fresh oil. Lubricate oiling points regularly, not forgetting the control cables and levers. Store mowers in a dry shed during the winter after thoroughly cleaning and greasing.

Check electric cables each spring for signs of damage or perishing and check plug connections. Employ a professional if any damage or faults are observed. Keep batteries topped up, and recharge after mowing. Recharge once a month during the winter.

Wipe the rollers and blades clean after use, and lubricate regularly at the points recommended by the manufacturer.

ORGANIZING AN ORDERLY SHED

You will need a good dry shed for storing garden tools and the lawn mower. But do not just pile tools into it haphazardly; they should be hung up tidily and in some sort of order so that they can be selected quickly and easily.

There are available garden tool racks in many designs for hanging most kinds of tools. Or you could make your own from lengths of timber and suitable hooks.

I much prefer to group tools together so that I know where everything is. For instance, all the soil-cultivating tools – the fork, spade, hoes, rake, hand fork and trowel, cultivator, and so on – could be kept in one place. In another corner arrange the pruning and cutting tools – shears, lawn edgers, secateurs, electric hedge trimmer and pruning saws. Very small tools such as knives, and dibbers, used in the greenhouse for transplanting seedlings, I prefer to keep in a wooden box, together with the pruning gloves, which are so easily mislaid.

STORING CHEMICALS

Garden chemicals, such as weedkillers, insecticides and fungicides, must be kept in a safe place, well out of reach of children. Again the garden shed is suitable, but try to obtain a small lockable cupboard and place it high up in the shed. Alternatively, place chemicals on a high shelf to make sure children cannot reach them. In the interests of security and also to ensure children do not injure themselves, fit a secure lock to the shed door and when not in use keep the shed locked.

PESTS AND DISEASES

In the spring we will need to start spraying to control pests and diseases, so now is a good time to check your pesticide supply and stock up if necessary. Do check through the tables to find out what chemicals are needed – you will find that some control a wide range of pests and diseases, so there is no need to buy all those recommended. It is best to buy those which control as wide a range as possible. Do try to buy systemic insecticides (such as dimethoate) and fungicides (such as benomyl), for these are absorbed by the plants and are not washed off the leaves by rain, as is the case with ordinary pesticides.

BENEFICIAL INSECTS

Not all insects that you see on your plants are harmful. Indeed some are decidedly beneficial and should not be eradicated. Examples are bumblebees and honeybees, which pollinate the flowers of fruits and so ensure bumper crops; wasps; beetles, including the violet ground beetle; ladybirds, which prey on aphids; green lacewings, which also prey on aphids; and ichneumon wasps, which prey on caterpillars. As a general rule do not spray plants when they are in flower as you will kill pollinating insects such as bees.

USING CHEMICALS

Remember:

Read the label carefully – all of it! Certain chemicals may damage particular groups of plants (see labels).

Mixing stronger solutions will not increase the potency but may damage plants.

Always dispose of unused spray solutions safely – flush down an outside sink or drain, or pour into a hole in the soil in a spare corner of the garden, and then fill it in.

Do not spray in strong sunshine as this may damage the plants.

Use dusts when the morning dew is still on the leaves – powder will adhere more readily.

21. August 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured, Garden Management, Top Tips | 2 comments

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