Jobs for the garden this winter
Winter is a great time for gardeners to take stock, tidy up, protect plants and plan ahead. Find out exactly when and how to complete your winter garden jobs with BBC Countryfile Magazine's month-by-month winter gardening guide.
Winter can feel like a gloomy time in the garden. The flowers of high summer are a distant memory, the rain is here to stay and the change of the clocks has put paid to any hope of working in the evenings.
However, there is still much to be done.
From looking after your garden tools, to splitting plants and planting bulbs for the seasons ahead, getting outside in your garden in the winter months can be rewarding and give you a chance to breathe fresh air and stay connected to the outdoors. Just remember to wrap up warm and reward yourself with a hot drink afterwards!
Our month-by-month winter gardening guide offers some ideas to keep you busy and lay the foundation for a great spring and summer next year.
Garden jobs to do in November
Clear up and shore up plants
Dead-head autumn-flowering plants and prune summer-flowering shrubs before the first frosts. Check structures are stable and if they aren’t then mend them now before high winds and snow do more serious damage.
Keep off the grass
Although grass is evergreen it is dormant in winter, so avoid walking on it or you will damage it fairly easily. If you must walk on it, pop a plank down temporarily so that your weight is spread more evenly.
Are you looking for something to brighten up the dark winter days? Bring pinks, yellows, purples and greens into your garden with our guide to the best plants for winter colour.
Protect plants from the cold
Add cloches to winter salads to protect them from the weather and pests and wrap pots of half-hardy plants in bubble wrap or fleece. Bring tender plants indoors or put them in a greenhouse.
Dig garden beds
If you have clay soil now is the time to dig the beds but hold fire if the ground is sodden or after a frost. Digging now allows the frost to break up the soil over the winter, improving the structure. As long as your beds aren’t seriously compacted there is no need to double dig. If you have a sandy soil it’s best to wait until spring to dig as your beds will be more prone to moisture loss thanks to their free-draining nature.
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Put out feeders for garden birds
Birds will appreciate nuts, seeds and fat balls left out for them this winter. Remember to freshen up water regularly and ensure it doesn’t freeze over. Keeping an area of your garden untidy, with a pile of logs and fallen leaves, makes a perfect hedgehog house.
Help your garden birds stay healthy throughout the seasons with our expert guide on how to care for wild birds, including the best foods to feed the different species and tips on how to attract birds to your garden.
Create a compost heap
Add compost or well-rotted manure to your beds now for healthier plants next year. Either fork it in or, if you have ‘no dig’ raised beds, spread it on top. It’s also a good time to make leaf mold. Make a wire cage for the leaves so they don’t blow away, or keep in black plastic bags with a little soil added to help them break down, and a few punctures in the bag.
The UK's hedgehog population is in decline, but there are plenty of ways you can help these charismatic mammals. Here is our expert European hedgehog guide, including where to see them, what they eat and how to help hedgehogs in your garden.
Cover the ground
If you have an allotment, and you’re not planting a crop to over-winter, cover your empty veg beds with landscaping fabric or cardboard and weigh it down with planks and bricks. This will keep the weeds down over winter, and the soil will warm up quicker in spring. Covering beds also prevents loss of nutrients from the soil due to rain and wind.
There’s still time to get bulbs in the ground in November to guarantee winter colour from January onwards. Choose a mixture of varieties and plant in clumps, so that you get a good effect. You can lift and divide them every few years too.
Garden jobs to do in December
Tidy and clean your tools
Get secateurs sharpened, fix loose spade handles and wash your gardening gloves. Sharp tools are safer and better for your plants, as a clean cut when pruning is less likely to let in disease. If you have a greenhouse or potting shed (lucky you) now’s the time to give it a good clear out.
Bring your Christmas tree indoors
If you keep a live tree outside in a pot, bring it in a few days before Christmas and leave it for 24 hours before you decorate it. Conifers are very happy in the freezing cold, and miserable in a centrally-heated house, so give it plenty of water and keep it away from the radiators.
Real Christmas tree or fake? Nordman fir or Norway spruce? Rent a Christmas tree or buy? Our Christmas tree guide looks at tree varieties, how to choose the perfect Christmas tree, plus advice on how to care for your tree and environmentally friendly options
Take stock of your gardening year. Do not be disheartened by your gardening imperfections or failures, but devote some time to pondering what you will do differently in the coming year.
Plant garlic and fruit bushes
Garlic can go into the ground now as long as the soil isn’t frozen or waterlogged. Rhubarb can be divided and bare-root fruit trees and bushes can be planted now, as can raspberries and blackberries.
Store up root veg
Crops harvested in winter that can be stored include carrots and parsnips, cabbage, maincrop potatoes, late season apples and pears, pumpkins, squashes, beans, onions, shallots, garlic and root vegetables. Whether you’re wrapping apples in paper or digging a clamp for your carrots, inspect your harvest thoroughly and discard anything that’s not in perfect condition - not only will it rot, it’ll contaminate the rest of your crop.
Garden jobs to do in January
Order your seeds for spring
It’s still too early to dig, but it’s not too early to dream. Get your seeds ordered now for any veg and fruit you’re planning to grow. Ordering from seed catalogues guarantees more interesting varieties than can be bought at large commercial garden centres.
Winter prune apple trees
Fruit trees are dormant now, so it’s safe to prune them. Remove dead, diseased and damaged wood, and eliminate any instances of branches crossing and rubbing against each other - remove the weaker one. Wear gloves, use sharp, clean tools, and cut at an angle, so that the face of the cut angles downwards, allowing rain to run off it and preventing it rotting.
A few simple snips and cuts in the winter months means strong, healthy fruit later in the year for your apple trees.
Start sowing your veggies indoors
Sow Cavelo Nero, broad beans, winter salad and radish seeds, plant onions, leeks and garlic. Sow peas indoors to plant out in March or April and chit seed potatoes.
Snowdrops spread by seed and will expand about 3cm in all directions per year. To help them spread more quickly, dig and divide them immediately after they’ve flowered and replant about 30cm apart. If you’re planting them from fresh, planting in the green in February is usually the best route to success.
What are the best plants to plant in winter to help wildlife?
Winter is the best time to plant shrubs, small trees, climbers and hedging that will attract and help wildlife in the months ahead. For example, plant a Cotoneaster sternianus shrub to provide bees with summer nectar and birds with autumn berries; edge a border with a low hedge of lavender to feed bees and butterflies in high summer; and plant a range of dense, evergreen climbers (such as ivy) and shrubs (such as Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ’n’ Gold’) to create shelter and nesting sites for birds.
Amid winter’s cold bite, garden wildlife needs a helping hand. And this barren season is also the optimum time to plant shrubs that will lure bees, butterflies and birds in the warmer months ahead.
Make your garden a winter haven for wildlife and you could save the lives of birds and bees, who may struggle to survive in prolonged harsh weather.
Rosee Woodland is a designer and freelance journalist. She lives in Bristol with her family and their Boston terrier, Ponyo. See specialises in knitting design and grading, and regularly teaches classes for A Yarn Story in Bath. She’s worked with leading brands in the craft industry including Rowan, Patons, Aurifil, Rico Design and Lewis & Irene. Her work has been featured in many magazines including The Knitter, Knit Now, Simply Knitting, Mollie Makes, Simply Sewing and Simply Crochet. When she’s not busy making she shares her wild swimming adventures at www.iswimlikeagirl.com.