Winter is a time for love, sleeping and snuggling, but not in the garden, now is the time to prep and tenderly care for your plants to get year-round flowering and fruiting. Award winning Landscaper, Phillip Withers, has all the tips to nurturing your garden in the cool months.
I like to think that I enjoy being outdoors and immersed in nature as much as, or maybe even more than most. Sure, spending long periods of time outside is part of my job description as a landscape designer. But even if it wasn’t I’d still make sure I found time for the garden because I find it so invigorating. That being said, even I sometimes struggle to find the motivation to get out in the garden on those cold and dreary winter mornings. You know the ones I’m talking about, when it seems as though the fog will never lift and you might never feel the warmth of the sun again. When your gardening gloves are soaked through after two minutes of weeding and your eyes and nose will not stop running. There is no getting around it: the winter months can be a tricky time for you and your garden.
Thankfully, tricky is not impossible. With good planning and the appropriate amount of time and thought put into it, you can set up your garden to work for you throughout the winter months, instead of the other way around.
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Preparation is the key
Soil works are one of the most important components to get right from the start of the wet season, particularly in preparation for the higher rainfall the winter months bring. If the soil has any drainage problems, winter is the season when they’ll expose themselves. To prepare the soil in your garden beds for winter, use a garden fork to push vertical holes into heavy soils and create surface drains to carry away excess moisture. Dig gypsum where possible into clay, as it can have a miraculous effect on most clay soils. It binds particles together, allowing air to get into the spaces between the particles and helping excess water to drain away. Furthermore, deep layers of mulch on the soil can act as a barrier and keep it cold and damp for months, so it can be a good idea to remove some of the thickness of the mulch in your garden beds so that the sun can penetrate and warm up the soil.
Unfortunately, weeding is still needed at this time of year too. Most plant growth has slowed down, so it will not have to happen as often. But this also means that it is a good time of year to remove as many competitors as possible before the weather starts warming up again.
And as we start to get more and more rain, it’s time to start thinking about your watering schedule. Water smarter at this time of year. Water first thing in the morning, and instead of quickie irrigation, a nice, deep drink a couple of times a week is far more beneficial. Always check your soil moisture before watering as you don’t want to waste your precious drinking water if Mother Nature has already done all the hard work for you.
Cold and wet winter days can also mean a bit of shed time. So why not build yourself a nice blackboard for the shed, to keep track of what has been planted in your patch where and when. This makes crop rotation a load easier, and allows you to keep track of feeding times and dates, what worked, what didn’t and generally what’s happening in the veggie garden.
The veggie patch
Now’s the time that you should start seeing bare rooted fruit and deciduous trees starting to appear in your local nursery. This is the cheapest and easiest way to purchase them and there is less stress for the tree as it is dormant. Pick trees with a nice shape, and don’t forget to prune them back before you plant them out. Remember to make sure you have the correct pollinators to ensure a good crop, and some stone fruit trees will not fruit until they have been in the ground for a few years…so like with a lot of things in the garden, patience is virtue.
Once you’ve got your fruit trees sorted, give Brassica’s a place in your patch and pop in the following: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Plant some sage with these guys, which will act as a great caterpillar and moth-repelling companion.
Some plants that will settle in well over winter so that when spring comes along they will go gang busters include: peas, beans, radish, Swedes, turnips and spinach. And why not set aside a bit of space and pop in an artichoke. These are gorgeous additions to the patch, look amazing, and taste pretty good too.
To add some colour and movement to the patch, pop in some of these little pretties – dianthus, cornflower, pansy, viola, verbena and lupins. Having these around your veggies will give some interest to the patch, and act as beneficial insect attractors.
Now’s also the time to top up mulch on your veggie patches, herb gardens and ornamental beds, which is especially important for weed suppression at this time of year. A hot tip is to mulch after watering the patch to a depth of about 7cm, and keep the mulch clear of plant stems, especially young seedlings. Choose low environmental impact mulch and one that will enrich your soil as it breaks down. Also look for one that has done the least amount of travel to get to you.
Green manure crops, including oats, wheat, fava beans and field peas are also good to go now. Improve that nutrient deficient veggie patch, and get ready for next seasons heavy feeding plants. Finally, a seaweed tea, or any low environmental impact liquid fertiliser are perfect for the seedlings you’ve just popped in and will help give them a good kick start.
So as you can see, there is plenty that you can be doing in the next month or so in order to help prepare your garden for when the big freeze really hits. And if you get your veggie patch humming along nicely you’ll have plenty of winter veg to make those soul-warming soups and stews to help see you through the other side.
Phil’s top three tips for winter garden love:
Prune and Tidy
While plants are bare you can more easily remove dead or crowded growth or spot invasive climbers and remove them. Don’t prune late winter or spring-flowering shrubs but do get stuck into roses and grapevines.
Dig the veggie garden and plant new crops
Provided your soil isn’t water logged, winter can be a great time to dig a new vegie or garden bed or to turn in green manure crops to get the garden ready for planting in spring.
Prepare plants for what’s to come
Although many plants are resting, spring bulbs, winter-flowering natives and shrubs that flower in early spring are growing actively. Keep these watered and fertilised for peak performance.