Gardening, Gardening Year, Guest Posts, Plants

busy winter gardening

It’s a mistake to think that because the flowers have stopped blooming and your bushes and shrubs are devoid of leaves that there’s nothing to do in the garden now that winter is here. The winter weather in the UK has become even more changeable but there are always going to be extremely cold days, heavy rain and winds, maybe even snow. If you love your garden, there’s no need to go into hibernation for the winter months. There is still lots to keep you busy.

Bring in some winter plants

If you’re used to a lush green garden and plenty of blooms in the spring and summer, it can be sad to see such an austere area in the winter. You can bring in some colour and interest with hardy and winter flowering plants and shrubs. If you want winter flowering shrubs, they will obviously need time to embed and grow before they start to bloom so they will need general care according to the plant type until the season they bloom. For more instant colour, a job you can do in winter is to plant flowers that can withstand the harsh conditions. You might have an area of the garden set aside for winter flowers, or you might use pots and containers. Traditional crocus, Christmas roses. Snowdrops, and even early daffodils can all provide splashes of colour when the skies are grey.

snowdrop

Looking after the lawn

Grass does not stop growing in the coldest months of the year, but growth slows down considerably. According to the professionals at Mowers Online, there will be spurts of growth during milder periods so if there is a dry period, it is worth getting the mower out to tidy up the lawn. Cutting the lawn will also stimulate growth at this time of year. Despite the slow growth, grass that is just left alone between October and March – generally considered the closed season on lawn mowing – can become long, diseased, thinner, and less dense. It will make it harder to get it looking pristine again.

There are other things to bear in mind if you want your grass to look its best when spring comes.

  • Apply some soluble iron to provide colour and hardiness.
  • Clear up fallen leaves as best as you can so they don’t smother the grass and prevent growth.
  • Do not walk on the lawn when it is covered in frost.
  • Keep edges along pathways and around borders trimmed.
  • Don’t worry about clearing snow from the lawn.

winter grass

Thinking ahead

Now is the time to think about the new growth you want to introduce to your garden for the spring. You aren’t restricted to sowing seeds indoors or keeping things in the shed to start them off. The practice of winter sowing enables you to get a head start on spring. Whether you want to plant flowers or vegetables, there is a way to seed now for spring growth. You’ll need to understand the winter sowing technique and then have the confidence to apply it to the things you want to grow.

Clear out the shed

Winter is a good time to do a spring clean of the shed. Most gardeners start off with the intention of starting each spring with a nice, tidy shed, all organised with tools all sorted, pots arranged by sized, and electrical tools stored correctly. By the time the summer is over, tools are everywhere, some still have clumps of soil attached, there’s compost on the floor, the extension leads are all jumbled, and there’s detritus all over the place. Put on a warm jumper or a coat and be resolute in tidying it all up. Get rid of anything you know you won’t use despite good intentions, clean tools, repair anything that needs it. You’ll be glad of the effort when spring comes around.

winter shed

A DIY project

TV gardening expert Alan Titchmarsh says that the winter is the ideal time to undertake a DIY project. You might consider building a raised bed from railway sleepers or bricks. Borders can be reshaped, or you might think about putting edges to the borders using slate, fencing, or some other decorative materials. Winter might be time to think about installing that brick barbecue you’ve been planning for the last couple of years, or to add extra seating so you don’t have guests scrabbling for seats during those family get togethers on summer days. You might even erect a new shed. The thing to remember about DIY projects in the garden in winter is that progress will be determined by the weather. The ground might be too hard to dig, the rain might be too heavy, and you can’t work when there’s a few inches of snow on the ground.

Ruby ClarksonRuby Clarkson is a freelance writer who has a passion for all things gardening. When she isn’t outside planting flowers or digging up weeds, she is wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of tea and a book.

Animals, Megan, Ponds, Wildlife

Whether you have a pond, or you’re thinking of building a pond in your garden, you may be wondering about the wildlife ponds attract. Pond are rich habitats for all sorts of wildlife. To find out more about the pond wildlife you may spot in your garden, read on.

Pond Wildlife

Frogs

The common frog is one of the most recognisable types of pond wildlife you will find taking a dip in your pond. Long, striped legs and smooth, moist skin characterise the common frog, which are found throughout the UK in damp habitats. They are active throughout most of the year, only hibernating during the colder winter months. Frogs are carnivores and their diet consists of insects including flies, mosquitoes and dragonflies.

Pond Wildlife - Frogs

Toads

Toads are distinguishable from frogs by their skin, which is dry and warty in appearance. They travel by crawling rather than hopping and are larger than the common frog. Although especially found in wet locations, toads can also inhabit open countryside and other dry areas well away from standing water. Toads are nocturnal, so you are unlikely to see them until dusk, when they venture out often travelling great distances to hunt. A toad’s diet consists of insects and they have even been known to consume small mice.

Pond Wildlife - Toads

Newts

There are three species of newt that are native to the UK: the great crested newt, the palmate newt and the smooth newt.

The great crested newt is the largest, measuring up to 16 cm in length. Appearing almost black, they are actually dark grey-brown and covered in darker-coloured spots. You are most likely to spot them during the spring breeding season, as they spend the rest of the year in woodland and grassland. Great crested newts are the least widespread of newt species in the British Isles, and are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Pond Wildlife - Newts

In contrast, the palmate newt is the smallest of UK newt species. Olive-brown in colour, they prefer shallow ponds and are active during the daylight hours. Fascinatingly, the females lay their eggs individually and wrap them in leaves of aquatic plants to protect them.

Very similar in appearance to the palmate newt, smooth newts are species you are most likely to spot in and around your garden pond as they are the most common newt in the British Isles.

Invertebrates

Harder to spot because of their size, garden ponds can be home to a wide variety of invertebrates including:

  • Dragonflies
  • Mayflies
  • Snails
  • Water fleas
  • Pond Skaters
  • Water beetles

Pond Wildlife - Dragonflies

All of these species are important parts of the ecosystem, playing roles as both prey and predators. Many feed on algae and aquatic plants and others, such as dragonflies, are carnivorous and feed on smaller insects.

Birds

Most smaller garden ponds are too small for wetland birds such as ducks, swan and geese. However, you may spot wild birds using your pond to bathe in or take a drink from. You can introduce sloping sides and logs to your pond to make it a safer environment for these birds. Adding pond plants and keeping up with general pond maintenance will also make sure there’s bountiful amounts of insects for insect-eating birds.

Wild Birds

One feathered visitor that may not be welcome to your pond is the heron. They mainly feed on fish, and often visit garden ponds looking for an easy meal. If you want to deter herons from your pond, you can take a look at our post on how to heron proof a pond.

Ponds are home to a wide variety of wildlife. If you are particularly fond of observing wildlife in your garden installing a pond is a no-brainer.

 

Megan at PrimroseMegan works in the Primrose marketing team. When she is not at her desk you will find her half way up a hill in the Chilterns
or enjoying the latest thriller series on Netflix. Megan also enjoys cooking vegetarian feasts with veggies from her auntie’s vegetable garden.

See all of Megan’s posts.

Mandy, Plants

stop plum tree branches breaking

There’s nothing better for a gardener than seeing a fruit tree laden with blossom and then young fruit – and nothing worse than seeing your crop ruined when the branches snap.

Many healthy fruit trees drop fruit naturally in the ‘June drop’. Where a heavy crop has set, too many fruitlets may remain on the branches. Deliberate thinning of the fruitlets produces better-sized, ripe and healthy fruits.

This is particularly true of plums, which are not great at regulating the size of their crops.

If the branches don’t snap, you’ll get a huge crop one year and the tree will wear itself out, bearing little or no fruit the next year. This is why it’s vital to thin plums in early summer.

Thinning Plums

Thinning allows sunlight and air to penetrate the canopy, improving ripening and reducing the spread of pests and diseases.

The tree is able to make good growth and develop fruit buds for the following year.

Using your thumb and forefinger, remove fruitlets to leave one every 5-8cm. Finish thinning by mid-July.

Supporting Branches

Heavily laden branches may need extra support with stakes and ties even after thinning.

Once fruit has set, they may need thinning again to ease weight in the canopy, as well as to boost fruit size (you could cook with these plums).

Nitrogen-based fertilisers and watering can really boost the crops of plums, gages and damsons.

Apply a mulch of well-rotted farmyard manure in mid-spring, supplemented with a top-dressing of dried poultry pellets, plus a top-dressing of sulphate of potash in late winter.

To get the best flavour, plums need to ripen on the tree, so pick over several times, as they ripen quickly and in a glut.

Mandy at PrimroseMandy Watson is a freelance journalist who runs www.mandycanudigit.com.

A plantaholic with roots firmly planted in working-class NE England, she aims to make gardening more accessible to the often excluded – the less able, the hard-up or beginners.

Advocate of gardening for better mental health.

See all of Mandy’s posts.

Mandy, Plants

The fashion for bamboo continues and with good reason – it’s easy to care for, looks good in a variety of styles and gives a tropical, oriental look to gardens. 

Bamboos are split into two groups – running and clumping. 

Be aware of height – bamboo will lose its natural graceful shape and movement if pruned back.

After planting, top-dress with a high nitrogen fertiliser, then use a balanced fertiliser such as Growmore during the growing season.

Running Bamboos

Running, or spreading bamboo which includes the popular Phyllostachys aurea and P. nigra (golden/fishpole and black bamboo) is usually best suited to a larger plot due to it’s spreading nature.

Most running varieties range from 4-8 metres tall or more and tend to spread by rhizomes.

Barrier fabrics are available if you would like to contain your bamboo in a specific area. 

Planting in containers is another option – Phyllostachys is often planted in troughs to create a feature piece. Bare in mind, they will need regular watering because they are thirsty plants. 

Running bamboos include: Arundinaria, Bashania, Chimonobambusa, Clavinodum, Hibanobambusa, Indocalamus, Phyllostachys, Pleioblastus, Pseudosasa, Sasa, Sasaella, Sasamorpha, Semiarundinaria, Sinobambusa, and Yushania.

Containing a Running Bamboo

New plants can be restricted within a physical barrier to prevent them spreading.

Dig a trench at least 60cm deep, ideally 1.2m deep and line it with paving slabs, corrugated iron sheets or specialised root barrier fabric (not weed suppressant fabric or butyl pond liner).

Fabric ends should be overlapped by at least 30cm and bonded with mastic. The barrier should stick up at least 7.5cm above soil level, to prevent rhizomes from arching over the top. The rootball should sit 3cm lower than it did below soil level.

Clumping Bamboo For Smaller Gardens

There are alternatives that are not so tall or invasive – clumping bamboos. They still have rhizomes but they are short and stay close to the main plant, so it’s still wise to put a physical barrier in the planting hole.

Smaller varieties are suitable for growing in large pots – half barrel size – and need plenty of water or the foliage will die off and look raggy.

Fargesia varieties are excellent for the smaller garden – they are graceful, delicate and move in the breeze.

Best varieties are F. ‘Jiuzhaigou 1’ (red bamboo, Jiu and Red Panda): The young green canes turn red/purple, then orange-brown, giving a multicoloured effect. Grows up to 3m high with a 2m spread, less in pots. It will stand some shade but needs regular watering. Avoid cold, drying winds, as it is susceptible to wind burn. Hardy to -25ºC.

  1. F. robusta ‘Pingwu’: This reaches 4-5m but only has a spread of 1.5-2m, both less in a large container. Culms start off yellow and red, sheaths fade to almost white. It keeps its foliage even during harsh winters – it is hardy to -17ºC.

Other clump-forming bamboos: Bambusa, Chusquea, Dendrocalamus, Drepanostachyum, Himalayacalamus, Schizostachyum, Shibataea, and Thamnocalamus.

Mandy at PrimroseMandy Watson is a freelance journalist who runs www.mandycanudigit.com.

A plantaholic with roots firmly planted in working-class NE England, she aims to make gardening more accessible to the often excluded – the less able, the hard-up or beginners.

Advocate of gardening for better mental health.

See all of Mandy’s posts.