With the growing season behind us, we are now into the start of the dormant winter months of December, January and February, where we see little growth, thus giving us the opportunity to plan and carry out some winter maintenance works and perhaps look at planting some new plants in the garden.
We have just witnessed one of the wettest autumns on record, with as much as 300mm or more rain falling on most parts of the country during the latter part of October and well into November.
This has left us waiting for a dry spell to be able to get out onto the ground. Soils will be saturated or at field capacity making them susceptible to damage if we try to work them in this state.
Depending on the weather conditions (no frost) and during the last days of November early December, there is still an opportunity to aerate your lawn using a punch action solid tine aerator, or failing that use a hand fork to make holes in your lawn to help surface water drain and de-compact your lawn.
There are several other jobs that generally need doing in the garden at this time of the year, with the first being the raking up of all the fallen leaves, specifically off lawns and grass areas. Leaving them on the surface will suffocate the grass and encourage worm activity, leaving the lawn looking a mess.
We now have a vast array of equipment and machinery on offer to undertake this work, usually in the form of leaf blowers or vacs as well as motorised rotary ride-on and pedestrian mowers and sweepers that can cut and collect.
I tend to use a 21inch wide pedestrian rotary mower to clean up smaller lawns and grass areas and use a handheld blower to clean up the rest. Coupled with an even greater choice of rotary and flail ride-on cut and collect mowers that can be used on larger areas.
The collected leaves make a great compost when mixed with other organic garden waste, however you will need somewhere to store this material and be able to turn it several times in the coming year to make a decent compost material.
The benefits of composting your garden and kitchen waste are two-fold. You’re reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill and providing a habitat for a range of minibeasts. The community of minibeasts who live among the waste help the decaying process, and in turn, these beasts are a delicious food source for hedgehogs and other animals.
I found some interesting information on composting on the Shropshire Wildlife web site.
The next job in the garden is to tidy up the shrub and flower beds and prune any trees and shrubs that may need reducing in size or and thinning out. Some roses will need pruning to remove any dead and damaged growth and pruned to prevent wind rock.
Any tender annual or perennial plant material will need to be protected or dug up and put in the greenhouse for overwintering such as geraniums, pelargoniums, fuchsias, dahlias and cannas.
The next job will be to weed and clean out beds and borders, removing any old dead and dying plant material and clearing space for new plant material.
In essence, it is all about a good tidy up, including the sweeping and cleaning of paths and patios. The use of a power washer is helpful for removing moss and algae. Try not to use chemicals as it may be hazardous to plants and animals. Once you completed this work you can then look at ways to enhance your garden by reinstating damaged and worn out garden furniture or features along with investing in new plant material.
I recently visited a local garden centre and was able to see a vast range of colourful winter flowering shrubs and flowers that are now available for planting in the garden. These include some of my favourite winter plant varieties.
Mahonia × media 'Charity'
'Charity' is an upright evergreen shrub to 4m tall, with pinnate leaves composed of up to 21 lance-shaped leaflets, and small, cup-shaped yellow flowers borne in erect, clustered terminal racemes to 35cm long in late autumn and winter.
Photinia × fraseri 'Red Robin' is a dense medium-sized evergreen shrub of erect habit, with glossy, elliptic leaves to 10cm in length, bright red when young, later dark green. Flowers creamy-white and rather sparse.
Viburnum tinus is a large, evergreen shrub to 3m with dark green leaves. New growth is tinted bronzy-purple. Clusters of small, white flowers, often pink-tinged in bud, are produced over a long period in late winter and spring, followed by blue-black berries.
Heathers (Calluna), heaths (Erica) and Irish heath (Daboecia) thrive in an open, sunny position, but will tolerate light shade, such as under high-canopied deciduous trees. Many need lime-free soil (acidic) that is rich in organic matter. Some tolerate neutral to alkaline soil.
All these plants will give you good colour and form throughout the winter months.