The garden is, by and large, pretty dormant through the winter months. Many flowers have long since died away, fruit trees stand still, and shrubs create a calm spot for mini beasts to overwinter (we’ve found ladybirds hibernating in some of ours). That doesn’t mean that the gardening ceases altogether though. In fact, at this time of year, we can all get on with a spot of tidying up, shaping and revitalising in our green space, ready for when the plants start bursting with life and new growth appears.
The aim of winter pruning and tidying is relatively straight forward. It encourages trees to be productive and allows you to reshape shrubs so that they occupy their allotted space in your garden and don’t become too overgrown. Also, it can encourage plants that have become somewhat unproductive to burst into growth and flower when the warm spring and early summer months roll around again. On top of that, some essential maintenance during the winter can help to control disease (although do take note of the exception to this below).
Roses and clematis definitely benefit from winter pruning, for example. For both plants careful cutting back will encourage new growth including flowers, and reduce the risk of disease.
Along with encouraging new growth, some plants such as trees benefit from pruning as it helps them to maintain a good shape, which may also reduce the chance of exposed branches falling in windy or stormy weather. Just be sure to leave stone fruit trees (like plums) alone as pruning them during the winter may expose them to a fungal disease called silver leaf.
The best time to prune your plants in this dormant phase is late winter. The end of January onwards (depending on the weather) is an ideal time to start. As well as being a good time for the plants, it is also before the birds start to nest. Any disruption to bushes or trees, for example, is therefore unlikely to impact the birds’ breeding season. I also find that this is the time of year when the weather is generally grey and cold, and the idea of planning your garden for the year ahead can bring a sparkle of hope and optimism.
Possibly the most important point of all. How do you go about pruning your garden to prepare it for a new season of growth and bloom?
First of you all you need to think about what you’re pruning and why. As mentioned above this varies from plant to plant. Roses would require a much stronger amount of cutting back, whereas for trees you mostly need to check for disease or damage.
A general rule of thumb with any pruning is to remove dead parts of the plant and think about the shape that you’d like to create for the space that you have available. This will vary by location too, and is also in part based on personal preference. You may wish to allow border plants to grow taller and happily spread themselves out, whereas a shrub that overflows onto a grassy or paved area might benefit from being well cut back. You may like a boxed look for your hedges, or you may wish to create something that blends into a more natural and wild area of your garden.
Cleaning pots gives an opportunity to check them for frost damage, think about where to place them and whether you might need to change the contents or add anything. I, for example, often add a little leaf mulch to our garden pots later in the spring, so I check how much I have when planning through my pots at this time of year.
Whilst the days are still shorter, you might find yourself with a little time on your hands in the evening. If so, now is a great time to order seeds for the year ahead, thinking carefully about what you might like to grow. You could make a plan too in the style of a planting calendar, so that you can see at a glance what needs planting when, and how many of the seeds might need some help germinating indoors or in a greenhouse at the same time. You might like to make a note of anything else you need, for example trays, plant pots and compost.
Check your water butts or consider installing one. If you already have one in place, make sure leaves, rubbish or debris haven’t blown in to it. It’s also an opportunity to check that the lid is secure and downpipes or guttering leading in to it aren’t blocked.
It’s important to check any supports, or plant stakes, are in tact and not damaged by the winter weather too. Replacing them at this time is ideal before plants start to grow again. You can also check any ties that you might have for climbing plants, or additional security such as fencing within or behind a hedge.
Are you out in your garden? What is on your outdoor jobs list at the moment? Let me know!
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to take a look at how we created our wildlife garden.
N.B. I am a keen and enthusiastic amateur gardener, but I am not qualified. I would always refer to the Royal Horticultural Society if in any doubt about specific plants or to seek professional advice.