Although we are in the middle of winter, it’s never too early to think about preparing your garden for spring. Suddenly it will be nearing March, and you will be frantically seed sowing and nurturing your garden out of hibernation. Make use of these quieter winter months to get ahead in your spring garden.
Order summer-flowering bulbs and seeds
Make sure you order your summer-flowering bulbs and seeds now. Certain flowers like lilies and gladioli can be ordered early and planted at the start of spring.
Tidy up flower beds and borders
Keep on top of the leaves and other debris in your flower beds and borders, and take them back to bare soil. You can cut back the old dead growth of deciduous grasses and herbaceous perennials now, although, if you’d like to be wildlife friendly, it’s best to leave these until early spring.
Add the organic matter you have cleared to your compost pile and throw away or burn any weeds you’ve pulled – be sure not to compost the seeds and they will germinate and cause you more problems later on. Whether you’re seeing left-over weeds from last year or new ones that sprouted in cool weather, eliminate them now when the ground’s still soft from winter. They’ll come out easier than in hard, dry summer soil.
If you haven’t got a compost bin, now is the time to start one. Once it has broken down, you’ll get a lovely, rich compost your plants will thrive on. Make sure you have a good mixture of grass clippings, vegetable peelings, paper and woody prunings. To help the process along you’ll need to turn your compost with a garden fork each month to keep it aerated.
Clean out and wash your greenhouse
Now’s the perfect time to give your greenhouse a good clean, ready for the seedlings and cuttings of spring. Wash the outside of your greenhouse with disinfectant or detergent, to remove algae, moss and general grime. This will let in more light during the growing months, while removing potential homes for pests and disease.
Sweep out any plant debris on the floor and benches, and wash with a hot solution of garden disinfectant such as Jeyes Fluid. While you’re there, wash pots and seed trays to help prevent diseases like ‘damping off’ from infecting your young plants. Ventilate your greenhouse well over the next couple of days so it dries thoroughly.
Sow any seeds that need a longer season
In January and February you can start sowing the seeds of plants which need a longer growing season, such as geraniums (pelargoniums), begonias, antirrhinums, peppers and aubergines. They’ll need to be started in a heated propagator or similar to ensure good growth.
Also aim to fertilize the beds. Once the ground thaws, apply granular fertilizer around the trees, shrubs and perennials. Match the particular product to the plant type and to any particular nutrient needs spelled out by a soil test.
Address garden pests
Remove hibernating pests now – it will save you a lot of trouble come spring and summer. Take a closer look at the crowns of your perennial plants and check for any slugs, snails and aphid colonies sheltering for the winter.
As well as pest damage, remember to prune off any broken, dead or storm-damaged branches. Also snip the tips off of any evergreens that have suffered tip diebacks from winter’s cold.
Install a water butt in your garden this winter to make the most of seasonal rainfall. Most of the year’s rain falls in winter, so now’s the time to collect it! Harvesting rainwater is essential for environmentally friendly gardening.
Do some maintenance
Winter is the ideal time of year to get those little maintenance jobs out of the way. Check fence panels, gates and trellis for any sign of weather damage or decay. Fixing any broken structures now will give you more time to spend in the garden during the spring and summer.
Next, clean fence panels and gates with a power washer to remove dirt, moss and mildew. Use a stiff brush to help remove stubborn grime. Let the wood dry completely before applying two coats of stain, paint or wood preservative on a dry day.
Clean and sharpen gardening tools
Give your tools a clean and a sharpen during the winter months. Maintaining your garden tools will help preserve them, so be sure to give them a clean and sharpen over winter. Doing this saves you money in the long run and helps to prevent the spread of disease.
Use strong detergent, hot water and a scourer to give bladed tools a thorough clean. Sharpening your tools will also improve their performance; they’ll be easier to work with and will give cleaner pruning cuts. Once sharpened, apply some oil or WD40 to blades and hinges.
Get rid of dead perennial leaves
If you didn’t already cut back your frost-killed perennial flowers last autumn, rake or clip off that browned foliage now. It’ll clear the way for this year’s new growth, which will be pushing up shortly. If you notice that any perennials have worked their way partly out of the ground due to winter freezing and thawing, tamp them back down so the roots aren’t exposed. Water them and add an inch or two of mulch around them.
Whether you use a long-handled, people-powered edging tool or power edger, end of winter is a good time to cut sharp edges along all garden beds. This not only neatens the landscape, it creates a “lip” to contain mulch that can be applied once the soil warms consistently for the season.