General Winter-garden image

Published on April 26th, 2018

How to prepare your garden for winter hibernation

The nights are drawing in, and in many parts of Australia the fireplaces are flickering into life. Outside, the soil may still be warm, but the countdown to winter has definitely begun.

For gardeners, this is one of the busiest times of year in the garden. There’s plenty to do, from a last round of planting to laying the groundwork for winter dormancy. Here are five things you can do now to get prepared.

1. Mulch

Your plants will welcome a warm winter blanket just as much as you do. Mulch will keep down weeds and preserve moisture and heat in the soil.

Any loose, insulating material will work as long as it’s organic material. Straw, shredded bark chips or all those leaves you’ve raked up from the paths all make ideal mulch.

Spread mulch around the base of hardy perennials, and over the top of heavily pruned winter plants like tea roses. Woody plants need less mulching, and you should leave some space around the roots to prevent disease.

2. Plant winter crops

It’s not too late to plant new things. The soul is still warm during the autumn months, meaning your new plants will have the chance to gain some strength and robustness before the frost bites. Winter vegetables include anything green and leafy such as kale or spinach, brassicas like cauliflower or broccoli, and a range of root vegetables. Ask your local nursery for recommendations, as they’ll be able to suggest things for your immediate climate.

3. Get out the pruning shears

Winter is when your plants are going into dormancy, which makes it the right time to prune them back. Pruning helps maintain the shape of trees and bushes, encourages new growth and maintain good health.

Some plants respond to heavier pruning than others, so make sure you check how to prune each. Cane shrubs, like hydrangeas, need their old flower heads cutting off, while perennials should be pruned back to a low permanent framework. Many trees just need a quick prune to maintain growth; if there are no diseases or crossing branches, you can leave them alone.

If in doubt, consult an expert.

4. Get your bulbs in place

The rule for great flowering spring bulbs is ‘buy early, plant late’. Buy them as early as they hit the shops to make sure that you get your pick of the wide range available. Plant them in late autumn, when the ground is colder, so that you don’t risk them sprouting early and being affected by winter frosts. In the southern parts of the country, April might be the best time, but if you live further north, wait until May or even June.

For tulips, try putting the bulbs in your fridge for 4-6 weeks before planting to mimic a European winter and promoting healthy growth. These are the only bulbs that require this treatment.

5. Protect warmth-loving plants

If you have garden plants that won’t cope with winter frost, try setting light frames around them. At night, drape the frames with plastic or cloth to protect them. In the morning, remember to take it off again so that they don’t overheat.

Some plants simply can’t cope with winter cold, even with that added protection, especially tropicals and subtropical plants. If you have potted plants that meet that description, move them inside until the spring warmth reappears. Once indoors, reduce the frequency with which you water them. The lower temperatures also mean less need for moisture, even for tropicals.

A little bit of effort now will see your garden thrive throughout the winter season. Come spring, you’ll be facing a riot of colour instead of a soggy green wasteland.


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