A Hedges Direct guide to keeping your garden healthy through the winter season
As the current cold temperatures have us dreaming of spring when we no longer have to get up that 10 minutes earlier to defrost the car, there are some preparations you need to make in the garden ready for the new season.
Protect Your Garden from Frost
1. Leave fallen foliage
Gardeners have the tendency to remove fallen foliage as it’s not always the most attractive look, however, the fallen foliage is a great heat insulator and will protect the soil from becoming frozen. This is a great excuse to have a ‘spring clean’ once the weather warms up and clear away the leaves once they’re no longer needed. Wildlife also love leaf bundles as they can use them for nesting sites.
2. Brush away the snow
Remove snow where it applies, mostly to the larger, dense evergreen plants that are big enough to gather snow on their foliage. You may see small snowflakes falling from the sky and with a blink of an eye, there is a thick layer of snow that has the tendency to make UK residents have a meltdown (no pun intended). When collected on foliage, this thick layer of snow will put a large amount of pressure on the plants structure and can result in damage to branches. Be sure to gently shake the foliage of these plants to remove the collection of snow as this will reduce the combined weight that heavy snow fall can create.
Water to prevent frost? Weird- we know. Adding water when frost is immanent can seem a confusing task, however wet soil will hold more heat than soil that is dry so it is vital in these conditions. Remember that it is just as bad to over water as it is to under water your plants. Over watering in these circumstances will be consequential in early spring as doing this allows your plants to be exposed to frost heave.
4. Throw a blanket over your plants
Covering tender garden plants in the evening will help retain heat and protect them from freezing as temperatures drop overnight. Ensure that covers are removed during the day so they are exposed to sunlight, or else tender plants may suffocate. Lift pots and containers inside for protection where felt necessary.
Pruning Your Winter Flowering Shrubs
If we first consider the growth cycle of winter flowering shrubs, it helps us to understand why pruning them at the correct time is so important. Winter flowering shrubs and hedges usually display attractive flowers that last right through the colder months and then start to sprout new green growth as spring arrives, with flower buds beginning to form that will bloom the following winter.
These flower buds begin forming early in spring in order to mature and build up a hardened layer to protect them from the harsh winter weather when they emerge. Because of this process, these shrubs need to be pruned immediately after flowering before next winter’s buds begin to form. Waiting until summer or autumn to prune can cause the loss of the forming flower buds, resulting in no winter flowers.
As a general rule of thumb, winter flowering shrubs should be pruned after flowering but before they begin to bud (normally in late winter/early spring), as the spring growth that immediately follows will help wounds to heal quickly.
1. Pruning evergreen plants
The best time to prune most evergreen winter flowering shrubs is in early spring, after the worst of the winter weather has passed and the chance of frost damage decreases.
You can leave evergreen shrubs un-pruned if you wish, or simply give them a light prune to tidy up the shape, just cutting back any unsightly shoots as well as damaged or diseased foliage. If you wish to carry out a harder prune, remove damaged, diseased or dead growth first and then deadhead your shrub – this often increases flowering the following winter.
For example, Viburnum Tinus – These hedge plants are easy to maintain and only require a light trim after flowering. To encourage healthy growth, cut back the longest shoots and ensure diseased, damaged and congested shoots are removed.
2. Pruning deciduous plants
As with winter flowering evergreens, deciduous shrubs also require little maintenance. Deciduous winter-flowering shrubs should be pruned into shape when young to create an attractive form, but later when they are more mature, pruning should always be carried out by early spring at the latest.
This involves cutting back any frost damaged growth and removing all damaged or diseased shoots. As there will be no leaves to restrict your view, this should be a fairly easy task. Always make sure you leave the shrub’s centre open to allow air and light to easily reach new shoots.
After carrying out any pruning, whether a light trim or a renovation prune, it’s always a good idea to mulch and feed your shrubs afterwards to ensure your plant has all the nutrients required for healthy re-growth.
Protect Wildlife in Your Garden
With the colder weather coming, it’s important to think about how you can help the wildlife thrive over the winter months. Hedges add a safe area for birds to nest or for other small animals to gather in for comfort and shelter from the rain; perfect for hibernating in the winter. Stockpiling a few logs in a corner or your garden will provide ample shelter and create another perfect hibernating setup.
1. Prevent your pond or bird bath freezing
If you have ponds or bird baths in your garden, keep an eye on this water freezing over. To prevent your water source from completely freezing over, place a lightweight ball in the centre of the bath/pond. If the water does freeze over, make sure to crack the frozen over water to make holes. Toxic gases can build up in frozen water which will affect the fish hibernating at the bottom. You can make a hole on the frozen ice by placing a hot pan on the area you want to create a hole. It isn’t advised to crack the ice with force or to pour boiling water as again, this can affect the fish that are living in the pond.
2. Provide a sufficient food supply for wildlife
Hedgehogs require enough fat in order to survive the hibernation period. They hibernate between November and March and can be fed almost anything except milk and bread. It is not unusual for them to wake during hibernation as they may require a quick nutritious lift to get them through the remainder of the season. But, as food sources are in short supply and with limited time to forage in the cold before returning to their chosen habitat, the mission to find food could be deemed impossible.
Birds can quickly get around from one garden to the next. Supplying food and water will help contribute to their everyday go-to necessities which are harder to find during the winter months. In winter, birds rely on bird feeders as their natural sources of insects and grubs dry up.
By providing sufficient food supplies – from feeders and bird baths/water bowls to simply leaving your garden un-pruned for them to forage through – you’re giving wildlife a helping hand to gain the nutrients they need to survive.