November 22, 2012

'Getting the garden ready for winter' to-do list

Today is wet, dark and blowing a hooley, 'dreich' the Scots would say, crying out to me for woodfire, an oversize wooly scarf and food with ginger and cinnamon in it.

But monday started out much more brightly, and finally, FINALLY, the neglected, overgrown and fast decaying Wild Acre garden was brought to heel.

My lovely friend Anna, a total hero with rake and hoe, (and new-ish blogger so please say hi!), came to help me get the process going, because getting my unruly plot cut back, raked over and snuggled to bed for the winter under a cosy layer of mulch is one of the biggest jobs of the whole year. It is so worth doing though, because not only does it do battle with weeds, disease, pests and help with planning new planting, come spring all the exciting new growth arrives in a garden all tidy and ready to shine.

Here are the Autumn jobs I do in my garden to get it winter ready, it is not an exhaustive list (certainly an exhausting one though!), but just a round up of what works here as a basic go-to list:

Leaf litter. So pretty for a while but pants for the lawn and makes such fantastic leafmould,  so just has to be collected up and composted. Done.

Chopping back. Nearly all hardy herbaceous perennials get chopped back to near ground level in my garden - all that blackened decaying bleugh looks vile, and can become a disease and slug theme park so into the compost it goes. Obviously diseased leaves, like ones with blackspot underneath rose bushes, I put in the brown bin because the council's giant composting machinary will raise temperatures to such a high degree that the soil will be sterilised. Or you could burn them. It is a fairly arduous and backbreaking job in a large garden but has to be done. I still have loads more to doand will be putting Radox on the supermarket list! Plants still looking nice and in flower, here that is penstemons, verbena, calendula and scabious have got a reprieve until the hard frosts nab them.  I like to leave the tall grasses which look so pretty frosted and some chunkier perennials, like sedums for overwintering beneficial insects. Slightly more tender plants get spared the chop 'til spring too and rose experts might suggest leaving roses too but my garden is so exposed they start to rock in high winds so I prune them low now and hope for the best.

Weeding. It has been mild here and the weeds are shocking. Another boring necessity but oddly addictive once you start. It is easy to lose whole afternoons. Obvious point, but it is important to get the whole flipping root system with the perennial horrors.

Mulching. Not strictly necessary I guess, but the sight of all the chopped back plants just poking through a neat layer of mulch is embarrassingly pleasing to me. Clearly I need to get out more, but it really is like looking at a kitchen you have blitzed clean from top to bottom or a perfectly tidy wardrobe, only better.  It does also suppress weeds brilliantly, raise the temperature of the soil enough to protect more tender plants and, according to the RHS, protects the structure of the soil from the ravages of winter rains.

Edging. After this neatfreakery, edging the beds is the icing on the cake. Borders will now look ship-shape all winter. Always reminds me to get my eyebrows shaped!

Planting. Even this late it is possible to get some tulip bulbs planted, as long as the soil is not frozen. They need to go in deepish into good-draining soil, so be kind to yourself and dig big trenches, it is so much easier. Gone are my days of planting them one by one in the mud on a freezing afternoon, feeling like Vivienne Leigh in that last scene of Gone with the Wind, only a lot less glamourous and triumphant!  It is a also great time to plant bare rooted shrubs, including roses. And trees, so they have the whole winter to develop roots before coming into leaf in the spring.

Fruit and Veg. In the kitchen garden there is still time to plant autumn garlic, raspberry canes (and I am sure a host of other veg I don't yet grow!). On the raised beds I do usually lay a good thick layer of fresh manure this time of year from the livery stables across the lane, and it has all winter to rot down. I also tidy up the strawberry plants that have the look of a mad harridan by November.

General sorting. Hardly a subtitle to inspire, but it worth clearing up all the spare canes, netting and any other things you find lurking in the beds, and get them clean and stored somewhere dry so they are usable again - I guess part of making gardening as sustainable as possible. After all their hard graft in the summer months it is a good idea to get as many hand tools as possible cleaned up, oiled and sharpened either now or just before they start being used again in the spring. Getting my spades and hoe resharpened was a revelation and makes jobs so much quicker and easier. I tried and tried with sharpening stones with useless results and then realised my local nursery would do it for me very reasonably and it is money well spent I think.

It is also nice to leave a little pile of logs somewhere for overwintering critters.

So that is my basic list, I am sure there is loads I have forgotten, do you have any tips or jobs to add? x

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving to my lovely blog friends over the pond - have a wonderful celebration. xx


  1. One of the "things" for which i am thankful today si you.

    1. Oh Webb, what a lovely thing to say. Quite made my day, thank you. x

  2. I stepped out into the garden today and nearly got blown sideways so I've huddled indoors and pottered - I have to say our garden is looking frightful at the moment.

    Nina x

  3. What do you mulch with, Belinda?

    My one extra job that I'd add in is to stand at my kitchen window with a mug of tea in hand and smile smugly to myself as I survey my work in the garden. ;-)


    1. I have a couple of giant compost hoppers that take all our green waste, bar nasty weeds. It makes quite a dry, bulky compost that is fab as a mulch so that is what I tend to use. x

  4. Hooray! You did it! I've woken this morning to find every single leaf off my trees so the thrice-weekly leaf rake up is over.
    Hoping to spread my lovely pile of manure on the plot this weekend ... happy days : )

  5. I have found it very curious that most English gardens are not mulched. Where I live in the States, it is much drier so mulch is a necessity to keep the moisture in. I suppose that is not a problem here :) But it sure looks tidy. It must feel nice to put the garden 'to bed' for the season...

  6. Wow, I'd always thought that one of the beauties of countryside life was the leisure of winter. But you seem to have more work than ever. Isn't winter beautiful anyway, all that brisk weather keeping the spirit alert :-)

  7. My shoulder is hurting just from reading this to do list.

    Though of course we have done so on a much smaller scale...

    kind of anyway, there is still a pile of mulch taking up the driveway.

    And we still haven't planted one new bulb.

    I hang my head in shame.

    xo jane