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Image by C.K.H.

For most of us, winter is a chilly and depressing mistress, with only one real benefit – snow. There are snowmen, snowflakes, snowball fights, and if we’re really lucky, even the occasional snow day. And the positives of snow don’t end there. Unbeknown to many of us, snow can actually be good for our gardens too. A thick layer of the stuff will insulate the garden floor, acting like a mulch to protect it.

But it seems as though the advantages of winter end there. If not met with the proper defences the winter weather can and will play havoc with your garden, transforming it from a winter wonderland to a frost-bitten plant necropolis. Here’s how to care for your winter garden.

Shrubs

Now, as the pride of most gardens it’s probably best to start with flowers and plants. Of course, most varieties do not survive the harsh chill of winter, but taking proper care of the shrubs will ensure your garden will be ready to burst into bloom come spring. By clearing away all dead or damaged branches, which may cause stress or friction for the healthy ones, you can prevent any harm to your shrubs.

At the same time, covering the shrubs and surrounding areas with a thick layer of chopped leaves or pine-needles will moderate the severe temperatures of winter’s freezes and thaws, protecting the roots of your shrubs. And remember, always make sure you remove any old mulch from under and around the shrubs as these could be providing comfy homes for many an insect egg or infected leaf.

Veggies

For those in the tricky business of tending winter vegetable gardens, many of the same rules apply. Although it’s not common practice, many people like to get a head-start on the growing season by planting outdoor vegetables early, or to extend the growing season into the colder months for a bigger yield. For those of you that fall into this category, be sure to water your plants thoroughly to reduce drought stress and promote growth, and, like with flowering plants, make sure you provide proper protection to you vegetable plants with a thick layer of organic mulch, 2-3 inches thick at the very least.

Soil

Plants, flowers, hedges or veggies, one thing is certain – no green garden can survive without healthy soil. In preparation for the winter months digging and forking your soil is a must. Obviously this must be done before the ground freezes or becomes waterlogged, and will invariably loosen the soil allowing you to remove any weeds and dead leaves.

It will also ready your soil for compost. I would suggest using an organic plant conditioner made from composting plant debris. Applying a hot and active pile of the stuff will kill any remaining weed seeds and disease pathogens. Once the ground has frozen, apply a layer of organic mulch, at least 6 inches thick, to moderate the soil temperature and keep pesky rodents from nesting in the soil.

Lawn

Although a little more resilient than most other green garden features (bar ever-greens, of course), there are still one or two measures you can take to ensure your lawn does not fall victim to the hazards of winter. Remove any moss and dead or dying grass, and maintain a healthy level of raking, mowing and feeding consistently throughout the seasons.

Garden Furniture

As the most costly and, let’s face it, most practical feature of most gardens, outdoor furniture is the ultimate garden adornment. Proper protection from the winter weather will save you a lot of time and hassle as well as a few quid. Before doing anything, it’s important to clean your garden furniture properly – a soapy sponge and bucket of warm water will do the trick and make sure you dry it properly afterwards.

If you have metal furniture that has collected a bit of rust, simply rub gently with a bit of wire wool. Once that has been done you can either store your furniture away (inside your house or in outside storage units), or cover with some form of protective waterproof sheet, perfect for those inevitable rainy days, which may cause mould (in wood) or rust (on metal).

If you have wooden furniture, there is also the added option of using a wood-protector. Applying a healthy layer of a protective varnish to your wooden furniture will keep it dry and protect it from the elements, without the hassle of unnecessary heavy lifting.

Yes, we know that it sounds like a lot of hard work, and in the cold no less. But following just a few of these simple steps, particularly the mulching, pruning and clearing of dead debris, and the covering of wooden furniture, will help you keep your garden in tip-top shape this winter, ready to strike back come next spring!

If you have any thoughts on the best way to protect your garden this winter, please don’t hesitate to let us know…leave your comments below!

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Though a fair-weather gardener herself, Lianna Thomas-Forbes hopes to help prepare your garden for the coming winter. She recommends Rawgarden for you garden furniture needs.

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