Winter in the Garden


Well we’ve hit the depths of winter now and lets be honest, gardening along with exercise is about the furthest thing from your mind.  Winter is really important in the world of horticulture though and the work you put in now will show great rewards in the seasons and years to come.  I thought that this would be a good time to share some winter garden tips with you and hopefully inspire a bit of horticultural action.


Tip One


Clothe yourself.  Comedian Billy Connelly once remarked as he ran naked across a Scottish beach, that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s just the wrong clothes!”  It’s one of those simple truths that have stuck with me, but one that people tend to deny as they look for excuses to stay on the couch.  If it’s raining, put on your beanie, gumboots and your raincoat.  Stay warm, stay dry and stay at it!


Tip Two


Look for the beauty of winter instead of pining for the glamour of spring.  There’s a kind of beauty in the death that winter brings to a garden.  Leafless deciduous vines and trees, the blackening seed heads of late summer perennials.  Winter in the garden can tell the true story of our natural life cycle and that’s a subject that most of us try to avoid.  This winter, try to embrace death!  Let your Sedum heads linger until spring, wait until your Miscanthus has lost the last of its golden straw-coloured plumes.  If you need some more encouragement, then look towards Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf.  He has the most wonderful understanding of seasonality and change in the garden.  Check out this Vimeo link for more information


Tip Three


If Death in winter is not really your scene, then get some winter flowers in the ground. There are plenty of old favourites that can sustain you through the winter blues.  The sweet lemon scent of White Daphne would have to be the purest winter fragrance. Then there’s the ever-reliable Helleborus Winter Rose, Magnolia soulangeana, Chaenomeles Flowering Quince, or the very bright and cheerful Kniphofia ‘Winter Cheer’. All of them are easily grown and don’t need much care through the year.  Don’t go too crazy with your winter plantings though, there’s the rest of the year to consider.   And plenty of magnificent winter flowering Magnolias look tired and scrappy after a hot Melbourne summer.


If you’re after something a little out of the ordinary to plant for some winter joy then have a look at Chimonanthus praecox – Winter Sweet, a back room filler plant that comes into its own with some unusual but beautifully scented winter flowers.  Or if you like your plants a bit prehistoric and spiky looking, you can’t go past the Aloe family.  Aloe arborescens is a particular favorite of the Wattlebirds who flock to it for its nectar.


And of course it’s not all about flowers and seed heads in winter.  It is also the time that berries come into their own.  Have a look at Callicarpa bodinieri – Beauty Berry – that holds its berries on bare stems after a late summer flower.  Or Nandina domestica – Sacred Bamboo – that has an abundance of glossy, red berries over the winter.


Tip Four

Get into your garden chores. There is so much that needs to be done in the garden over winter! Here’s a list to get you started.

  • Prune the Roses back to a nice open vase shape
  • Structurally prune deciduous trees to get the right form when in leaf
  • Look out and spray for aphids on the Helleborus
  • Cut the gall wasp out of your Citrus.  They re-hatch soon and the cycle starts again in last seasons growth
  • Spray Azaleas for lacewing bug
  • Spray Viburnums and Portuguese Laurals infested by two spotted mite with “Maverick”. Remove the affected leaves and give the plants a cut back by about one third
  • Compost and feed everything
  • Winter lawns like Tall Fescue should be aerated, top dressed and re-seeded in any bare patches
  • Summer lawns like Buffalo should be monitored for weeds and clover while they’re dormant over the winter months
  • Mulch your beds and condition your soils.  A good 100mm coverage of Sure Crop Compost is a great fix all if you haven’t made your own.
  • Check that your worms are not drowning in their farms.  Most worm farms collect some natural rainfall and the little fellas are not great swimmers.

That should keep you off the couch for a few hours.  Happy gardening!