There is no point gardening in winter, is there? Isn't everything dead? It is a season of frosts and cold that is hardly likely to promote outdoor activity. However, this is a misconception because winter is not that different from any other season. It is just that the weather is colder and the growth rate of most plants slows down. Although many of the fragrant plants grown in the garden are resting through the winter months, the gardener is far from inactive, and in many respects, winter in the garden can be as busy as any other season of the year.
Check the greenhouse or cold frame constantly for signs of pests or diseases, which take advantage of the protection. Pay attention to hygiene and remove plant debris to cut the risk of infection, particularly if you are reluctant to use chemical controls. Plants that are actively growing in a greenhouse, house, or sunroom need dead flower heads removed, along with any yellowing leaves, before mold starts to grow. Careful water management will ensure that flowering and growth is not impaired by under or overwatering. Woody indoor plants, such as Citrus, tend to produce soft, sappy growth if they are growing in a warm environment with poor winter light levels, and some pruning may be required to keep the growth balanced.
Heavy snowfalls can settle on plants, particularly conifers and evergreens with a larger surface area, and the weight can cause branches to bend or break. Knock the snow off these to help reduce damage, because a torn branch leaves an open wound for infections to enter in spring.
Save energy by insulating greenhouses and cold frames with bubble wrap or similar insulation. Reducing drafts will save on heat loss and plant casualties. Outdoors, new plants introduced since the previous winter will need protection if the weather turns severe. Wind tends to be the real killer, rather than low temperatures. Evergreens, plants growing in containers, and tall plants, including any over 18 in. that have not been firmly anchored, are the most vulnerable. They can be severely damaged by wind, which can loosen the roots, and need to be refirmed and staked or protected. If your garden is particularly windswept, you may wish to consider planting a windbreak of some sort to reduce the airflow. Creating shelter in the garden will also allow you to better appreciate the fragrance of the plants in the calmer air.
Another problem that the wind causes for these plants is the foliage drying out. Conifers and broadleaved evergreens suffer windchill damage when freezing winds draw moisture from leaves faster than it can be replaced, resulting in brown, dry foliage on the windward side. When the garden soil is wet or frozen, the roots are unable to take up water to replace the moisture drawn out of the leaves by the wind. A screen of woven plastic mesh or horticultural fleece on the windward side of the plant will reduce the wind's effects and protect the leaves.
Page 1 of 2 – On page 2, you'll learn how to improve the soil quality of your garden during the winter months for spectacular springtime blooms.
During heavy frosts, some plants may benefit from being wrapped in protective fleece, which absorbs at least some cold. Plants growing in containers need their roots protected from the cold, either by insulating the container or tempor or moving the whole plant into a more sheltered environment.
Soil improvement is a winter job because there are areas of bare soil that are only found between plantings. The heavier the soil, the more important it is to dig in early autumn, as winter frost can break down sticky clay soil better than any cultivation tool. For heavy soils, winter frost is an ally rather than an enemy, and the incorporation of compost or other organic niatter will benefit both the soil structure and the plants growing in it for years to come.
Winter is a good time for dealing with construction and landscaping jobs, when sections of the garden may be bare. It is easier to see the garden layout and make changes for the coming spring. If the soil is not too wet to be structurally damaged by foot traffic and wheelbarrows, drainage systems can be installed or improved. Although summer is often regarded as the best time for installing drains in a heavy clay soil, the ground can be rock solid at that time of year, as well as occupied by plants.
Repairs and maintenance
Repairs and maintenance figure prominently during winter, when the lack of vegetation is a bonus. For instance, this is an ideal time to drain and clean pools and ponds and to carry out repairs to pond sides, walls, and liners, while the plants are dormant and the fish lethargic.
The lawn will benefit from attention during late winter and early spring before new growth starts – releveling, changing the shape, increasing the shape and size of borders, and reseeding areas where growth is sparse (or places where the grass has died out altogether). Remember that no work should be carried out if the grass is frozen because footprints made on frozen grass can cause it to turn brown. The reason for this is that the cells within the leaves are full of ice rather than sap in cold weather.
Excerpted from Fragrant Gardening by Stephen and Val Bradley (Laurel Glen, 2002).
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