David Domoney, presenter on Britain’s most-watched gardening TV show, ITV1’s Love Your Garden, as well as the resident gardener on ITV1’s This Morning and the gardening columnist for the Sunday Mirror presenter and an Ideal Home Show Christmas ambassador, shares his top tips for caring for your garden this winter.
Mulch mulch mulch
Putting a thick layer of mulch around your plants in the cold season will help to protect them from winter frosts. It is particularly important for plants with shallow root systems, like Heuchera, Scabiosa (scabious) and strawberries, which are susceptible to frost heaving. This is where the freezing and thawing of water in the soil gradually pushes roots up out of the ground. Opting for a natural mulch, such as a layer of bark chips or straw, will also improve the soil over time as the mulch breaks down and adds nutrients to the soil.
Think of the birds
During winter, natural food for birds and liquid water sources that they need for preening can become scarce. To look after your local population and attract birds to your garden, keep bird baths topped up with fresh water so that they don’t freeze over and put out suet cakes and bird seed in feeders. One of my favourite ideas for December is to plant a Christmas tree, such as Picea abies (Norway spruce), in your garden and decorate it with bird treats like suet cake stars, strings of peanuts, apple baubles and slices of dried orange.
Plant for seasonal colour
For an extra zip of colour in garden borders this winter opt for the fiery stems of Cornus (dogwood) against the black embers of Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (lilyturf) and add evergreens like Virburnum tinus and Mahonia (barberry) for year-round structure and winter flowers. For extra interest in pots, choose the green-centred, bright white flowers of Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) ‘Potter’s Wheel,’ the incredible heart-shaped blooms of Cyclamen persicum ‘Miracle’ and the elegant spires of Erica (heather) ‘Springwood White.’
Protect container-grown plants
Container-grown plants are easily damaged by frosts but you can protect them by taking a few simple steps: Try to plant in frost-resistant pots that are less prone to cracking, which can damage plant roots; Place pot plants against walls and fences to shelter them from cold winds; Lift containers off the ground with pot feet to prevent pots becoming waterlogged, which can make cracking more likely since water expands as it freezes; lastly, insulate pots by wrapping them in bubble wrap or placing them in straw-filled bags to help to shield plant roots from the cold.
Plant fruit trees
Winter is the ideal time for planting fruit trees as they are not actively growing and can easily be moved. Just ensure that the ground is not waterlogged or frozen at the time of planting. There are varieties available to suit any garden—from pot-grown dwarf varieties to full-sized cherries—and there’s nothing quite like eating fruit straight off the tree come autumn. Personally, I grow the ‘Worcester Pearmain’ variety of apple for its showy flowers in spring and delicious fruits in autumn as well as the self-fertile ‘Stella’ variety of cherry for its heavy crops of succulent fruits in July.
Prepare for extreme weather
Strong gales can cause problems if a garden isn’t properly prepared but it’s easy to do this if you know how. Make sure to fix any loose fence panels and stain them so that they can stand up to extremes of weather. Trim hedges and overgrown trees to avoid them being damaged by winds, the smaller shape will help them get through. Insulate vulnerable plants, like Cordyline australis, with transparent fleece to shield the foliage from cold. Just remember to remove the protection when the weather warms up.
Cosy up your outdoor space
Don’t let a bit of cold weather doom your whole family to the indoors from now until spring. Instead, cosy up your outdoor space by installing an on-trend fire pit, warming outdoor heaters and homely garden sofas festooned with snug blankets—that way the garden needn’t be out of bounds in cooler weather. Get yourself a fire pit with a cooking arm and you can be rustling up some decent rib-eye steaks or colourful veggie kebabs beneath the winter stars.
Plant Christmas decorations
Christmas wouldn’t be the same without garlands made of gorgeous evergreen foliage, rich red berries and decorative pine cones. Plant beautiful hollies, attractive ivies, scented spruce and pine trees and you’ll have enough foliage to make all the decorations you could ever want and even give some away as gifts. With hollies, be sure either to plant a male and a female bush together to ensure berries on the female plant or choose a self-fertile holly, like Ilex aquifolium ‘J.C. van Tol,’ which will produce abundant large berries all by itself.
Brighten indoor spaces with houseplants
Houseplants are fantastic at this time of year—be they specialist Christmas plants, like Poinsettia and Christmas cacti, or year-rounders, like Phalaenopsis (moth orchid). They give incredible colour indoors throughout the winter months. Look for the delightful and plentiful flowers of Schlumbergera truncate, which are available in a range of colours from hot pink to Santa’s suit red.
Think ahead to next season
Winter is the perfect time to be digging fertilisers into the soil. Add organic matter like well-rotted manure, compost and bone meal to borders in the cold season and they will break down and enrich your soil with nutrients ready to nourish your plants next year. It’s the perfect way to end the old year—by preparing your garden for the new.