Winter Gardening – a Time to Revitalise

[hr]It may be winter, but there’s still plenty to do in the garden. Winter gardening is a mixture of pruning, planting and revitalising plants and the garden. It is also a time to plan ahead for spring, writes Jennifer Stackhouse. [hr]

During winter growth slows and the days are short and cold so there’s time to spare for tackling the tough jobs such as relaying pathways, improving steps, adding garden lights, creating new garden beds or even making an outdoor entertaining area.

Even if you don’t want to undertake these tasks yourself, it can be a quieter time to employ tradesmen or landscape contractors to do smaller jobs in the garden.
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Prune

Make the winter months the time to roll up the sleeves and tackle some full on plant maintenance. Pruning is an excellent task for winter. Many dormant trees and shrubs along with herbaceous plants such as grasses and perennials are pruned during winter. Start the winter prune by sharpening your secateurs or even replacing the blades if they are nicked or worn and you have a brand that offers replacement parts such as Felco.

If you don’t feel up to sharpening secateurs yourself, take them to a lawn mower repair shop or other store that offers blade sharpening.

Stagger pruning over the coming months. Start with herbaceous perennials such as salvias (except for winter-flowering species), coneflowers (Echinacea), asters, rudbeckia and gaura, along with ornamental grasses, cutting them to ground level. Also remove spent flower stems on autumn-flowering bulbs such as nerines as these plants finish their show, but leave the foliage to create energy for the next season’s flower.

[pullQuote]“There are a surprising number of fragrant flowers that bloom in gardens during winter. ”[/pullQuote]

Move on to deciduous trees and shrubs removing dead or diseased wood and cutting back plants that have outgrown their space. Tidy plants such as crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica, pictured), which can be lightly trimmed to remove spent flowers, or cut back harder to encourage strong new growth.

Also check evergreens for dead wood and inspect all plants for invasive climbers such as ivy and remove the interlopers.

In mild winter climates such as coastal areas of Queensland and northern New South Wales roses can be pruned in early winter. In colder areas leave the pruning of roses and frost-sensitive plants until mid to late winter. This is because pruning can stimulate new growth that may be damaged by frost or even extreme cold.

Winter-flowering gems such as Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis), hellebores and violets can be tidied up. Carefully remove some of the foliage to better see the dainty flowers.

Pest and Disease Maintenance

After pruning and before new growth appears, give plants their annual winter spray with a lime or copper based fungicide. This is done to combat bacterial and fungal diseases that appear with the warmer weather. 

Plants to put on your winter spray list include fruit trees such as peaches and nectarines, and shrubs including roses. Although they are not deciduous, citrus trees can also be treated to an oil spray in winter to clean up bugs that attack fruit. Use petroleum spray oil for this task (sold as eco or pest oils).

Also clean up around fruit trees by removing any old fruits or prunings. These should be burned (if acceptable in your area) or binned, but not added to compost or mulch heaps. Renew mulches around these plants as well. [hr]

Plant

Don’t let the cold weather put you off planting. We are at the beginning of the peak planting time for deciduous trees and shrubs, which extends right through winter. Starting early however means there are plenty of good plants for sale in the nurseries.

Spend time clearing and preparing the ground for planting. If you buy bare-rooted plants and find you can’t get them into the ground immediately, simply put them into some loose soil as a temporary measure so their roots don’t dry out.

A tip before planting is to soak all bare-rooted plants in water with a dash of seaweed solution. Trim any damaged roots before planting.

To fill in the bare spots, add winter-flowering perennials such as hellebores or winter iris (best in cold to mild climates), along seedlings of winter-flowering calendulas, pansies, polyanthus or wallflowers.

There are some beautiful new varieties of hellebores to tempt gardeners. These plants have very upright and showy flowers. One of my favourites is ‘Ivory Prince’ which has delightful creamy white flowers and dark patterned leaves.

A Touch Of Fragrance

There are a surprising number of fragrant flowers that bloom in gardens during winter including the aptly named winter-flowering honeysuckle along with daphne, osmanthus and witch hazel to name just a few.

Many of these winter flowerers have restrained or even non-descript flowers. That cannot be said for one of the most fragrant of all winter bloomers – luculia. This shrub is far from retiring and has big heads of pink flowers with a glorious scent. It is best in a cool to temperate climate in a spot sheltered from strong winds.

It is also a plant to treat with respect as it comes with a reputation for suddenly dropping dead. To avoid unexpected losses, avoid digging around its roots, keep it moist and well mulched with leaf mould. Luculia can be pruned after flowering, but cut it back cautiously.

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stackhouse-garden-Jennifer Stackhouse, Horticulturist

jennifer-stackhouse

Jennifer Stackhouse is a horticulturist, garden writer, blogger and editor, who lives on a small property at Kurmond in NSW with her family, dogs, chooks and the neighbour’s horses. She is highly respected by gardeners around Australia and a popular speaker. She is a regular garden commentator on ABC Local Radio across Australia. Her new book, simply titled Garden, has just been released to help everyone to maintain their bit of green.
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