Five win­ter jobs

Do th­ese five jobs and you’ll sur­vive the sea­son in style, says Alys Fowler

The Guardian - Weekend - - Front Contents -

Stop the rot

Tough stems that have dried stand­ing up­right will sur­vive much of the cold sea­son (their bleached seed heads are one of the joys of a win­ter gar­den), but if a peren­nial starts to slime and rot af­ter the first kiss of a frost, you might as well whip it away to the com­post. Many peren­ni­als don’t like the crown (where the stem joins the root) to be cov­ered with rot­ting ma­te­rial in win­ter, par­tic­u­larly with wet mat­ter such as mats of au­tumn leaves, as this can cause rot to travel into the roots and kill the plant. If you don’t want to re­move this or­ganic mat­ter be­cause you would rather the worms do the work, gen­tly brush to the side any ma­te­rial sit­ting on top of the plant. The down­side of this method is that rot­ting ma­te­rial is slug heaven. If you have any­thing nearby to pro­tect, such as win­ter veg­eta­bles, you are bet­ter off re­mov­ing this ma­te­rial to the com­post and re­plac­ing it with well-rot­ted stuff.

The re­al­ity of leav­ing tougher stems stand­ing is that some things will make it through win­ter and oth­ers will get bashed about. It’s tempt­ing to want to cut this back mid­win­ter. In­sects, how­ever, don’t care how your gar­den looks and hav­ing their win­ter home cut back is bru­tal. Lady­birds, for in­stance, love to tuck up in nooks and cran­nies or stems. If you must tidy up, ex­am­ine what you cut back with care.

Feed the birds

Birds are al­ways a joy but in win­ter, when lit­tle else is stir­ring, they bring the gar­den to life. At­tract­ing them now has other ben­e­fits, too: they will clear up leftovers and any­thing re­motely sweet will be gob­bled up. Sup­ple­ment with fat balls and bird feed­ers if nec­es­sary – re­mem­ber that bird feed­ers need to be cleaned and dis­in­fected reg­u­larly. If you es­tab­lish in win­ter that your gar­den is worth a visit, the birds will keep com­ing in spring when you need them as pest con­trol. At least have a bird bath – it should be shal­low and placed where the birds can es­cape from cats.

Plant cheer­ful bed­ding

I’m not the big­gest fan of win­ter bed­ding plants – too many ques­tion­able colour schemes – but I do have a soft spot for bed­ding vi­o­las: those cheery Johnny Jump Up types with smil­ing faces in or­ange and pur­ple, or the more re­fined white ver­sions for stylish win­dow boxes. Buy a tray, prefer­ably grown in peat-free com­post, and fill ev­ery empty pot you’ve got. You can re­cy­cle the com­post left over from pots of toma­toes by adding a scant hand of or­ganic chicken ma­nure or com­frey pel­lets. I like to ar­range the vi­o­las on my gar­den ta­ble, around the back door and where I can see them as I wash up. Sow gar­lic and broad beans

This is the last mo­ment to get gar­lic in this year. You’ll have to race to the shops to buy it, and be ruth­less about check­ing all the bulbs in the packet – they should feel plump and heavy. Gar­lic likes rich, well-drained soil. If you don’t have that, plant it on a ridge to aid drainage. Plant in­di­vid­ual cloves 18-25cm apart, with the top of the clove cov­ered with at least 2-3cm of soil. You can plant in pots, win­dow boxes and even your flower bor­der. Gar­lic doesn’t like to be over­crowded, so keep it to the front. You can also plant the hardier broad bean va­ri­eties ‘Aquadulce Clau­dia’ and ‘The Sut­ton’ (the lat­ter is bet­ter for small or windy spa­ces). Watch out for mice and squir­rels, who will love such fat, rich beans – put down net­ting if nec­es­sary. If a se­vere frost is com­ing, be ready with fleece.

Put your leaves to work

It’s a lit­tle late now to re­pair a lawn worn down from the sum­mer heat­wave, but it makes sense to re­move fallen leaves, or they will smother the grass, ex­clud­ing light and caus­ing it to rot. If you put the leaves into bin bags with holes punched in them and store them out of the way, be­fore you know it you’ll have good-qual­ity leaf mould – per­fect for seed-sow­ing or mulching.

Be canny and book in your mower for a ser­vice now. If you wait till spring, you’ll find there’s a long queue. If noth­ing else, re­move any petrol be­fore win­ter or the mower will strug­gle to start up in spring – stale petrol clogs the car­bu­ret­tor

Clock­wise from op­po­site: the vi­ola Johnny Jump Up; a field­fare feeds on gar­den treats; teasel seed heads; watch out for lady­birds if you do have to tidy up

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