Gar­den doc­tor: win­ter dam­age

Nick Bai­ley looks at the toll win­ter can take, and how to fix any harm done to plants

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

Al­though the UK’s mild cli­mate en­ables us to grow a vast range of plants, it’s not with­out its chal­lenges. The win­ter months can bring us wind, rain, snow and hail from the At­lantic and Siberia. This on­slaught can have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on our gar­dens. Re­mem­ber fore­caster Michael Fish and that fate­ful night in 1987? And just a few weeks ago the ‘beast from the east’ brought heavy snow, strong winds and bit­ter temperatures that af­fected plants and gar­dens across the UK. With this in mind it’s worth ex­am­in­ing your shrubs, trees and gar­den now for signs of dam­age. Wind The wind’s im­pact can be both sub­tle and very ob­vi­ous. Strong storms can bring down trees, but lesser on­go­ing blows can cause ‘root-rock’ of newly es­tab­lish­ing plants, leaf des­ic­ca­tion of ev­er­greens and tur­bu­lence at ground level. Check plants now for dam­age. Bro­ken or cracked tree branches can be re­moved by a tree sur­geon who can also ad­vise if any trees have be­come un­sta­ble as a re­sult of the wind. Shrubs are eas­ier to fix; bro­ken branches can be re­moved by hand and it’s worth check­ing the base of shrubs, es­pe­cially if they’re young, for wind-rock. Open pock­ets of soil around the trunk are a sure sign that the top of the plant has been se­ri­ously buf­feted, po­ten­tially break­ing roots and desta­bil­is­ing it. Rec­tify any wind-rock dam­age by stak­ing close to the ground for the next few years un­til the shrub is well es­tab­lished. Des­ic­ca­tion is usually in­di­cated by dried or crispy leaves, es­pe­cially young ones. Boost any plants af­fected this way with plenty of wa­ter over sev­eral weeks and feeds with liq­uid sea­weed. Avoid the prob­lem in the fu­ture by us­ing fleece wraps.


Pro­longed pre­cip­i­ta­tion over win­ter can be a boon for dry gar­dens af­ter a hot sum­mer, but heavy rain on silty or clay soils can cause sur­face or deeper com­paction and wa­ter run-off, lead­ing to mini floods. It can also sat­u­rate the soil to the ex­tent that it be­comes anaer­o­bic (with­out air), killing off use­ful soil or­gan­isms. Check your soil by dig­ging into bor­ders or wet patches. Sur­face com­paction can be al­le­vi­ated by fork­ing, while deeper com­paction will call for the ad­di­tion of plenty of or­ganic mat­ter or a drainage sys­tem.

Frost, snow and hail

Frozen wa­ter, in all its forms, can cause se­ri­ous dam­age. Check ten­der shrubs and ever­green peren­ni­als for ‘frost burn’ (scorched leaves) and cut out dam­aged parts once the weather has warmed. Note the af­fected plants so you can pro­tect them with fleece next win­ter. Hail dam­age usually only af­fects large-leaved ev­er­greens – cut out any ho­ley or torn fo­liage. Heavy snow can sit on ev­er­greens and hedges, which will strain or even snap off branches, so knock the snow off as soon as pos­si­ble af­ter it’s landed and re­move any dam­age as you go. Hedges can be clipped in a con­i­cal, rather than vase form, so their tops don’t carry as much snow. The cli­mate may be chang­ing and bring­ing in­creas­ingly un­pre­dictable weather, but as gar­den­ers we have al­ways adapted to change. With care­ful plan­ning it’s pos­si­ble to pro­tect our plots from win­ter’s ills.

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