Garden doctor: winter damage
Nick Bailey looks at the toll winter can take, and how to fix any harm done to plants
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.