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Gardening tips for winter

A volunteer stands on top of a step ladder with a pair of secateurs, pruning an apple tree in winter while wrapped up in a woolly hat and fleece.
A volunteer pruning apple trees at Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire | © National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

Even in winter, gardens and growing spaces are full of nature and new growth. There are plenty of jobs to get stuck into, including looking after wildlife, planting for winter colour, planting and pruning rose bushes or planning ahead for warmer days.

Things to do in the garden during winter

Prune your roses

Most types of roses should be pruned in January or February, before the leaves start to emerge. Modern roses can be cut back hard while the older types should be pruned more gently. Always remove any dead, damaged or diseased stems.

Planting and pruning fruit trees and bushes

Bare root trees and bushes can be bought and planted between November and March. Just make sure you don't plant when the soil is frozen and they should establish well. Prune apple and pear trees, gooseberries and currant bushes too.

Leave your perennials alone

Don’t be tempted to be too tidy. Leaving the dry leaves and stems on your herbaceous perennials will provide a place for many insects to overwinter. Dry seedheads can also be good for birds and small mammals, and they glow in the winter sun.

Turn your compost

Grab the garden fork and turn your compost. This makes sure it breaks down well and is ready to use when you need it.

If you have space for a new bin or pile, you can turn your compost into it and leave it to breakdown while you refill the empty one. Remember to check heaps for overwintering hedgehogs and other creatures first.

Bug hotel in the Community Kitchen Garden at Seaton Delaval Hall, Northumberland
Bug hotel in the Community Kitchen Garden at Seaton Delaval Hall, Northumberland | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Look after wildlife

In freezing weather, put out fresh food and clean water for birds, or gently melt the ice on your ponds to allow garden birds to have a drink.

A healthy garden ecosystem also needs insects, so why not make a simple bug hotel with wood and sticks? Fill the gaps with hollow plant stems and pine cones to make a welcoming place for bugs to hide.

Protect outside taps

Drain outside taps and isolate them if you can. This will prevent burst pipes and a damaged tap in frosty weather. If you can’t isolate your garden tap, then insulate exposed pipes and fit a tap cover to protect it from the cold.

Protect tender plants

Move tender plants in pots to a sheltered place or cover them with fleece, hessian or straw. Keeping the roots dry will significantly improve these plants' chances of survival through winter.

Prepare for spring

If the weather is bad outside, you could head indoors and start preparing your garden for spring. Some key things to consider include layout, plant choices, spaces for composting, water collection, storage and wildlife. You can stay on top of key timings by starting a diary.

Late winter is also a good time for propagating perennials if you didn’t get a chance during the autumn.

A clump of snowdrops shot at a low angle, set amid green grass and crisp brown leaves. Slightly damp from recent rain.
Snowdrops at Belton House, Lincolnshire | © National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

Winter plants for your garden

There are many different types of plants that can bring colour and interest to your garden during the winter months. Here are just some of our gardeners' favourites.

Snowdrops

Perhaps the best known of the winter flowers, snowdrops are thought to have been introduced to British gardens in the late 15th century from mainland Europe. They flower between January and March.

Crocuses

Crocuses are a popular sight during winter and can be planted in containers or in small groups in garden borders. For the full wild effect, they are best planted in drifts under trees.

Winter aconites

These yellow, buttercup-like flowers sit within a perfect rosette of green sepals. Like many winter-flowering plants, the leaves appear later.

Hellebores

Despite the common name of winter rose, hellebores are members of the buttercup family. They flower all the way through winter, from late November onwards, and their colours range from pure white to dark purple.

Volunteers busy in the garden at Allan Bank and Grasmere, Cumbria

Get gardening

Our gardeners are on hand with ideas for your garden, plot or window box. From planting veg to tackling weeds, they’ve got all the important topics covered.

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