Top 10 tips to prepare your garden for winter

As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, it’s important to prepare your garden for the winter months and all that the season has to throw at it.

Here are some of our gardeners’ top tips.

1. Rake up fallen leaves to prevent slippery paths

‘Once you’ve raked up your leaves, don’t throw them away. Leaf matter can be composted before being used back on your borders,’ says Juliet Turner, gardener in charge at Godolphin. ‘We put out hessian sacks and rakes so that visitors can help collect them.’

Visitors are asked to help rake leaves from paths at Godolphin
Rakes are left for visitors to help clear leaves from paths at Godolphin
Visitors are asked to help rake leaves from paths at Godolphin

2. Wrap up any pots which contain shrubs as their roots are at risk of cold damage

Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park, says: ‘Protect any shrubs growing in containers from winter frost by wrapping the pots in bubble wrap. For appearance’s sake, and to give a double insulation layer, you can cover this with hessian sacking. As well as protecting the roots, it will also help prevent the pots from cracking.’

3. Leave some herbaceous perennials to create a winter habitat for your garden’s wildlife

‘Occasionally we just need to do nothing,’ says Amanda Thackeray, head gardener at Wordsworth House and Garden. ‘The garden at Wordsworth House is a rich habitat for insects and we have to consider their needs over the winter months. So instead of cutting back all of our herbaceous perennials, we leave a selection as a winter habitat for insects, such as our ladybirds. However, we do cut back most of our tall herbaceous plants to stop wind rock.’

4. Cover tender, newly planted woodland plants with fleece or enviromesh

‘I usually create a wigwam out of canes and tie on the material, embedding the bottom in the soil to anchor it down,’ says Neil Porteous, head of gardens at Mount Stewart. ‘This keeps the rooting zone drier than if left uncovered and it is this which greatly influences these young plants’ chances of survival. In mild weather, when you remember, lift up the covers periodically and check the rooting zone is not too dry. If it is, water the plants and re-cover.’

Newly planted woodland plants are covered and protected for the winter
Protecting newly planted tree ferns at Mount Stewart
Newly planted woodland plants are covered and protected for the winter

5. Prune your roses

Fran Llewellyn, gardener at Bodnant Garden says: ‘Bodnant Garden has two rose terraces filled with the famous David Austin New English Roses. In November we cut back stems by a third to prevent wind rock over the winter, then in January or February they are winter pruned. This involves cutting back the plant to about half to create an even, rounded shape, and removing any dead, damaged or diseased stems.’

6. Look after your lawns

Karl Emeleus, head gardener at Killerton, says: ‘After a busy summer our formal lawns require some much needed care before winter sets in.  We start by removing thatch and moss using a motored scarifier, although a springbok rake is equally as effective for a small lawn. The lawn is then aerated which can be done using a garden fork before a sandy top dressing is added to improve soil structure and drainage. The emphasis in autumn is to provide nutrients for strong root development so choosing a specialist autumn feed is essential.’

7. Look after your garden’s wildlife

Leave out feeders and water baths for winter wildlife
A robin in December near Bradworthy, Devon
Leave out feeders and water baths for winter wildlife

‘It’s important to feed the birds as they need all the help they can get from us over winter,’ says Fran Llewellyn. ‘Leave out feeders and water baths (break the ice on ponds and water features if temperatures get down to freezing, so they can get a drink).

‘If you’re having garden fires over winter make sure there are no hedgehogs or other hibernating creatures nesting in there. A healthy garden ecosystem also needs insects, which enrich the soil and pollinate plants, so why not make a bug hotel where they can make their winter home?’

8. Treat your garden furniture

‘At Killerton we aim to clean, repair, sand down and treat about a third of our garden furniture each year with a good quality wood preservative,’ says Karl Emeleus. ‘Once you’ve cleaned them up it’s a good idea to make sure you store them undercover over the winter months.’

9. Take stock of your garden

Amanda Thackeray says: ‘A simple task that many of us wouldn’t think to do is to grab a notebook and walk around the garden. It’s the ideal time of year to reflect on what didn’t work as well as expected throughout the year and any new ideas you might have for the garden.’

Taking stock of the garden at Bodnant and making plans for next year
Cataloguing and making plans in the garden at Bodnant
Taking stock of the garden at Bodnant and making plans for next year

10. Protect outside taps from frosty weather

‘If you have outside taps which can be isolated from a stop tap, turn off the stop tap and drain the tap,’ says Chris Margrave. ‘This will prevent burst pipes and a damaged tap in frosty weather. If you can’t isolate, insulate exposed pipes and cover the tap with a tap cover.’