Winter gardening tips: from our garden to yours

Daffodils and snowdrops in the garden at Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire, in March

Gardening and growing spaces are still places of creativity, nature and new growth during the winter months.

There are plenty of jobs to get stuck into, whether that's looking after wildlife, harvesting vegetables, pruning rose bushes or planning ahead for warmer days.

Our gardeners are sharing their top tips on harvesting and growing snowdrops, as well as a winter flower spotter's guide to help you enjoy nature through the season.

During the winter months, many plants are dormant, meaning there's less weeding and watering to do. If you're still looking for jobs to do then there are normally always fences to repair, wildlife shelters to build and compost bins to maintain. Or if the weather is really bad outside you can stay indoors and plant some microgreens or start planning your garden for spring.

Snowdrops: more than just a flower

At this time of year swathes of snowdrops are brightening up gardens and parks. Our gardening experts love these delicate little blooms, and they're passing on some of their favourite facts and top tips so you can create your own mini-carpets of snowdrops at home. 

Top tips from our gardeners

Common snowdrops are hardy and fairly easy to grow, so it’s not too difficult to create your own mini display at home. Here Jack Lindfield, Head Gardener at Ickworth gives some top tips for growing them:

  1. There are so many beautiful species of snowdrop, but if you're hoping to create an impressive swathe you can’t beat Galanthus nivalis. It's the most common species because it self-seeds and spreads very quickly, which means you’ll get to enjoy your snowy white display sooner.

  2. Always buy pots of snowdrops ‘in the green’ – this means once they’ve finished flowering but while the leaves are still intact. This could be any time from mid-January to early March, so keep an eye out at your local garden centre or National Trust plant shop.

  3. Once you get your flowers home, plant them out as soon as possible. The best location is somewhere with partial shade such as under a tree, and with moist but well-drained soil. It’s worth adding some leafmould or garden compost to the soil to ensure you’re giving the plants plenty of nutrients.

  4. Plant them at the same depth as they were previously grown - you can often see this where the leaf stalks change from white to green. If you can’t see the level clearly, then just plant the snowdrops around four inches deep, and if you bought multiple clumps then space them about six inches apart.

  5. Water the plants in, and then you can leave them alone – the foliage will die back and become food for the bulb, ready for next year’s display. Within a couple of years each clump will have grown to fill the gaps you left.

  6. As the years go by, you can help your snowdrops to spread by lifting and dividing any large clumps. Carefully dig up the clump and prize it apart with your hands into smaller chunks. Discard any diseased or dead bulbs, and then re-plant each new group six inches apart. Over time you’ll end up with a beautiful carpet of white flowers every spring.

Winter gardening jobs

Video

Helping the birds in winter

There are nearly 600 species of birds known in the UK, from resident garden birds to seasonal migratory visitors. We've put together some top tips to help you keep your feathered friends happy during the winter months. Watch this video and wait for the birds to come.

Preparing for spring

As days get longer and soil temperatures begin to rise, it’s time to prepare for the growing season ahead. If you’re starting out with a new garden or allotment, time spent planning and designing will pay dividends later when it comes to laying out and planting.

Layout and plant choices 

  • Start by planning paths and physical features, then trees, shrubs and plants.
  • Remember to allow space for composting, water collection, storage and wildlife havens.
  • Once you’ve decided on the layout, it’s time to think about plants. It’s important to think about both spatial and seasonal planning. For example, a vegetable plot needs to spread the workload and give a continuous supply of produce whereas an ornamental garden should provide interest throughout the seasons.  
  • There are lots of books and information sources online to help you draw up a list of plants that meet your garden's conditions and design requirements. These guides also help source the chosen species and cultivars.
  • It’s useful to produce a simple diary so that plants can be ordered and sown in good time. This planned approach is better than impulsive window shopping for whatever is looking good at the time at garden centres, particularly for plants that flower later in the year.
  • Remember also to buy peat-free plants and growing soil to protect precious peatland landscapes.

Propagating plants

For established gardens, it’s often best to propagate plants from existing ones. If you didn’t get around to lifting and dividing perennials in the autumn, late winter is also a suitable time to do this. It’s an effective and cost-free way to help fill your borders with plants. By swapping cuttings with your neighbours, you can also bring in new varieties and connect with fellow gardeners. 

Looking after wildlife 

Birds are also getting restless in anticipation of spring, and many species start looking for nesting sites from March onwards. Now’s the time to put out new boxes for both solitary and communal nesters such as house sparrows.
 

What's in season