Winter gardening tips: from our garden to yours
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.
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.
First signs of spring
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.
There are 20 species of wild snowdrop, of which Galanthus nivalis is the most common. Over the years over 1,000 new varieties have been cultivated. New varieties are also created by cross-fertilisation.
Snowdrops aren’t native to the UK. Historians believe they were introduced from Europe in the late 15th century. Cultivated varieties became popular in Elizabethan gardens and were first recorded growing wild in the 1770s.
Tougher than they look
Their buds have a hard tip that helps them break through frozen soil. The sap also contains a type of antifreeze which helps to protects them from frost.
Homes for bees
Bees love snowdrops. They're a vital source of nectar early in the year when not many other plants are in flower. By planting snowdrops, you'll be building on the eco-system this vital species calls 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Prune your roses
Most types of roses should be pruned in January or February before the leaves emerge. Cut back the plant to about half to create an even, rounded shape, and remove any dead, damaged or diseased stems.
Planting and pruning trees
Bare-rooted trees can be planted between November and March but make sure the soil is not frozen. You can also prune fruit trees. Remove dead or rubbing branches and open the crown to allow for easier harvesting.
Leave some herbaceous perennials to create a winter habitat for the wildlife in your garden. This will make the winter months easier for insects such as ladybirds.
Look after wildlife
Leave out birdfeeders and water baths or break the ice on ponds so our feathered friends can get a drink. A healthy garden ecosystem also needs insects so why not make a bug hotel?
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.
Cover woodland plants
Cover tender and newly-planted woodland plants with fleece or enviromesh. Or you could create a wigwam out of canes and hessian. Keeping the roots dry greatly increases the plant's chances of survival.
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.
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.