Tom Brown, Head Gardener at West Dean Gardens, offers advice on Winter garden jobs that you can put into action in your own garden.
Lots of people are surprised when I say that the autumn and winter can be some of the busiest times in the garden – I’m sure some assume that gardeners spend the winter with their feet up and drinking tea, waiting for the spring. Admittedly, there’s a good quantity of tea consumed but the winter is when we can prepare and get on the front foot before the garden wakes up and bursts into life.
Lush cuttings that were taken in the late summer have put on lots of growth in our greenhouses, which is positive and an indication of healthy root systems going into the winter. Whiteflies adore this warmer environment and all that soft growth and before you know it, they’re abundant and flying everywhere. Use SB Plant Invigorator once a week and spray the cuttings until the diluted solution runs off of the foliage, paying attention to the underside of the leaves too. Once the whitefly levels are under more control, you can reduce the frequency of the spray, particularly as the colder weather sets in. I couple this approach with a series of yellow sticky traps which I suspend above the cuttings which also trap the whitefly and act as a monitoring system to see how many I’m dealing with.
In the Greenhouse
The damp conditions can be a greenhouse gardener’s biggest enemy in the autumn and winter. On those bright, sunny days take the opportunity to open that door and vents to dry out the atmosphere and increase air circulation. These drier conditions will help reduce fungal diseases and rot, particularly when overwintering salvias and succulents. As a rule, in the autumn, I tend to keep my greenhouse vents closed until mid-morning to retain that hard to come by warmth, particularly if in those heated houses. Once we’re into the late morning, I take a decision whether to lightly vent (if it’s cloudy and chilly) or to fling those doors and vents open if warm and sunny. Make sure that you shut down before the sun and solar warmth starts to dwindle to trap and retain that solar energy for your plants, usually around 3pm.
On those wet and windy days, find a dry spot and make time to sit down with a cuppa and clean your bird boxes and make sure that they’re sound, ready for next spring. Hygiene is very important for those young birds as they hatch, and all of that detritus can harbour pests and disease. The parent birds will do most of the work but it’s no bad thing to give them a helping hand with a good start. I always ensure that my boxes have a metal protector around the entrance to safeguard against predators – again, giving our feathered friends every chance to successfully rear young next spring. The RSPB offer some guidance on their website too.
Stock up on supplies
Recently the demand for gardening supplies and products means that we have to be a bit savvier when it comes to obtaining the plants, seeds and sundries we need for our gardens. A number of seed companies have released their catalogues and updated websites which are well worth a browse and get clicking on that ‘add to cart’ button. Although the majority of our annuals are sown in the spring, there’s no reason why we can’t order and store our seeds now to ensure we get our hands on our favourites. I keep my seeds in a small metal box which is rodent proof and keep that box in a cool bedroom, away from the sunlight.
Ponds & Pumps
Take this opportunity to check your pond pumps and filters. If your pump is not functioning as it should then contact your local pond and aquatic centre to rectify the problem.
Tom Brown, Head Gardener, West Dean Gardens
Image: West Dean College of Arts & Conservation
Nestled at the foot of the South Downs, West Dean Gardens is one of the greatest restored gardens open to the public today.
The Gardens are open between 10.30am to 4pm each day except December 24, 25 and 31.
Entry costs £7.50 and pre-booking is no longer essential, children under 16 are free and last entry is 30 minutes before closing time. The Garden restaurant is also open, including to non-garden visitors from 10.30am-4pm daily.
West Dean Gardens is part of West Dean College of Arts and Conservation and holds a wide variety of short courses – many of which are inspired by the award-winning gardens ranging from painting to photography to blacksmithing to millinery.