Putting the garden to bed for the winter is actually mostly a matter of cleaning up and covering up. As autumn progresses and temperatures drop, those plants that aren’t killed outright by frost – not too prevalent here on the coast but more common up in the mountains – prepare for dormancy.
So clear out any blackened stems and foliage of annual flowers and vegetables, to prevent the possibility of their harbouring disease pathogens and insect eggs over the winter. The cool weather is a good time to make a cold frame, dig and box-in raised beds, and make general repairs if you have space.
While it appears as if all activity in the garden has stopped, there’s a lot going on under the soil until it freezes. Newly transplanted trees and shrubs, divisions of perennials and hardy bulbs are all growing roots, drawing on soil nutrients and moisture around them. Earthworms and various microbes in the soil are still processing any organic material they’re finding.
Most likely, the organic mulch you spread to protect the soil during the summer months has substantially decomposed. It’s important to spread new mulch now — a thicker winter layer – to protect plants and soil over the winter months, even in not so cold places.The idea is not so much to keep the soil warm as it is to keep the temperature even. So if you have shade trees convert the fallen leaves to mulch and use it throughout your property. I dig in rotting leaves continuously; that way the soil is always being composted, even in plant pots.
Avoid cutting hedges until the end of winter, to provide valuable shelter for birds and give them more time to eat the berries. Resist the urge to cut back ivy growing on walls and fences. Wait until March so the berries are available to birds and the foliage can provide a foraging habitat for insect-eaters such as tits. Clear your pond out between October and early January – this is when wildlife activity is lowest.
However, there will still be plenty of snails, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs and other invertebrates in the vegetation that you pull out, as well as the occasional newt or frog. So sort through it to rescue trapped animals and spread it out on the edge of the pond for a day or two.It’s a case of using your head to think about how to protect your plants, bushes and trees. Thankfully we don’t have huge climate changes here but the preparation we make now will give us more beautiful plants over the next year.