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Cold weather gardening tips

You may not feel like going out in the garden now the weather has turned and the temperatures have fallen, but there are still things that need to be done if you garden is to remain productive over winter. There are still vegetables that can be grown and routine tasks you’ll need to undertake to get your garden and plants in good shape for the start of the true growing season in spring. Here are Ladybrook Nursery’s top tips for cold weather gardening.

You can never have too much mulch

Mulch isn’t simply used for blocking weeds and making your garden look good: it also helps to keep the soil warm and moist. Mulch won’t prevent stop annuals dying or keep perennials from going dormant, but decomposing organic matter creates heat. A healthy layer of mulch can help to protect roots and bulbs from encroaching frost. A thick layer of mulch also offers better protection for beneficial wildlife that may be over-wintering beneath the soil in your garden.

Bulb maintenance

What you do with your bulbs at the beginning of autumn is dependent on the hardiness and location of your garden. In colder climates, it’s preferable to dig up and store bulbs in a cool, dark location until danger of frost has passed. In milder gardens it’s generally safe to leave bulbs in the ground through the winter, though you may wish to dig up, separate, and replant any existing bulbs that need maintenance. You can also plant new bulbs once the weather cools down: just make sure they have good conditions and enough time to establish roots before the temperature drops too low. Incorporate bone meal or another low-nitrogen fertilizer into the soil at the bottom of planting holes to really kick-start root growth.

Extending the growing season

If you have your heart set on growing fresh produce all year long but you can’t afford a greenhouse, use tunnels instead. Low tunnels may be erected over rows to direct-sow seeds up to three weeks early in the garden. They may also be used to keep growing your summer vegetables a few weeks after the onset of cold weather. High tunnels are another great option for winter harvest vegetables, though they are more difficult to construct.

Cold-season vegetables

Many varieties of crops grow best during the cooler months. If you would like your garden to remain productive over winter, try planting cold-season vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peas, and Brussels sprouts. Collards, mustard greens, spinach, kale and many kinds of lettuce also prefer cooler temperatures. Root vegetables like turnips, beets, radishes and baby carrots are more options for the cold-weather garden.

Autumn tilling

If you live in a location with mild winters, you may want to till organic matter and dying weeds and into the soil during autumn and let the elements turn it into natural compost for you over the winter. However, if your garden is exposed to the elements in winter, or on a slope, it’s usually preferable to leave a short stubble of dormant grasses and weeds on the surface of your soil to help protect what lies beneath from freezing prevent erosion.

Frost protection

It is standard practice to cover up and protect perennials during the coldest days of winter. However, whilst this may protect your plants from frost damage, incorrect covering and protection can actually do more harm than good. If you are planning to cover your perennials then use natural cloth coverings in preference to other materials. Avoid plastic and other coverings that could potentially trap excessive moisture around the plant. If you do use plastic or synthetic coverings, make certain that the walls of your makeshift shelter don’t come into contact with leaves, branches, or stems as freezing condensation can cause severe damage to plants.

Protect young trees and shrubs

If you know that you’re in for some harsh winter weather, you may also want to protect any tender saplings and young shrubs in the garden. Natural materials like hessian sacking are ideal for protecting large plants from frost. However, it’s important to remember to remove the material as soon as the temperature rises above freezing. If the protection remains in place you may accidentally force your trees and shrubs out of dormancy in the middle of winter.

Winter weed control

The coldest months of the year can curiously be the most productive, as they are the perfect time to start eliminating weeds from your garden plots and flower beds. In warmer spells weed seeds will be the first to germinate; so as soon as you see weed sprouts appear, pull them up.

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