by Bob Greenwood
THE garden may appear to be asleep over winter, but there are still plenty of jobs to do so that it will awake refreshed when the warmer spring weather returns - and remain healthy in the meantime.
Digging, so long as the ground isn't waterlogged or frozen and forking the soil allows you to loosen it, remove weeds and add compost or manure, which will improve soil structure and create a moisture and food reserve for your plants to give them a great start in the spring.
Another important job, preferably before Christmas, is to prune and shape shrub roses. Start by removing any dead or diseased branches, prevent damage by cutting back sections which rub against each other and reduce exceptionally long branches by one third of their length – and just watch those buds explode in the spring!
Winter is also a good time to spruce up the garden path and bring it back to life with a good old-fashioned sweep with a stiff broom or powerwash to clear them of moss, lichen and any weeds that have found a foothold in the cracks.
Frost can be the most troublesome visitor to your garden during winter months.
Protect any tender herbs and perennials with fleece or sacking or that age old standby, dried bracken. January and February are usually the coldest months when bay, olives and French lavender grown in containers should be brought undercover or near the house. Put a cloche over thyme you use for cooking and it will stay leafier. December is also a good time to prune wisteria and grape vines and on any frost-free days, plant bare root or container trees, shrubs, hedging, fruit bushes and canes. For wildlife, consider planting native trees and shrubs such as guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), yew, holly, hawthorn or blackthorn. Berries provide natural bird food and cover for nesting. Water is just as important too as natural resources freeze up.
Creating leaf piles in quiet corners of the garden border or leaving a swathe of grass uncut offers valuable habitat to all those mini-beasts to spend the winter while providing ground feeding birds somewhere to forage.
Winter also presents an excellent time to check and overhaul your gardening equipment. Blunt tools are bad for plants because they increase susceptibility to diseases, as well as making your work much harder. A good tool sharpener will make quick work of improving the sharpness of your blades, in particular your secateurs. You should clean and oil your tools to prevent the spread of diseases and keep them from rusting. Time also to service the lawn mower for the work in early spring and to wash pots and trays ready for next years seed sowing.
Enjoy your gardening.