gardening with Anne McKeon

The winter garden can be a very peaceful garden offering a break from the routine gardening chores of summer lawn mowing, hedge cutting, weeding, etc.

Location and climate has a major effect on the ‘winter look’ of plants. Take for instance plants clothed in snow. These can look very picturesque and, contrary to belief, when heavy snow falls it can be a benefit to plants rather than a danger. The snow becomes an insulator, keeping the plants below it warm, and protects them from the severe cold. Snow should be knocked off branches as its weight can cause branches to break off. This is particularly important in the case of conifers.

Snow, when it blankets the garden, has the great advantage of hiding gardening mistakes.

Frost brings with it both pros and cons. A sunny frosty morning adds new life to the winter garden. Unfortunately frost, though quite beautiful, often destroys soft shoots. In times when prolonged spells of winter frosts occur, deeply frozen soil can lead to root as well as shoot damage. During heavy frosts, conifers and other evergreens react in a different manner to deciduous plants. Unable to draw water from the soil when it is frozen, evergreens often die from ‘drought’ rather than from the cold.

Regular gale force winds are not generally the reason why trees are often absent from exposed sites. Constant light breezes have more of an adverse effect on plants by drying them out and stunting their growth. Trees that do survive exposure on windswept sites tend to have their buds burned on the windward side, giving the appearance that they are leaning away from the prevailing winds. Such burning of buds is nature’s way of pruning the trees while at the same time carrying insects, pollen, and seeds from site to site.

Birds are attracted to the winter garden, particularly where there is an abundance of berrying plants. Also include a bird table in your winter garden decor. Keep an area of the garden pond free from ice (by floating a bottle in the water or similar ) in order to provide drinking water for the birds and a comfortable winter home for fish. As a rule birds are friendly visitors to the garden. Rather than frightening birds away from a fruit garden where, for example, the bull finches tend to eat the buds of fruit trees, cover the fruits with netting in order to protect them from damage and allow the birds to remain in residence in the garden. There is room for everyone.

Hedges become even more dominant over the winter months. Much of the garden can be bare at this time therefore the existence of boundary hedges can become even more obvious and important. Living boundaries are more appealing than bricks, stone, or wood, and of course provide nesting sites for birds and homes for various insects (both useful and harmful species ).

Winter can be a magical season so I would encourage you to design your garden with this in mind and inject some magic into your own garden space.

Happy gardening!

Anne.

Garden checklist

• Learn more about gardening by enrolling in gardening classes. I still have some places available for this Saturday’s classes. For information call me on (091 ) 521186.

• Remove fallen leaves from pathways and lawn areas.

• Check that tree ties and stakes are secure.

• Divide perennial plants.

• Prune early summer flowering heathers.

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