Damaging frost can occur from October, here are some tips to help you protect your prized plants from frosts and keep your garden looking great throughout winter.
- Be ruthless: Summer bedding plants won’t survive frosts, so pull them up and replace them with winter bedding plants, such as violas and pansies to make sure you have a lovely display all autumn and winter.
- Store dahlia and begonias: When the plants have been frosted, cut off the brown tops to within 20cm of the tuber or ground level, lift the tubers and turn upside down for a few days to allow the moisture to drain out of the tuber. Clean up the tubers once dry and store in a frost free place over the winter - remember to make sure you have labelled your tubers before storing.
- Feed and prepare: Once you’ve removed the summer bedding plants, give the soil a good turn over. This will expose any pest larvae which are trying to overwinter in the soil, it will also help uncompact the soil. If your soil is heavy clay, now is the best time to add humus or other soil improver to prevent the ground becoming too compacted during the winter. Covering the soil with 2 inches of organic mulch will help supress weed growth through the winter and can then be dug into the borders in the summer. Horse manure is one of the best soil improvers to use at this time of the year, as it will hold onto nutrients through the winter.
- Overwinter fuchsia and geraniums: Pot up tender fuchsia or geraniums that you wish to over winter in the house, conservatory or a greenhouse. Use a pot that is slightly bigger than the root ball of the plant being overwintered and fill in any air gaps with compost. If the plant is too big, it can be split with a spade. The plant will go into near dormancy over winter, so as long as it is not kept in freezing/dark conditions it will be fine.
- Leave the old growth of tender plants unpruned over winter months: This will help to protect the central crown of the plant and take the brunt of any frost damage. If plants are cut back hard in autumn they will begin to develop new growth which will be damaged by frost. The old heads of hydrangeas will provide frost protection for the new growth when left un-pruned. The flower heads will also keep their structure to provide winter interest.
- Make the most of flowers before the first frosts: Cut them and use them in the house, this works well with dahlias and chrysanthemums. A sharp pair of secateurs are perfect for this.
- Make use of brick walls: These are very good at radiating heat through the night after being warmed through the day, this can mean the air nearest a wall is a couple of degrees higher than the rest of the garden making all the difference on a cold night. The wall will also act as a barrier against the wind.