What to do in the garden in winter?

When the garden as a whole has entered into hibernation, when rain, wind and cold come significantly into play, whether in supplying water to the still active soil, in the decomposition of plant residues, in the natural thinning of dead branches, in the regulation of pest populations, etc., in short, in all of those virtually invisible events that are nonetheless necessary for a healthy balance in the garden, the gardener also has a part to play.

There is, of course, no need to rush, especially if the cold is sharp and frost prevents any work in the garden. Nevertheless, it is a good time to take a good look around. Winter is the ideal period for examining the structure of the garden, which is essentially composed of paths, terraces, low walls, as well as all the plants that have retained their leaves. We recommend planting a third of evergreen species in order to maintain the presence of leafy vegetation in winter and to delineate the main areas. Take photos, make notes and sketches… And plant new trees, bushes and perennial evergreens at strategic locations as soon as the thaw sets in. Incidentally, you can plant these all year round if they are sold in pots, provided you do not neglect to water them regularly, especially during the first year.

Conditions permitting (not during severe frosts or rain), till just the topmost layer of the ground so as not to disturb the useful microorganisms, which are busy at work decomposing the organic matter and aerating the soil in the deeper layers. In the areas being planted and in the vegetable patch, it’s time to add minerals (ash, potassium, slaked lime, etc.) and organic matter (rotted manure, compost, etc.) to improve the structure and nutrient-richness of the soil. Do not forget that the soil is a living thing, that it provides the basis for nutrition of the plants and that this complex ecosystem deserves your full attention. By breaking up the top few centimetres of earth, you will also expose the larvae of parasites, which will then be eaten by birds or destroyed by the frost. However, do not injure the roots and shoots of hibernating perennials and in particular the young spring flower bulb sprouts (crocus, tulip, daffodil, etc.). Those among you who have not neglected to place marker tags will congratulate themselves. Otherwise, exercise care and remember to do so when planting in future.

Now is also the time to prune fruit trees and summer-flowering shrubs. The ones that will flower this spring have already formed their buds, so by cutting these, you will prevent them from flowering later on. In the case of fruit trees, pruning is necessary in order to guide the rising spring sap towards the future blossom buds. You have until February to take action.

Caroline Géneau

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