Posts Tagged ‘winter gardening’

January Gardening Advice

January 1st, 2020 | News | 0 Comments

A blank notepad on a wooden table with seeds in envelopes, handheld garden tools and small pots

With Christmas now but a distant memory, it’s time to pack away the decorations and embrace the year ahead. But whilst you make those New Year’s resolutions it’s also the moment, preferably in front of a warm fire, to write up your plant wishlist for the growing season ahead. What are you hoping to grow, eat and bloom in your gardens and allotments? Draw blueprints of your growing area, assign plants to each bed, make changes, start again – it doesn’t matter, this is the fun stuff. Being creative and getting excited by your ideas is all part of the gardening journey. However, if you need inspiration, go online, read gardening blogs or flick through seed catalogues.

If you’re new to gardening and fancy making a long-term commitment, then now’s the time to get yourself signed up to the local allotment. Not only will this open up a whole new world of growing opportunities, but it’s a great place to meet fellow gardeners and be part of a community. These are growers that know the lay of the land, can offer free advice and even seed swap.

Whilst winter does it worst, take comfort in knowing that the days now are only going to get longer. So, embrace this quiet time and look forward to an exciting growing season.

In the flower garden

Garden mulch made from old Christmas tree chippings and needlesMulch

Although Christmas is over, there’s still plenty of value left in your exhausted Christmas tree. If shredded, this makes an excellent mulch for ericaceous plants such as blueberries, or consider using the chippings to create allotment or garden paths. If not chipped, the long spiky branches can be used as plant supports for peas and broad beans in the spring season.

Tidy up

Make way for new growth by cutting down and tidying up flower borders. Ensure you do not cut into new growth as not only will you lose vital young shoots, but an exposed wound will be open to the elements which could potentially kill the plant. Remove fallen foliage from beds as it could be protecting garden pests.

If ornamental grasses are looking shabby then, using gloves, comb your fingers through the stems to remove dying and unwanted leaves. Cutting back to the ground should ideally be done in early spring.

Before hellebores come into their own, cut away old leaves. Not only are you making way for the new blooms but much of the old foliage, with its black blotches, will look unattractive and can hold hellebore leaf spot.

Pansies

Winter pansies may now be struggling to look their best and may need a helping hand to prevent them from going to seed. Prune regularly, removing any dying blooms.

Lawn

If you can, keep off the grass. The freezing weather combined with your weight can cause permanent damage to your prized lawn.

Water supply

Frozen water can expand, forcing taps and pipes to burst. Therefore, protect external taps and pipes from frost. If you can, turn off the external water supply altogether.

Snow

A garden greenhouse with snow on the roofWith the prospect of snow more likely this month, it’s important to brush fallen snow from greenhouses, cloches, fruit cages and cold frames. The extra weight can break the glass, plus the plants inside need all the warmth and light they can get. Remove snow from delicate evergreens and tree branches to prevent damage.

Greenhouse

A heat supply in your greenhouse will give you the advantage of making early sowings for plants such as sweet pea and aquilegia. If you’ve been growing sweet pea since last autumn then pinch out the tips, as this will encourage side-shoots and result in a bushier plant.

Storage

Any fruit or veg currently in storage should be checked regularly to ensure they haven’t spoilt. Turn them over and remove any decaying or damaged produce. Ensure they aren’t touching to encourage a good air supply around them.

Snowdrops

If you planted snowdrop bulbs last autumn, you may see their delicate little heads rearing themselves from the hardened, snow-covered ground this month. Not only a beautiful sight, but it’s a welcome indication to gardeners that the garden is slowly starting to stir from its winter slumber.

Garden wildlife

Ensure all bird feeding stations are topped up and water supplies are changed regularly and not left to freeze. If you have a fish pond, avoid smashing the ice if it freezes over as this can shock, or even kill, the fish. Instead, try to melt the ice gently with hot water. Don’t worry about harming the fish, as they tend to remain at the bottom of the pond during the winter months.

On the veg patch

A bunch of freshly lifted leeks laid out on the soilWinter veg

Continue to harvest veg such as swede, parsnips, carrots, winter brassicas, leeks and artichokes. Ensure any yellowing brassica leaves are removed as they could be hiding pests. As beds become bare, turn over the soil and add a thick layer of well-rotted manure or compost. You should aim to get all of your winter digging done by the end of this month – this will ensure your mulch has enough time to breakdown and work into the soil.

Seed potatoes

Most suppliers are already delivering stock to customers. If you leave it too late, you could run the risk of your chosen varieties being unavailable. Get them ordered now, and you could be chitting your first earlies by the end of the month.

Stand the tubers apart – egg boxes make ideal holders – with their eyes facing upwards. Place somewhere warm, dry and with plenty of sunshine, such as a kitchen windowsill, porch or warm greenhouse. Try to keep sprouts down to three maybe four so the energy isn’t too dispersed, thus producing weaker shoots. Six weeks on and tubers should be ready for planting out.

Onions

If you have a heat supply in your polytunnel or greenhouse, consider sowing onion seeds. They will need that extra protection, but by giving them an extended growing season the end result will be worth it and you could be harvesting onions a few weeks earlier.

Chillies and peppers

These crops need a long growing season, so get sowing now. With so many varieties to choose from, growing these fruits has never been so popular. The seeds can be grown in modules, pots or trays to the depth of 6mm, on a warm windowsill or seedling heat mat. Although germination can be slow, once their true leaves have been revealed it’s important to pot them up. Keep them warm, lit and well-watered.

Fruit

Three upturned clay pots in a row in a winter garden, being used to force rhubarbBy forcing rhubarb now, you’re simply speeding up its growth for an earlier harvest and sweeter stems. As soon as new growth appears from the crown, cover the plant over with a rhubarb forcer or container, excluding all light. Eight weeks on, the stalks should be 20-30cm long, and ready to harvest.

Apple and pear trees are still dormant and can be pruned. When pruning, keep in mind the three ‘Ds’. Dead, diseased and damaged. Anything that falls under these categories should be removed. Bare rootstock varieties can be bought and planted out. Gooseberries and currants can also be pruned, whilst autumn fruiting raspberries can be cut down to just above the surface. As they have a shallow root system, consider mulching around the canes to protect the roots from winter weather.

Continue to ensure all trees, fruit canes and climbers are staked and tied-in, thus avoiding wind-rock and potential winter damage.

Other jobs

  • While it’s cold outside, the heating systems in homes is constant. Ensure your indoor plants aren’t in direct line to heat sources, such as open fires and radiators.
  • Check your indoor plants for any signs of scale insects and mealybugs.
  • Order seed catalogues.

December Gardening Advice

December 2nd, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Two pale green enamel mugs containing mulled wine, orange slices and star anise

The smell of a winter spruce, the warming taste of a spiced mulled wine and a seasonal wreath on your front door. Without a doubt, the festive season is upon us.

But if you’re hoping to spend the month partying, or wanting nothing more than a cosying up in front of a warm fire, make sure you take time out to reflect on what you’ve achieved in the garden and on the allotment this year – what worked, what didn’t, and what you’re hoping to achieve in 2020. We may be restricted on what we can do in the garden this time of year, but our minds should be filled with creative, wonderful ambitions for the new growing season ahead. Look through seed catalogues, write lists and draw garden plans. Read gardening websites and talk to garden bloggers. This is an exciting time for gardeners, so there’s plenty to get inspired by. And with the promise of spring on the horizon, this should spearhead us into the new year.

In the flower garden

Protection

There’s still time to move your outdoor pots and containers, as we generally don’t get exposed to the extreme weather until January. If you don’t have a greenhouse, polytunnel or shed, group them together in a protected area of the garden. Keep them raised and off the frozen ground, as this will not only help the drainage for excess rain and melting snow, but prevent ground frost from cracking your pots. If your containers are too heavy, wrap horticultural fleece around your exposed shrub. Bubble plastic is another option. A wrapped potted plant will not only benefit from the added warmth but your expensive pot won’t crack from the frost.

A gardener sowing seeds into a seed tray filled with soil by handSowing

If waiting for spring to sow seeds seems too far away, there are seeds you can sow right now. Ensure they have somewhere warm and bright, such as a heated greenhouse or propagator, otherwise shorter daylight hours and cold temperatures will quickly put a stop to any possible germination. Seeds to consider are sweet peas, snapdragons and cyclamen.

Pruning

With leaves now fallen, a tree’s structure is clearly visible. Think about the three ‘Ds’: dead, damaged and diseased. Prune any deciduous tree branches that fall under these categories, but remember the overall structure and try not to prune too hard. As winter is a time of dormancy, many ‘sap’ based shrubs and trees, such as vines and acers, can also be pruned. Finally, start winter pruning wisteria. Ensure you cut summer side shoots back to no more than three buds.

Roses

Another plant that will benefit from pruning are bush roses. Bare-root varieties can now be planted up. Ensure all climbing roses are sufficiently tied-back, as winter winds can cause damage. A fresh supply of mulch around your garden plants will help protect them from the cold.

Root cuttings

Consider taking root cuttings from herbaceous perennials. This will increase your flower border supplies, and save you the expense of having to buy new plants next season.

An interior shot of composting leaf mulch leaf mould in a wooden compost bin

Leaf mould

Continue to keep borders and paths clear – debris and foliage can make paths slippery as well as harbouring slugs, snails and other pests. If you have the space why not create a large bin for leaves to break down naturally.  Four posts forming a square, pegged into the ground and surrounded with chicken wire is an easy and cheap solution. Twelve months from now, you’ll be spreading your own rich leaf mould across your garden beds.

Soil

If your beds are of heavy soil, dig over any bare areas. Try to do this when the ground isn’t waterlogged or in the midst of a frost. By leaving them as freshly turned clods winter will go to work on them, break them down and help to make your soil more manageable come spring. You could also consider adding organic matter to help lighten your soil. However, if you have a light soil avoid digging until spring as the free-draining soil will be prone to moisture loss.

Christmas trees

Many of us will be looking to purchase a Christmas tree over the coming weeks. With so many varieties to choose from, it’s worth thinking about a pot grown tree. Once the season is over, they can be moved outside to continue growing, and not thrown out like so many are in the new year. A one-off purchase from a reputable grower or nursery could have you enjoying your tree all year round. When it becomes too big to bring inside for the Christmas season, why not permanently plant it out into your garden? Not only will this one tree continue giving you and your family years of enjoyment, but it will also benefit the garden wildlife.

Failing that, if you do buy a pre-cut tree, don’t be so quick to throw it away in the new year. It can be chopped up and used as mulch for acidic plants such as blueberries, and the branches could find also find use as support canes for growing peas on your allotment.Christmas wresth making materials laid out on a table, including pliers and pinecones

Christmas wreath

If you’ve been growing ivy or holly then you might want to consider creating your very own Christmas wreath. By using cuttings of evergreen, or branches of crab apples and pyracantha berries, this is the time to let your creativity go wild.

Garden wildlife

Ensure all bird-feeding stations are clean and replenished regularly. A fresh water supply will also help our feathered friends at this time of year. Check all water features, including ponds, don’t freeze over, as this can damage the structures as well as being harmful to the fish and garden wildlife.

Freezing temperatures

Keep an eye on the weather reports and overnight temperatures. If you have plants in the greenhouse, then a heater might make all the difference on a cold night. If there is a snowfall, ensure all snow is removed from the greenhouse exterior, as any plants growing in the greenhouse will need all the warmth they can get. However, a warm greenhouse does increase the risk of pests and diseases, so regularly check all plants, pots and trays.

On the veg patch

Winter veg

It’s time for your winter veg to play their part on the Christmas day menu. Continue to check crops for pests and diseases, removing any fallen, yellowing or rotten foliage. The later you can leave digging up the veg, the fresher it’ll be on the big day. However, take into account the possibility of the ground being hard or frozen.

Primary cultivation

As winter veg gets dug up and plots start becoming bare, remove old debris and add to the compost heap. If the ground’s not too hard, turn over the soil to expose dozing pests and to aerate the soil. If you can, spread a thick layer of compost, or well-rotted manure over the plot.

If you have a compost heap then turn it over, as this will help it break down.

A gloved gardener's hand taking hardwood cuttings of a gooseberry bush with a pair of red pruners in winterFruit

If you’re growing currants or gooseberries, take hardwood cuttings. If you’ve been growing rhubarb for some years, dig up the crowns. Split them, top to bottom with a spade, and then re-plant. If you’ve purchased new varieties, plant them directly into the ground or large containers. Remember, leave a newly planted crown untouched for a year, that way it can become established, and produce quality stalks.

This is a good time of the year to plant bare-root fruit bushes and trees. Again, if you have established fruit trees, these can now be pruned. Again, think about the three ‘Ds’ and act accordingly. Check all staked fruit trees. If not securely tied-in, wind rock can cause damage and potentially kill the plant.

Winter salad

Continue to successional sow winter salads and check leaves for any slugs and pests. If they are grown outside and not in a greenhouse, ensure they are protected with a cold frame, cloche or horticultural fleece.

Other crops you can now sow in a heated greenhouse are leeks, broad beans and radish.

Prepping tools

If the weather has taken a turn for the worse, retreat to the potting shed. Once warm, set about cleaning and sharpening all hand tools. Service all power tools, including the lawnmower. Thoroughly clean all empty pots and trays in hot water with diluted washing up liquid. Carrying out these tasks now will ensure your tools last for years to come.

Other jobs

  • Add colour to the home with poinsettias, hyacinths or cyclamen persicum. However, keep watering to a minimum and place them in a draught-free environment, out of direct sunlight.
  • Start ordering seeds for the 2020 growing season.
  • Cuttings of evergreen, mistletoe and sprigs of holly can make excellent mantle and table displays.

Give Pests the Boot!

November 13th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

A gardener tending to their garden in the winter

Tidying up the garden for winter is a balancing act. On the one hand, you don’t want to leave hiding places for pests to overwinter. But on the other, you want to ensure that beneficial bugs – including pest predators – have somewhere safe to sit out the cold so they’re about for the next growing season. The advice we’re given to banish pests often has the unintended effect of discouraging beneficials too. So what is a wildlife-friendly gardener to do?

Read on or watch the video and we’ll help you to achieve that all-important balance.

Should I Cover or Expose Soil?

Perhaps the greatest area of confusion lies around whether or not to cover the ground or leave it exposed to the cleansing effects of frost and hungry birds. In general, it’s best to follow nature’s lead and keep soil covered during winter. Lay thick mulches of garden compost, leaf mould or other organic matter over the surface to stave off soil erosion and sustain beneficial soil dwellers such as earthworms and ground beetles.

An interior shot of composting leaf mulch leaf mould in a wooden compost binIn areas of the garden where pests have been a problem a good compromise is to delay laying down organic matter until midway through winter, or rake back mulches during cold snaps to temporarily expose ground. Raking or lightly forking the soil will help to reveal lurking grubs both to frosts and insect-eating birds, helping to dent their numbers before spring. This is a particularly good technique to use around fruit trees, bushes and canes, where leaves of any plants that were affected by pests or diseases should also be raked up and removed.

To Weed or Not to Weed?

When it comes to weeding, the best course of action depends on the type of weeds you’re dealing with.

Late autumn and early winter is a good time to get rid of perennial weeds, whose growth should hopefully have slowed enough for you to finally catch up with them! Be thorough and remove all of their roots too, otherwise they’ll just regrow again.

While weeding clears growing areas ready for springtime sowings, don’t be too hasty. Annual weeds like bittercress and deadnettle can be left to provide insect habitat and protect the soil over winter, before hoeing them off in the spring. Just be sure to remove them before they produce seeds.

Where possible, seedlings of self-seeding flowers such as calendula or nigella should be left to attract next season’s beneficial bugs because they’ll flower earlier than new sowings. And clumps of nettles left untouched in an out-of-the-way spot are a great food source for many beautiful butterflies and pest-hungry predators such as ladybirds.

Stop Pests Overwintering on Fruit Trees

A glue trap on a fruit tree in winter to deter pests such as winter moth caterpillarsThe bark on fruit trees offers good hiding places for pests like aphids and scale insects. Once all the leaves have dropped you can apply a winter tree wash to bare branches. This is a natural plant or fish oil-based treatment which should be sprayed on a windless day to avoid drifting. It will help to control pest numbers while causing minimal impact to other wildlife. But as with all treatments, it’s best to only use it if you’ve experienced pest problems on your trees during the previous growing season.

Paint tree barrier glues, or tie on grease bands around the trunks of fruit trees to help prevent damage caused by winter moth caterpillars. The sticky barriers prevent the egg-laying wingless female moths from climbing up into the canopy from ground level. Grease bands work best on trees with smoother bark where moths won’t be able to simply crawl under them, while glues are best for trees with deeply fissured bark.

Clean Greenhouses and Cold Frames

Winter’s a good time for a thorough clean of greenhouses and cold frames. Move everything out and clean greenhouse staging, all equipment and dirty pots and trays too. Leave it to dry while you then clean the glass using water with a little added natural disinfectant or greenhouse cleaning solution. Be sure to get into every corner, crack and crevice, any way you can!

Spaces for Beneficial Bugs

To keep beneficial bugs onside leave the rest of the garden a little wilder during the colder months. Allow grass to grow longer so caterpillars and other bugs can bury themselves into the thatch. Hollow stems and fallen leaves should be left where possible to provide habitat for all manner of insects. Old seed heads give shelter to ladybirds and other pest predators – and food for hungry birds. Cut them back in spring just before growth resumes. Hold off digging in ornamental borders until spring too – and then only if absolutely necessary – so that insects such as bumblebees can sit out the winter in peace.

You can provide additional homes for beneficial bugs by dotting bug hotels – big and small – around the garden, and, as long as you’re not in an area with termites, by creating log or stone piles, which will also prove popular with small mammals and amphibians such as toads.

So tackle pests where they have been an issue, but hang back from being too tidy to give the good guys have somewhere safe and secure to bed down for winter. Do you have any tips for booting out pests while giving beneficial bugs a helping hand? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

November Gardening Advice

November 1st, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

The spiky shell of a chestnut conker partially open. The nut lies on autumn leaves on the ground and peeks out of the shell.

The smell of wood burning, the crackle of bonfires and the colourful explosion of fireworks means we’re into November, so get your month off to a bang by wrapping up warm and embracing the season. Light home fires, collect conkers and enjoy hearty soups made from your homegrown vegetables. This is the cosy season!

However, don’t get too comfortable. There are still plenty of gardening jobs to be done, which will keep you warm on a chilly autumnal day.

But if venturing out into the cold doesn’t appeal to you, then kick-back in front of a warming fire and reminisce over your recent growing season. Think about your growing successes, the failures, and then consider what you want to grow, or change, next year. Draw up lists, make plans, and think ahead. If you need inspiration then go online and look at what other people have achieved. The internet is full of gardening websites, blogs and forums, by gardeners who inspire and pass on seeds of good advice.

Start planning now! Because before you know it, spring will be knocking on your door.

In the flower garden

Perennials

Perennial plants have done their job and are now looking worse for wear. If garden wildlife has eaten the seeds, and you don’t want structure in your garden over the winter months, cut down the plant and mulch.

Any plants that aren’t frost hardy, and can’t be lifted for storage, give them a heavy mulch around the base. Don’t cover over the plant, as the moisture can cause the plant to rot. Failing that, protect the plant with horticultural fleece.

Tulip bulbs on the ground, ready for planting in autumnTulip bulbs

Whether it’s swathes of tulips, container-grown, or individual flowers dotted around your garden, now’s the time to plant your bulbs. Temperatures are dropping daily, so there’s no longer a threat of tulip fire infection. Avoid bulbs that show signs of decay, mould or damage, and plant three times to the depth of the bulb. If you’re planting into heavy soil add grit for drainage, as bulbs sat in water will rot. You may want to cover the area with netting, to prevent mice and squirrels digging them up.

Roses

Most plants and shrubs are dormant over the winter months, so this is an ideal time to move and plant new roses. Bare root varieties tend to be cheaper than potted plants and the choice is endless. Once planted, water in and mulch thoroughly to prevent frost from damaging the roots. If you already have established roses, make sure any fallen leaves are burnt or removed from the site, as these may have suffered blackspot and could infect your plant next year.

Dahlias

Depending where you are in the UK, you may have already had your first frost. If not, it’s only a matter of time. Therefore, ensure your dahlia tubers are dug up and stored. This also applies to cannas. Dahlias can be stored in boxes filled with scrunched paper and placed somewhere cool and dark. If this isn’t an option, place tubers in a pot of damp compost and kept somewhere cool.

Hedges

Time to plant hedgerows and conifers. Before planting, ensure you incorporate plenty of organic matter into the soil. With clay soil, you may also want to add grit for drainage. Depending on the hedge it may need a support and tying in, just until it establishes itself. Water in well and mulch.

Hard-wood cuttings

It’s not too late to take hard-wood cuttings, Plants include buddleia, vines and cornus. Make a sharp cut just beneath a bud and an angled cut across the top of the cutting. The angle ensures moisture runs off and doesn’t rot the cutting. Your cutting should be the length and width of a pencil. Place the straight end into a pot of compost, up to its middle. Try to use a square pot and place cuttings in each corner, any heat will bounce off the corners of the pot and onto the cutting. Ensure the compost is damp, and place in a cold frame and greenhouse.

A compost bin full of autumn leaves to provide leaf mulchLeaf mulch

There are plenty of fallen leaves to clear away, but don’t get rid of them. Create a pen with chicken wire and four wooden stakes. Then place the collected leaves within the wired square and leave for up to twelve months. This will breakdown into a rich mulch, which can then be used for your garden. If you don’t have the space for a pen, either an old plastic bin or garden bags will do. Create several holes, so moisture can drain away and the airflow will help the bacteria breakdown the leaf matter. Store them out of the way, where they won’t be disturbed.

Lawn

Lawns won’t need to be mowed now until next spring. However, with leaves and debris falling, you need to ensure you keep lawns clear. This will prevent pests taking shelter, and there’s no chance of damaging your lawn with the ‘browning off’ effect. Finally, if you wake to frosts, try to keep off the lawn, as you could potentially damage it.

Maintenance

With less to do on allotments and in gardens, you can switch your attention to carrying out repairs and maintenance on garden tools. From secateurs to shears, your tools should be cleaned and sharpened. Ensure your lawnmower has been cleaned, checked, and drained of fuel.

Pots and seed trays will also need cleaning – warm soapy water will do – and stored. Try not to buy new plastic pots to reduce waste and use what you’ve got, or why not make your pots? There are kits available for making biodegradable plant pots that will add a personal touch to your plant growing next season.

If you’re leaving stone or terracotta pots outside over winter, make sure they’re standing on clay feet or bricks. Otherwise a ground frost can damage and cause pots to crack. Being off the ground will also help potted plants as it drains off excess water.

Pots can be expensive, so protect them as best you can by grouping them all together in the sunniest part of the garden. You could also try wrapping them in bubble wrap.

A wooden bird feeder in the shape of a house against an autumn woodland backgroundWildlife

If you haven’t done so yet, fill your bird feeders. Ensure they’ve been thoroughly cleaned with warm soapy water and rinsed.

Put out fresh water for the birds, but try to ensure it doesn’t ice over.

You can also consider building insect hotels. Leave small piles of wood in corners of your garden to allow wildlife somewhere to rest over winter.

On the veg patch

Broad beans

If you’re hoping for an early crop of broad beans next year, sow now. Ensure all weeds are removed and add plenty of organic matter. Plant seeds in double rows, to the depth of two inches and nine inches apart. Water in well and cover over with either a cloche or horticultural fleece. Not only will the seeds benefit from the extra warmth, but they’ll be protected from birds and vermin.

Certain crops benefit from a good frost, turning their starches into sugars. Parsnips, swede, and Brussels sprouts will be tastier after a cold spell. If you are lifting these crops on a cold day, make sure you do it with a fork, carefully prising them from the hardened soil.

Spring cabbages

If you sowed cabbage seed weeks ago, they should now be healthy young plants ready for planting out. Brassicas are hungry plants, so ensure the bed has been well cultivated with plenty of organic matter dug in.

Plant your plants deep, just below the first set of leaves, to prevent damage from ‘wind rock’. Water in well and mulch. You may also want to protect your plants with horticultural fleece or cloches.

Leafy potato tubers growing in a green grow bagChristmas potatoes

If you’re growing spuds for the big day, then check them regularly. If they’re in grow bags or sacks, try to keep them somewhere, bright, warm and protected. As the stems gather height, ensure you earth them up. Not only will this encourage further tubers, but it will protect them from the chill. Finally, with dampness in the air and fluctuating temperatures, keep an eye out for blight.

Glue bands

Pests will be looking for somewhere to rest up over the next few months, laying eggs and eating tender shoots which can have a devastating effect on fruit trees. Try wrapping glue bands around the trunk base of your apple, pear, cherry and plum trees to stop pests, such as winter moth caterpillars, climbing the trees to lay their eggs.

Other Jobs

  • Disconnect garden hoses and protect garden taps as frozen water can burst pipes.
  • Bring inside potted up herbs.
  • Regularly check stored fruit, onions, squashes and potatoes for rot. Disregard any that have been spoilt.
  • As gardens die-back, you get a real sense of the blueprint of your garden. So, if you’re thinking of doing structural work, such as laying a new path or building a fence, now’s the time to do it.
  • If you’re planning a bonfire, check the woodpile first for any hidden wildlife.

4 Super Hardy Salad Leaves to Grow in Winter

October 8th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

4 Super Hardy Salad Leaves to Grow in Winter. Lamb's lettuce, or corn salad, growing in rows in soil.

Salads may be the epitome of sunny summer days, but there’s a lesser-known band of salad leaves full of interesting flavours and textures that will faithfully offer fresh pickings for winter. Able to withstand frost and standing firm through the grim weather, they are hardy souls most definitely worth growing. Read on or watch the video to discover four of the very best super-hardy winter salad leaves.

Why Grow Winter Salad Leaves?

Fresh leaves in the depths of winter are a real treat. While they won’t give masses of pickings, what they do produce is truly appreciated. Then as the weather warms up in spring, harvests come thick and fast – at a time when there’s very little else to pick.

Sow winter salad leaves in late summer or early autumn so they go into winter at just the right size – big enough to survive the chill but not so big that lush growth is clobbered by hard frosts.

Most winter salad leaves can grow outside in mild or temperate climates, but you’ll get more leaves if you can offer some protection from the weather, for example by using a hoop house or by growing salads in a greenhouse or tunnel.

What to Grow

Here’s our pick of the hardiest and most reliable winter salads:

1. Mache, aka Lamb’s Lettuce or Corn Salad

Mache, which also goes by the names lamb’s lettuce or corn salad, produces tender leaves with a smooth texture. This is the hardiest salad leaf of our quartet and grows very well outdoors.

2. Land Cress

Land cress, sometimes known as American cress, has rich, dark leaves that taste similar to watercress. It’s one of the quickest winter salad crops, giving leaves to pick as soon as eight weeks from sowing.A close up of winter purslane salad leaves with little white flowers, AKA miner's lettuce or claytonia

3. Claytonia, aka Miner’s Lettuce or Winter Purslane

Claytonia, also called miner’s lettuce or winter purslane, grows soft, succulent leaves and, come spring, tiny white flowers that also make for good eating. Use it in salads or cook it as an alternative to spinach.

4. Watercress

You don’t need running water to grow watercress, so long as you can ensure the soil it’s growing in is consistently damp, which shouldn’t be too difficult in winter! The mildly peppery leaves of watercress make it salad royalty.

Direct Sowing Winter Salads

Winter salad leaves are well suited to sowing direct into ground recently vacated by summer crops. Remove any weeds first, as they might smother your plants, then rake the soil to a fine tilth.

Mark out drills according to the instructions on the seed packet. Depending on what you’re sowing, rows will be spaced between 9-12 inches (22-30cm) apart. Sow the seeds very thinly, then water them. Once they’re up, thin the seedlings in stages until plants are about 6-8 inches (15-20cm) apart within the row.

Sowing Winter Salads into Plug Trays

Winter salad leaves are also prime candidates for starting off in plug trays. At sowing time the ground is often still occupied by summer crops, but sow into plug trays and your salad leaves may be started off away from the vegetable garden, giving earlier crops a chance to finish. Plug trays also reduce the risk of slug damage at the vulnerable seedling stage and produce sturdy young plants able to outcompete weeds.

Fill trays with general-purpose potting soil then firm it in, adding a little more if needed. Firming in the potting soil creates small depressions in each of the plugs, which are ideal for sowing into. Drop about two seeds into each plug. Some seeds like claytonia are tiny, so don’t worry if you end up with more – you can always thin out the seedlings after they’ve germinated to leave just the strongest in each plug.

Once you’re done sowing, cover the seeds with a very thin layer of more potting soil, then label your tray so you don’t forget what you’ve sown – essential if you’re sowing more than one type of plant in a tray! Water the tray with a gentle spray, or place plugs into trays of water to soak it up from below. Remove trays from the water once they’re ready.

Grow the seedlings on until the roots have filled their plugs, when it’s time to plant them. If the ground is still occupied by other crops, you can re-pot into bigger pots or plug trays, buying you another week or two before planting outside.

A close up of watercress salad leaves with drops of water on the leaves, taken from abovePlanting Winter Salads

Set your winter salad leaves out at the recommended spacing. Planting in a block, so plants are the same distance apart in both directions, is perhaps easiest. Allow 7 inches (17cm) both ways for mache, 8 inches (20cm) for claytonia, and 9 inches (22cm) for land cress and watercress. Dig holes into prepared soil, enriched with organic matter such as compost if it’s likely to have needed a boost after summer, then pop the young plants in. Fill the soil back around them, firm in and water.

Wonderful Watercress

Watercress may be grown like any other winter salad, but a handy alternative is to sow the tiny seeds into containers of potting soil.

Scatter seeds thinly across the surface, then cover with a very fine layer of more potting soil. Containers must be kept moist at all times or the seedlings will quickly die. Once stems have reached about 4in (10cm) high, you an begin harvesting either individual leaves or clusters of stems.

Caring for Winter Salads

Weeds and slugs are the enemies of winter salads – keep on top of both. Slug traps filled with beer to attract them work to a point, but keeping growing areas clear of weeds and debris, while planting at the correct spacing, should do a lot to deter slugs.

How to Harvest Winter Salads

Harvest leaves once plants have formed mounded clumps. Cut stems with a sharp knife, taking care to leave the lowest leaves and those towards the centre untouched so they can continue to grow. As growth picks up in spring, so do the harvests and how much you can remove from plants on each occasion.

By mid-spring plants will be flowering. Young flower stalks may be eaten but in time they will become tough. At this point it’s time to dig up and remove winter salad crops to make way for your summer staples.

If you thought winter meant time to retire the vegetable garden till spring, think again. Winter salad leaves will keep the fresh pickings coming. Are you growing some of these sensational salad crops this winter? What are you growing and how? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.