Clients often ask us:

What can be done in a garden over the Winter months?

Surely it’s the time of year when it’s best left well alone?  Our Head Gardener Alex suggests quite the opposite:-

“Putting the garden to bed for the winter is more than just a matter of cleaning and covering up. As temperatures begin to drop, plants prepare for dormancy.  While it may seem as if all activity in the garden has stopped, there’s a lot going on under the soil. Trees and shrubs are all growing roots, drawing on soil nutrients and the moisture around them.

Autumn is an excellent time to plant, reseed or landscape your garden.  Planting and re-laying in Autumn allows roots to take before the cold weather sets in.  Winter is a good time to undertake hard landscaping projects like new patios, decking, fencing or other redesigning initiatives, as much less damage is likely to be done to lawns and borders as the cold protects the ground underneath.  A rainy Spring can play havoc with freshly-laid slabs.”

We’ve put together some ideas for you to help you get your garden ready for the colder months.


As we all know, the temperature in the UK drops during the Autumn and Winter months.  Approaching December and early January, it often drops down below zero degrees Centigrade.  As the air temperature drops, so does the temperature of the ground, and this leads to a dramatic slow down in the growth of plants and grass.  Midwinter sees grass become almost dormant.

One should always plan ahead to ensure a good lawn next year.  Mow your grass one last time before the cold weather takes hold.  Spray any weeds and remove as many as possible. Feed and fertilise your lawn in preparation for the winter months.  Aerating boggy lawns can have beneficial effects by relieving soil compaction.  This involves perforating the soil with small holes to allow air, water and nutrients to penetrate the grass roots. This helps the roots grow deeply and produces a stronger, more vigorous lawn next year. Taking these steps will ensure your grass is ready to literally spring back into life as temperatures rise throughout early March.

Cut back hedges, plants and shrubs

Clearing out dead stems and foliage and removing leaf litter will reduce the possibility of their harbouring disease, pathogens and insect eggs over the winter, which will ensure plants’ survival over the colder months.  If you have a hedge, give it a good trim in autumn with a hedge trimmer. This will ensure it’s neat and compact for the winter season.  Don’t be alarmed if you take too much off – it will grow back next Spring!  Similarly, with shrubs and perennials such as lavender and roses, cutting back in Autumn will ensure healthy Spring growth – vibrant, strong and not too ‘leggy’.

Make compost

Fallen leaves, hedge clippings, lawn mowings, weeds, rotten vegetables, vegetable clippings and household waste such as shredded paper all make great compost.  Be sure to maintain a good mix and balance of different ingredients.

Rotate regularly to ensure air reaches all parts of your compost. Depending on the size of your compost pile, what you put in it, and how you tend to it, the composting process can take three months to two years. With a compost aerator, it’s easier to add air to the pile. Aeration gives oxygen-hungry microbes what they need to break down materials faster. Fallen leaves can be added throughout winter.

The benefits of compost are manifold: Compost enriches the soil, helping to retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.  It reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.  It also helps to keep the temperature of the soil even.

If you already have compost, late Autumn is a good time to spread compost over a garden bed, and cover it with a winter mulch, such as chopped leaves.  By Spring, soil organisms will have worked the compost into the soil.  You can also spread compost two weeks before planting time in the spring.

Work on your borders and flower beds

In Autumn you can put some work into your borders and flower beds, perhaps even extend them.  Get rid of all the weeds and spread compost and/or mulch liberally.  Raised planters can be assembled and filled with soil and compost ready for planting in Spring.  Don’t forget those Christmas Box and Shrub Honeysuckle, or you could even plant some Winter-flowering Pansies.

Take care of your fences and furniture

Any fences and gates need to be cared for and prepared for the forthcoming winter months. If you have a wooden fence, it’s worth investing in stain, sealant or paint and giving it a good coat before the cold, dark nights set in.  If you need a new or replacement fence, Winter is an excellent time to install one, as it will cause less damage and disruption to the garden.  Don’t forget to cover your barbecues and patio furniture, if they are to be left outside.

Finally – don’t forget our feathered and furry friends living in our winter landscape!  If you have a bird table or a feeding post, please remember to top up with fat balls and bird seed.  During extreme cold, little saucers of water will be gratefully lapped up.

To summarise, we have compiled a quick list of Autumn Gardening tips for you to use now:

  • Plants can regenerate from root cuttings. Remove lower leaves from the plant and cut beneath a node using sharp scissors. Dip cuttings into hormone powder and pot in small containers with a premium potting mix. Keep them moist and shelter them from strong wind and sun.  They will then be ready for planting next Spring.
  • Rejuvenate tired lawns with an autumn feeding and aerate if necessary to prepare them for the onset of the cool winter weather.
  • Transfer the leaves that fall on your garden and lawn to the compost bin on a regular basis. Believe it or not, they will smother your plants and grass, causing unwanted damage.
  • Move potted tropical plants into more protected spots – perhaps into a porch or conservatory.
  • Reduce watering of your potted plants as they require far less water when the weather’s cooler.
  • Prepare planting holes for new roses and fruit trees by digging compost and well-aged manure into the soil.
  • Construct protective frames around the plants that are likely to be damaged by the cold.

    Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna, pollarded Salix alba var. vitellina in hoarfrost in December at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire.
    ©National Trust Images/MMGI/Marianne Majerus