As much as we say winter is a brilliant time for planting, the weather can sometimes stop us altogether. For instance, there's nothing worse than ordering a whole set of lovely bare root plants, only to find that once they get to your doorstep, the ground is frozen! But don't worry- these top 7 handy tips, and useful guides to protecting each root type, will get you through the winter...
Tip 1: Watering
With unpredictable UK weather, determining when the frost will strike is quite a difficult task. In fact, it's pretty much impossible, so it's all about being prepared. When the temperatures drop and frost is on the radar, it's important to water two/three days prior to it coming, to help protect the plants. Though it may seem confusing to add water with the risk of freezing temperatures, wet soil holds more heat than dry, so it is very important that you water well in conditions like this.
Don't forget- it is just as bad to over water plants as they will end up "under water," getting waterlogged and damaging the roots. It's especially dangerous if you over water in the winter, as your plants will be exposed to possibilities of getting frost heave in spring- this is where the soil has been exposed to freezing conditions and a lot of water, therefore putting a lot of pressure on the plant as it lifts the soil and plant out of the ground.
Tip 2: Cover the plants
By covering up delicate, tender plants, you can help them retain heat and from getting damaged by freezing temperatures. Make sure that you remove their covers during the day as they need direct sunlight- tender plants are likely to suffocate, too. It's always best to maintain covering up as an overnight regime, where the temperatures drop suddenly.
Tip 3: Remove snow
When it comes to removing the snow, this generally applies to dense, large, evergreen plants which are big enough to hold a lot of snow on top of their foliage. It's easy for them to collect thick piles of snow, and when they do, it puts a large amount of pressure on the plants' structure, resulting in a lot of damage to their branches.
Make sure you gently shake the foliage on the plants to remove the layer of snow gathered, as this will reduce the heavy weight that snow can create once it settles.
You don't want to damage those lovely evergreen plants with a bit of snow (though it's something we usually get excited about!).
Tip 4: Leave any fallen foliage
We tend to often remove fallen leaves as they can end up looking quite untidy and unpleasant- especially when you're wanting a neat, prim-and-proper garden. But leaving the foliage on the ground is surprisingly beneficial, and is ideal for any lazy gardener.
Fallen foliage acts as a heat insulator for the soil, stopping it from freezing. Little hedgehogs like to cuddle up in the leaves, too! And don't worry, once spring comes around, you can clear the leaves away, and you've got a lovely, tidy garden again...
Tip 5: Buy frost-proof containers
You can buy frost-proof containers that don't crack like traditional pots in the frost, when the coldness gets to the roots. It is quite an efficient way of protecting our container plants- and if you originally buy frost-proof containers from the beginning, you won't have to worry about swapping pots etc. later in the year.
On the other hand, however, you can always bring pots and containers inside for protection (i.e., shed or garage), instead- only if you have the space, of course. If not, then frost-proof containers are definitely recommended.
Tip 6: Buy some mulch
Gardeners commonly use mulch to preserve moisture and hold heat during the much colder months. As effective as it is, we also suggest keeping the layer of mulch to about 2" deep, and no more.
Tip 7: Try raised garden beds
As cold air settles around ground level, raised garden beds are ideal for protecting tender plants during the winter. They will also make covering your plants a lot easier!
Plus, it's a lovely feature to add to any garden, and options for what to plant are endless...
How to look after each root type
The first thing you must do is keep them warm in their pots, as this will protect the roots from becoming exposed to freezing temperatures, like frost, that can easily break and damage the little roots. If left to their own devices, frost can cause the roots to turn weak and lifeless. This is where frost-proof containers come in handy (one of our handy tips mentioned earlier).
It is possible to store your pot grown plants in a dry garage or shed for up to one week. If you have little space, however, keep them outside- just lie them down flat when there's a risk of high winds approaching (something that can blow them over). When the weather gets back to being warm, you will need to protect your plants again by keeping them away from very warm temperatures, as the can suffer shock- and vice-versa with cold weather.
Make sure pot grown plants are kept on a free-draining, level surface to ensure waterlogging will not become a problem. As soon as the ground begins to warm up and thaw away, and there is a little moisture in the soil, feel free to plant your pot grown hedging/shrubs etc., into the soil.
If your root ball plants have a hessian wrapping when they arrive, it must stay on both when storing and planting. You must keep root ball plants in a cool, dry place, sheltered away from frost and winds. You can also cover the hessian sack with straw to provide an extra layer of warm insulation.
The hessian sack will usually prevent the root ball from drying out, but we do still recommend giving the plant a little water if you notice any slight dryness.
As soon as the frost/snow disappears, and the ground has fully thawed out, plant your root ball into the soil- leaving the hessian sack on (don't worry, it will naturally decompose with time).
You should plant your bare roots as soon as you can after being delivered- but when weather conditions are poor, this is not possible. If that is the case, you can store them safely until the planting site is much more suitable. The most vital thing about storing bare root plants is that they cannot dry out- you must keep them moist. Keep them in a dry, cool, and sheltered spot- i.e., the garage or shed. They can stay stored for up to one week.
After a week, however, and the weather is still not suitable, you will need to temporarily plant the bare roots- i.e., by planting them in a free-draining container that's a decent size for the plant. Add a nice amount of compost too. If you water regularly, the plant should keep going for a few weeks.
Preparing for winter doesn't have to be complicated, just ensure you follow this guide, and your plants will be happy as ever. The winter months may be a tough time for the plants, but by taking these measures, you will surely protect them and help them thrive, no matter what comes your way!