Winter is coming.
Although no one is suggesting that this years winter will be anything like the winters of Westeros, weather experts are predicting that we are heading for a bitter winter this year - possibly the coldest in sixty years - due to a weather phenomenon known as El Nino.
El Nino means 'the Christ child' in Spanish, and is so named because it was first observed around Christmas time. It is caused by ocean and atmospheric interaction in the Eastern Pacific which makes the water temperature rise, in turn shifting other weather systems out of balance. In equatorial regions, the effects of El Nino will be a rise in temperatures, but further away from the equator temperatures generally drop, and rainfall increases.
El Nino occurs regularly, usually every two to seven years, but its severity can vary. This years El Nino is set to be a big one. So what effect will El Nino 2015 have on the UK? Expect weather conditions at least on a par with the winter of 2009/2010, when the temperature averaged -1°C. There is also a high possibility that many regions of the UK will get snow that settles.
With extreme winter weather conditions on the way, its even more important that you prepare your garden this Autumn. Here are our top tips for looking after some of our most popular plants and tree gifts in winter, as well as some general winter garden jobs to give your plants and trees the best chance of coping with the cold:
Citrus Plants in Winter
- Being indoor plants, the cold and snow shouldn't affect your citrus trees too badly, but it's still a good idea to keep them away from any drafts - move them back from the window and away from any doors. Remember, when it comes to growing citrus successfully, maintaining a constant temperature is key, so they will also need to be kept well away from radiators and central heating.
- Begin feeding your citrus plants with a specifically designed winter citrus feed to ensure they are getting the correct winter nutrition, and are in good shape to survive the cold.
Fruit Trees in Winter
- It is important to know whether your fruit tree is fully hardy, and what kinds of temperatures they can tolerate, and adjust your winter care accordingly.
- Winter is the perfect time to prune your fruit trees, when they are dormant. First, remove any branches that are growing towards the centre of the tree instead of pointing outwards, as these will not get enough sunlight to produce fruit. Then remove any branches that are dead, diseased or dying. Lastly, cut back all but the main branches and leave six or so buds on each stem.
- Make sure you protect your fruit trees from late winter/early spring frosts with horticultural fleece or even some plastic bin liners. Late frosts can kill delicate buds and ruin your chance of your tree producing fruit.
- Less hardy fruit trees, in particular, stoned fruit trees like peaches, nectarines, and grapes should only be grown in the South parts of the UK.
- If possible, move dwarf varieties kept in pots to a greenhouse or even an unheated shed to wait out the worst of the weather.
Native Trees in Winter
- Although they look very small, our tree saplings are actually well designed to survive cold winters, as they naturally lose all tender growth and go into dormancy.
- When planting saplings into the ground, ensure you plant them inside the coir pots we send them out in. The pots will give the tender roots and extra layer of insulation from the cold, and as they are naturally biodegradable, slowly disintegrating over time so the roots of the plants are not restricted.
- Plant a tree shelter around your sapling, which will create a micro-climate to insulate the plant as well as protect it from animals. But beware of snow; ensure there is a shelter over the sapling or clear any snow from the tree shelter immediately.
Readying your Rose Bushes
- After your rose bush has finished flowering, deadhead the roses, but don't carry out any major pruning after the end of August. Autumn pruning may encourage the rose to grow new shoots, which will be very tender and likely to be damaged by frost.
- If low temperatures or snow are expected, you can use sacking, horticultural fleece or even some bin liners to make sure your bushes don’t get frost damaged.
- Protect the base of the plant and the bud union by piling extra compost around the stems at the base of the plant. Remove this protection when the worst of the winter frosts have passed.
- Prune your rose in February or March to encourage better growth in the Summer.
Preparing Potted Plants
- Watch out for patio pots becoming waterlogged over winter. Some good tips for avoiding waterlogged pots can be found here.
- Insulate pots using bubble wrap to prevent frost damage to roots and the pots themselves - but remember to pierce some holes in the bottom to allow for drainage. If possible, you can also move your potted plants to a more sheltered location for added protection; a patio or south facing wall would work well.
- When low temperatures or snow are expected use sacking, horticultural fleece or even some bin liners to make sure tender leaves of potted plants like olives and bay trees are protected.
General Garden Jobs
- One of the biggest killers of plants in winter is poor drainage. Understandably, these conditions can cause havoc to roots as the waterlogged ground can freeze, so make sure you test the drainage in your garden before the cold weather really begins! Dig a hole 12" by 12" and fill it with water. As soon as the water has drained away, fill it again, but this time measure the level of the water. Measure the level of the water every half an hour and keep a record of the measurements. The ideal drainage rate is 1-2 inches an hour.
- Improve poorly draining soil by digging in organic matter, which will absorb excess water. Alternatively, you could also mix in some handfuls of perlite to improve drainage.
- Mulching is the term used for the layer of organic material that is placed on top of the soil around your plants every year, and is an important part of preparing your plants and trees in winter. It has a whole host of benefits, including discouraging weeds and providing a layer of insulation through winter and is best carried out in October. First, prepare the ground by removing debris and weeds and water the surface of the soil if it is dry, Apply a thin layer of well rotted leaf mould all around the tree. In particular ensure that the bud union of grafted trees are protected. Remove the mulch in spring, after the worst of the winter weather has past.
- Wipe heavy snowfall from leaves and branches to prevent breaking and damage.
- Gather up fallen leaves from around the lawn and beds.
Follow these top winter tree protection tips, and your plants should have all the protection they need to weather the winter. They will be sure to reward you for all your hard work next spring and summer with lots of fruit and beautiful blooms!