How to Take Care of Plants in Winter: Protecting your Garden in Cold Weather

Winter is a difficult time for plants. The cold weather and lack of sunlight can be tough on them. But with a little bit of care, you can help your plants make it through the winter. In this post, we’ll look at how to take care of plants in winter and also what you can do to keep your garden looking at its best during this gloomy time of year.

Rose Canina Plant covered in frost in cold winter garden

How to Protect your Plants from Frost and Cold Weather

When the temperature outside begins to drop, it’s time to start thinking about how to protect your plants from frost and cold weather. Here are a few tips to help you keep your plants healthy and happy all winter long…

Move your Plants Indoors

If you have plants in pots or containers, then you might be able to bring your plants inside before the first frost hits. This will help them avoid exposure to the cold and prevent them from being damaged by frost or freezing temperatures. Of course, light levels can also be an issue in winter (more on that later), so remember to choose somewhere light and sunny if possible – a conservatory is usually ideal.

Use a Greenhouse or Cold Frame

If you don’t have space indoors, then consider a investing in a greenhouse. If you’re on a budget you could also build your own cold frame, which can be a fairly easy and inexpensive DIY project.

Choose a Sheltered Spot

If you can’t move your plants under cover, then at least try to find a sheltered spot outdoors where they will be protected from the wind and cold. Along a South facing wall or fence is usually good for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. If plants are kept near to the outside wall of a house, then they might also benefit from some slightly less extreme drops in temperature.

Gardener covers a rose plant with fleece to protect the plant from frost in the winter

Cover your Plants

If you can’t move your plants indoors or to a sheltered spot, you’ll need to protect them from the cold by covering them. This can be done with sheets, blankets, or even specially made plant covers that you can buy from garden centres. There are specially designed materials such as gardeners fleece which is designed to keep plants warm but still allow the light through.

Be Wary of Ice and Snow

While plants can often survive a light frost without any damage, heavier frosts or prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can cause serious problems. In particular, be careful of ice and snow which can damage both leaves and stems. If possible, try to brush the snow off your plants before it has a chance to thaw and freeze again.

Check the Weather Forecast

Finally, it’s always worth keeping an eye on the weather forecast in winter. This will help you plan ahead and take action to protect your plants before any cold weather hits. Either keep an eye on local news or consider getting yourself a home weather station. These nifty gadgets can even be set to give an alert when freezing temperatures are expected.

Choose the Right Plants

It’s worth noting that part of planning for winter actually begins when you’re deciding which plants to grow in your garden in the first place. Some plants are far more frost-resistant than others, so if you live in an area with cold winters it’s worth choosing plants that will be able to withstand the worst of the weather.

Winter Pansies covered in frost n a cold winter garden

Know Your Hardiness Zones

Before you buy any plants, it’s worth checking to see whether they are likely to withstand the conditions in your garden over winter. This will usually be dependent on the minimum temperature that your area experiences. In the UK and Europe, these zones range from 1 (which is the mildest) to 10 (which is the coldest). If a plant is not hardy in your zone, then it’s likely that it will need to be moved indoors or covered up if you want it to survive the winter.

In general, most vegetables are only hardy down to about zone 4. This means that if you live in an area where the minimum temperature is lower than -15°C, then you’ll need to take some extra precautions. Frost-tolerant vegetables such as spinach, kale, and chard can usually withstand temperatures down to around -10°C.

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli plant in winter sunshine

Make Sure your Plants Get Enough Sunlight

It’s not just the cold that can be a problem for plants in winter. Lack of sunlight can also cause problems, as this can impact a plant’s ability to photosynthesize and produce food. If you’re bringing plants indoors, then make sure they are getting enough light – a south-facing windowsill or conservatory is usually ideal. You might also need to supplement the natural light with some artificial lighting, such as grow lights.

Outside in the garden, try to avoid placing plants along North facing walls and fences or under trees or shrubs that will cast too much shade. This will make it harder for plants to get the sunlight they need. When choosing plants for a winter garden, look for varieties that are known to be tolerant of low light levels.

How to Water and Feed your Plants During the Winter

While it’s important to water your plants regularly in summer, in winter you need to be extra careful not to overwater them. This is because the soil is much cooler and takes longer to dry out. Water only when the soil feels dry to the touch. During cold, damp periods, you might not need to water outdoor plants at all, especially those planted in the ground.

When it comes to feeding, most plants will need less or even no extra feeding in winter, as they are not actively growing. If you want to give your plants a little boost, then you can add some organic matter to the soil such as compost or manure. You could also use a liquid feed such as seaweed extract which is rich in nutrients. However, it’s important to avoid overfeeding as this can bring about other problems.

Pruning Plants in Winter

Pruning is an important part of winter plant care, as it helps to encourage growth in the spring. It’s also a good way to get rid of any diseased or dead parts of the plant. When pruning, always use clean, sharp tools to avoid damaging the plant. Of course, it’s very important to check the exact pruning requirements for different plants and if you’re not sure where to start, then it’s worth a researching online or ask at your local garden centre.

In general, it’s best to prune deciduous trees and shrubs while they are dormant. This means cutting back any dead or diseased branches, as well as any that are rubbing together or crossing over. You can also prune to encourage a plant to grow in a certain direction, or to control its size or shape.

Conifers can also be pruned in winter, although it’s best to avoid doing this unless you absolutely have to, as it can damage the plant. If you do need to prune a conifer, then only remove a very small amount of growth.

Tips to Keep your Garden Looking Beautiful in the Winter Months

Just because the weather is colder and plants are dormant, doesn’t mean your garden has to look dull and lifeless. There are plenty of ways to keep it looking beautiful throughout winter.

Tidy Up and Get Organised for Winter

The first step is to tidy up any dead leaves or debris that has accumulated over the autumn months. Also be sure to clear up leftover old fruit and veg. This not only looks tidier, but it also helps to prevent problems such as pests and diseases. If you have any climbing plants, then make sure to clean out any old growth that has died back. This will help the plant to produce fresh growth in spring.

Robin on a snowy bird table in winter

Help and Attract Wildlife

If you’re keen on helping and attracting wildlife to your garden, then winter can be a great time to do it. Feeding birds though the winter months can be very rewarding and bring you some daily entertainment, as you can enjoy watching the regulars or perhaps seeing some new species visiting your garden.

While it’s good to tidy up a bit, you might still keep a one or more ‘wild areas’ around the garden. Things like log piles and piles of leaves can be beneficial to creatures such as hedgehogs, frogs and toads. You could also make an insect house.

Add Plants and Flowers for Winter Interest

Winter Bedding Plants

Adding winter bedding plants around the garden such as pansies, violas, and cyclamen can really brighten up the place. These will need to be replaced every few weeks as they flower and die back.

Winter-Flowering Shrubs

If you have any empty spaces in your borders, then try planting some winter-flowering shrubs such as Mahonia or Witch Hazel. These will provide some much-needed colour and interest in the garden.

Winter-Flowering Bulbs

Another way to add some interest is to plant winter-flowering bulbs such as snowdrops, iris, daffodils, and crocuses. While most of these tend to flower towards the end of winter, they’ll provide a much-needed splash of colour when everything else is looking drab. You could also try planting some evergreen shrubs or climbers, which will keep your garden looking green and fresh all year round.

Add Lights and Decorations

Another way to add some winter interest is to use seasonal decorations such as lights, lanterns, and festive wreaths. These will not only make your garden look more inviting, but will also help to brighten up the dark evenings.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully following these steps will help you keep your plants safe and happy through the cold winter months. Looking after them well ensures a thriving garden when spring comes around. In the meantime, there’s still plenty you can do to make the most of your garden in winter. Adding some winter flowers, evergreen plants, lights and decorations will make your space more vibrant and inviting. And even when the trees and shrubs are bare, attracting new wildlife can bring life and entertainment on even the dullest of winter days.

What are you up to in your winter garden? Any favourite winter flowers? How do you keep your plants safe in the cold? Let us know in the comments!


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