Stressed about winter? We know the feeling! Join us for a behind the scenes look at preparing our new garden for winter and the first cold growing season.
Preparing Our New Garden for Its First Winter
Winter is here, officially at least, with the solstice to follow. Our new garden is easing into its cold, dark, wet season. Winter is always a stressful time for the garden, but the first winter for a new garden can be extra rough. Winters here are temperate, but still harsh for growing (or surviving), especially when plants are young. We have heavy frosts, hammering rains, and months of cold soggy ground even when the sun peaks out. As summer slipped into autumn, work began to prepare our new garden for its first winter growing season.
This is a behind the scenes look at our garden activities, but what we do here may not suit your garden or growing conditions. We are able to grow all year round in our fortunate New Zealand gardening climate. Not all plants enjoy all seasons, of course! Some of our garden will be deciduous and dormant for the colder months, others evergreen but semi-dormant, and some growing gladly.
Planning Groupings and Exposure Prior to Planting
Planning and planting for local climate and conditions is an important part of any healthy garden. Within the garden, it can help to group plants in different areas for exposure, shelter, or simply to streamline garden chores. Here are the groupings in our current garden.
Planting Groups in Our Winter Garden Plans
Tender and Semi-Tender Evergreens
Our in-ground tender evergreen trees and vines are grouped along the rear boundary. This helps to maximise their seasonal sunshine and makes it easier to cover them against heavy frosts. Some will need covering for life, while others will become hardier as they mature. It isn’t glamorous, but I have a collection of old bed sheets for heavy frost protection. It works, but also requires effort for placement, removal, and drying before storage between uses. I’ve found most frost cloths too fragile for on/off protection (especially over thorns and sharp branches) and am reluctant to install permanent winter frost frames right now. Some of these plants still need access for tending on a regular basis. We’ll see what the winter frost protection solution becomes in time. Ideas are welcome. I’d love to hear what works for you! Note: I broke down and put up temporary frames with frost cloth during the winter. You can read more in our springtime garden update.
The truly tender plants are bagged and mobile. They will overwinter in the glasshouse. In confession, it’s chaos in there at the moment! Our first heavy frost arrived a few days before planned moving. I scurried to move things for a hasty haphazard sheltering. I’ve yet to have time and weather align to rearrange things properly. The tidy up is at the top of my garden chore list to allow easier access for care over the coming winter.
Deciduous Trees, Vines, and Brambles
The deciduous trees and vines/brambles are also planted in groupings. They are along the side boundaries where they can enjoy plenty of summery sunshine whilst in leaf. These plants will someday offer welcome summer shade, but let warmth and light into the garden when bare in winter. The groupings also help consolidate care and clean-up during leaf drop. As you can see in the frosty photo below, our large in-ground plants are nested in slightly raised beds to allow their root balls some respite from our heavy clay soil. Fingers crossed for the wet season ahead!
Preparing Our Plants in Autumn for Winter
Autumn Clean-Up and Top Dressing
Seaweed Solution for Frost Tolerance
In addition to the usual autumn clean-up and top-dressing, I’ve been indulging our evergreen perennial plants, both tender and hardy, with regular foliage treatments of dilute seaweed solution. Using it as a pre-conditioner can help to toughen and thicken up the plants cell walls for more inherent frost tolerance.
Beneficial Fungi for Wet Soil Support
I also use beneficial fungus application (Trichoderma) to help our plants with environmental stresses. Even though we’ve be working hard on amending our garden areas, the base soil in our area is still heavy clay. Roots need all the help they can get! I first started using Trichoderma back in our old garden, and have been using it in our new garden since planting – especially on root-rot prone plants like our griselinia hedges. Our neighbours are rather entertained by the frequent sight of me mixing up different potions and applying them around the garden. Haha!
Growing Winter Veggies in Frost-Shielded Beds
In the edible garden, the raised beds are brimming with young winter vegetables and herbs. They’re nested under the safety of a protective frost cloth. The clear knitted thermal control fabric on the cloche hoops is fully permeable and almost transparent. This allows it to stay down during days when needed to protect from heavy rains, hail, wind, and general garden pests. We had a few moth incursions in the autumn (grrr…), but other than that it is working well thus far. Fingers crossed as the cold wet weather continues!
Elsewhere, the hardier winter plants, like our peas, are left to their own devices. Things are doing well so far. The lingering summer annual flowers under planted around the edible gardens need clearing out (another to-do on the list). They’ve either reached their end of life or been turned to mush by the arrival of frosts, but winter flowers are already taking their place to keep me (and the cold-weather insects) happy until spring. The young feijoa hedge that will someday provide the wind break (and visual screening) between the lawn and edible garden has already been handy at reducing the wintery winds. Plus it also yielded a few fruit despite its youth/size (and the dogs’ interest in garden thievery).
I hope you enjoyed a peek at the winter garden and what’s happening behind the scenes around our place in preparation for winter. I’ll keep you posted here and on our social media with how things are growing (or not!) as we work through the season ahead.