Winter is the time when the garden winds down for a rest before spring arrives once more and the new growing season begins, but before that happens there are some important jobs to be done to prepare it for the months ahead. The prospect of colder, darker times to come may seem a bit bleak, especially for younger gardeners, but there’s more than enough to do to keep their interest and plenty to look forward to for next year.
A Good Tidy Up
As the days shorten and the skies become greyer, the garden quickly starts to look a very different place from the one that was so vibrant and lush in the summer. One of the most important jobs at this time of year is to have a fairly thorough tidy up – removing the annuals that have long since passed their prime, trimming and pruning woody shrubs and trees to keep them at their best and generally taking stock of what’s left. How much of this your own kids can help with obviously depends on their age and competence with the necessary tools, but even the youngest of children can have a great time raking up leaves, picking up prunings and rooting up spent bedding plants.
For the wildlife enthusiasts (and which youngster isn’t?) the job can be made even more interesting by seeing what kinds of mini-beasts they can find lurking amongst the old vegetation they collect. It’s also a good opportunity to talk about the danger of bonfires for hedgehogs and other small creatures that might look on a pile of abandoned twigs and branches as an ideal winter home.
Now is also the time to take a good look around the garden itself and see what sort of overall shape it’s in. The walls, fencing and trellising are no longer obscured behind the summer’s growth, so take the time to inspect them for any damage that the winter winds and weather could make considerably worse. It’s something that the whole family can get involved with – and so are any necessary repairs. With a bit of thought it’s not too difficult to turn it into a fun activity – perhaps even a full-on ‘fence-fixing party’ with grandparents and friends invited.
Have a look too at which plants have done well over the season, and which haven’t. No matter how experienced you are as a gardener, or how many books you read, sometimes you only really get to know what works through trial and error – and it’s no bad thing for kids to learn that lesson. If nothing else, it’ll help you all decide on your planting scheme for next year.
Before the weatherman regularly starts talking about the risk of frosts, tender perennials will need to be lifted and stored, or else protected beneath horticultural fleece, straw or a good layer of winter mulch. Exactly when you decide to do this obviously depends on whereabouts you live in the country, how frost-prone your garden is and what kinds of plants you grow – but as a general rule for most years, sometime in October’s about right. It’s always a slightly depressing moment when you have to start swathing your cherished plants in layers of protection – but it’s an essential part of preparing them for winter and another job that everyone can help to do.
Once you’ve tidied up and everything’s properly set for winter, although there may not be much actual gardening to do, there’s plenty of planning to be done for next year.
Leafing through the seed catalogues and gardening suppliers’ brochures deciding what to buy and where to plant it has got to be one of the best ways to spend the weeks and months waiting for the first signs of spring. It’s the sort of discussion that everyone, however young, can have a say in and few things make children feel more included than having their opinions listened to – though you may have to be a bit diplomatic if some of their ideas are a bit too outlandish or impractical!
After the long days of summer, winter can come as a bit of a let-down for keen young gardeners – a dull and dreary couple of months with next to nothing going on – but with a bit of thought, it certainly doesn’t have to put an end to all their gardening fun.