Growbag Blog

10 tasks to prepare your garden for winter

Once upon a time, summer was a hot season and was followed by autumn, which was cooler and then winter, which was properly cold (back when baths were once a week; Christmas lights didn’t appear until December and no one had heard of Net Zero).

But now we live in precarious climatic anarchy in which sunny, crisp autumn days have been replaced by smorgasbord of remnant hurricanes borne on subtropical vectors interspersed with ‘weatherbombs’, (met office code for ‘We didn’t see that coming!’)

All this makes ‘preparing for winter’ slightly tricky. Are you prepared to look pretty silly wrapping your banana plants in wire netting and straw, whilst still dressed in shorts? We have some ideas to help you through the maze……..


1. Bring tender plants undercover. For me Halloween is a watershed moment when thoughts have to turn to preparing the garden for winter weather. We live in a frost pocket so if you do too it’s time to wheel in any proteas, aeoniums or citrus trees. I also bring in my hardy chrysanthemums which seems a bit absurd given their name, but I always grow them in pots and although they can stand frost, the aforementioned hurricanes can ruin their blooms and snap off their gangly stems. In any case their vibrant colours make them the mainstay of our glasshouse Halloween display (our feature picture this week) and I’ve bought some from Sarah Raven this year which are supposed to flower until Christmas… we’ll see …

2. Plant out the last of your biennials. The shift to longer, warmer autumns at least gives us a bit more leeway to get biennials into the ground and settled before the frosts set in. But really you should be getting your wallflowers, foxgloves and sweet Williams in now, so that they can get their roots firmly in the ground to resist wind rock.

This really is the last call for getting your wallflowers in

3. Trim climbers tight to windy walls. You don’t want swathes of foliage being buffeted by gales particularly if they are in close proximity to your satellite dish – you don’t want to be sending your significant other up a rickety ladder on Christmas Day to clear the undergrowth because the King is pixelating in the middle of his speech.

Trim back climbers that might catch the wind or interfere with your satellite dish!

4. Remove fresh algal slime from your ponds. Referred to as the ‘autumn overturn’ the cooling temperature and first gales lead to mixing of the layers in ponds, dredging detritus and nutrients that have settled in the dark depths up into the surface phototropic layer triggering algal blooms. These should be hooked out, draped over edge of the pond over night to allow any pond invertebrates to crawl back in then and put on the compost heap. 

Left in the pond this slimy spirogyra weed will sink to the bottom and rot, taking vital oxygen out of the pond ecosystem as it does so


Well, stone the crows! Some good sensible suggestions from our boffin-scientist middle sister that even an ordinary mortal can understand! (We’ll forgive her the ‘phototropic layer’ , won’t we – poor old thing can’t help herself). Here are a few more suggestions of how to prepare for winter’s assault on our patches of green.

5. Give your rose bushes a little love. Take off the soggy dead flower-clusters unless you’re leaving them for pretty hips. And only leave them then if it’s the sort of rose whose petals fall off by themselves – life is a LOT too short to be fiddling about just picking off petals.

Leave the dead rose flowers on if they are likely to produce beautiful hips like these ones on Rosa glauca

Pick off and dispose of all the manky black-spotted foliage either on the bush or on the ground around it (don’t compost it though – nasties like black-spot and rust can overwinter). Lastly, chop out stems in the middle that look like they’re crossing and clogging up the works, and shorten any very tall stems, or a ferocious winter gale can make the roots rockier than a meringue showstopper in the BakeOff tent.

Pick off the leaves affected by blackspot to lessen the chance of the disease overwintering on your rose

6. Get picky! What on earth is the point of growing all those flowers, fruit and veg, if you are just going to let Jack Frost make mincemeat of them. So get out there, gather all your mellow fruitfulness in. If you just can’t face one more marrow thingummabob, or apple oojamaflip, give ’em away – nothing says ‘Happy Autumn, dear friend!’ (Trans. ‘We’ve got too many of these’) more than a bag full of misshapen cucumbers; hazelnuts you can’t be faffed to crack open, and an inedible pumpkin.

Gather in all your harvest before Jack Frost gets a look in!

7. October is definitely ‘Tidy-up Time in the Playroom’ – cut back the perennials that age disgracefully (resisting any urge to reference Caroline here – oops, it just slipped out) and neaten the paths and hedges one last time – winter is all about ‘Bones’ and ‘Structure’.

While you’re rootling around in the undergrowth, do keep a look out for self-seeded little treasures – hellebores, aquilegias, rooted strands of honeysuckle or Virginia creeper…….Pot them up to grow on, tuck them into the still-warm soil where you want them to grow, or give them away. Ain’t Nature wonderful?!!

Self-sown hellebore seedlings – more of Nature’s rich bounty….

picture of Caroline

My sisters think I’m too clueless/lazy to do any winter preparation, but actually it’s just that I approach it like a normal person instead of a hyperactive obsessive.

8. Dahlias – Neither E nor L are dahlia enthusiasts but I love them. I’ll be lifting my dahlia tubers this month and, (pause for Laura to properly shudder) also those of my fantastic Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’. How did I not know until now that you can overwinter begonia tubers? Like Lady Bracknell and lost handbags, Laura is appalled one should want to grow a begonia once, let alone twice.

The chocolate and orange colours of my Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’. Soon to be tucked up for winter 🙂

9. Streptocarpus – yes it’s all change right now. While the tender outdoor plants must come into the greenhouse, the even tenderer (is that a word?) plants must come from the greenhouse into the actual house… my streptocarpus among them.

This is another plant of which my sisters don’t approve and their exasperated silence accompanied my purchase of five plugs for £10 at Chelsea two years ago – but with very little care (monthly fertilizer pill and watering restraint) surely they’re sufficiently spectacular to get an apology from the gruesome twosome?

How can you not love my Streptocarpus ‘Zoe’?

10. Paperwork – For fair-weather gardeners like me, there are now fewer and fewer days on which outdoor tasks hold huge appeal (remember I’m in the Scottish Highlands).

Now’s the time to haul out the laptop to order bulbs/hedging/bare root roses (some great offers right now); research how to grow the perfect amaryllis/paper-whites for Christmas Day (the latter enjoy a slug of gin or whisky apparently – who can blame them) and transfer your scribbled garden diaries into an Excel spreadsheet.

Yes! A few late night clicks and you’ve got this to look forward to!

Yes I know it sounds terrifying doesn’t it. But a couple of Youtube videos on Excel will see you right for this task. Dark nights are perfect for the job of transcribing your scribbled notes about what you bought and when, and typing them into an Excel file. Henceforth you’ll be able to instantly find anything you bought or planted, by simply typing it into the search box. No more leafing through indecipherable scribbles obscured by spilled coffee or indeed the favourite tipple of paper-whites.

God bless technology – it’s a miracle! Do give it a go and tell us how you get on…

NB – we’ve got some wonderful, high quality gifts in our shop – just in time to help you buy the perfect Christmas gift. Elaine and Laura are doing their ‘shopping channel’ bit here and making quite a good fist of it.

More NB – Do you assume you don’t have the right conditions to grow grapes? You may be being too pessimistic – this vine is Louise’s Great Plant this Month. Click on the image to find out why…

NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

6 replies on “10 tasks to prepare your garden for winter”

I just love reading your blog on a Saturday morning it helps me focus on a task instead of looking out and wondering what to do first! I lifted my dahlias yesterday very wet tubers so I brought them in to dry off. Thanks again.

Thanks Sue, I think we feel the same too – writing out a list helps you focus and just work your way through things instead of feeling daunted by what to do when. We’re all so lucky to have such a fascinating and rewarding hobby aren’t we – and for us it’s lovely to hear that you find it helpful. Best wishes Laura

Morning ladies, I have grown aquilegias from seed, can I plant them out now or wait until Spring.
I do enjoy your emails they are very informative.
Thank you.
Kath Peters

Hello Kath, Laura here, thanks for writing in and so glad you enjoy our blogs! and With regards to your aquilegias think it would depend a bit on what size they have reached, if they are still in small pots and looking a bit fragile I would maybe hang on until early spring (March time) but if they already seem to have a good firm rootstock (aquilegias tend to have a slightly woody top to their root system from which they put down quite tenacious tap roots) I would put them in now. I have moved to doing as much of my planting in autumn as I possibly can, to improve the plants chances of getting a good water uptake system developed through their roots before the inevitable late spring drought kicks in down here in the south. So where you live might be a factor in the decision too.
I might ask Elaine for her thoughts on this too when she gets back from her volunteer work doing maintenance work on a new tree plantation near her home town of Eastbourne this morning….
Best wishes Laura

Hi Ladies, love reading your emails and the humour between yourselves, just a quick question. I have a wisteria I would like to move, should I do it now or in spring. I am in Scotland (may make a difference to the answer). Thank you Sandra

Hello Sandra, Laura here. You don’t say how old your wisteria is; if it is more than two or three years old you may have your work cut out to move satisfactorily as they are quite deep rooted, and the damage caused by yanking them out can be terminal. Or,as happened to me once, the top growth died but it sprouted from the rootstock which was a disaster as for expediency most named nursery-grown wisterias are grafted onto a wild wisteria rootstock and without their top graft the resulting plant will be over-vigorous with undistinguished muddy coloured flowers. So if it’s an older plant then I would consider layering a stem this spring to produce a young plant with a shallower root system that will be more easily transplanted the following year.
If it’s a young wisteria, that you think you can get out in one good piece without severing too many taproots then I would try to do this in a period when the soil is neither waterlogged or frozen before Christmas if possible (I know that seems a big ask for the weather we’re getting at the moment!). Wisterias are enthusiastic growers and the sooner you can get the root system settled and established in its new position before it needs to support all that new growth in the spring, the better. Hope this helpful and good luck, Laura

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