Growbag Blog

Want to prepare for winter, but not sure how?


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 light up until December and no one had heard of the jet stream).

But all that has now changed and we live in precarious climatic anarchy in which sunny, crisp autumn days, all mists and mellow fruitfulness, have been replaced by smorgasbord of remnant hurricanes borne on subtropical vectors interspersed with ‘weatherbombs’, (met office code for ‘We didn’t see that coming!’)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. You will look pretty silly wrapping your banana plants in the wire netting and straw edifice that is apparently required, whilst still dressed in shorts.

But we are creatures of habit and once the clocks change some primeval instinct to prepare for winter hibernation kicks in and has to be sated. So no matter that the night temperatures are still hitting double figures this weekend, and plants like Louise’s Great Plant this Month are just coming into their own, I will be dragging in pots of citrus trees, my beloved Tibouchina (now 10 years old but still flowers all winter) and my collection of scented geraniums. Surely the most evocative of all scents, I can guarantee that for anyone who touches their leaves, the next phrase will be ‘ooommm, I remember  great aunt Mabel/Doris/Gertrude used to grow these’.

Tibouchina – safely inside for the winter now

I have already lifted the one year old Echium pinananas that I am growing experimentally this year (mostly just to annoy Elaine as she was very dismissive of my admiration of them at Edinburgh Botanical Garden last autumn) They were already huge plants but turned out to have minuscule roots when I dug them up and stuffed them into hessian sacks to over winter in a frost free glasshouse – and now look simply dreadful so I suspect that as usual Elaine will have the last laugh.

My echiums appear to change averse


I am more than happy to leave Laura swaddling tatty Echium seedlings in hessian sacks -sometimes I wonder if some people have too much time on their hands.  All over the country, gardeners are dragging pots about and digging things up to protect them through the winter. Ovid said wisely, and with a nice touch of assonance ‘nitimur in vetitum’ – we strive after what we cannot have. In his case, it was mostly other men’s wives, I’m afraid, but for us, nowadays….an honourable path through the Brexit morass perhaps? Motorways with less than 10 miles of roadworks? Or tropical plants not at all suited to these damp windy isles.

I am lucky; here on the South coast, damaging winter frosts are pretty rare, and I can usually leave outside anything of borderline hardiness.  Like Laura, I will be bringing in all the pelargoniums to over-winter in a glassed-in porch, as much to get them out of the wet as the cold.  

Tempting as it is to leave the fallen leaves on the borders (‘nice cosy bed for the dozing perennials’ etc.), the colourful leafy counterpane quickly becomes a des.res. for trillions of slugs and snails, so it’s off to the leaf-bin with them, to rot down. Our small pond has its custom-made chicken-wire frame already in place to prevent fallen leaves from fouling up the water, the compost heaps have been turned, with the most mature one used as a mulch for some of the beds.

Lovely leaves but a haven for slugs

It’s low-level stuff, I grant you. Planting out some bare-rooted wallflowers, lifting and dividing a few perennials, sowing some sweetpeas seeds, feeling lazy but guilty about the shambles we laughingly term the garden shed and all the garden implements I should be cleaning and sharpening ….that pretty much sums up late October round here. The downside of our mild climate is of course that the weeds keep growing.

Pond cover applied to prevent leaves clogging up the water


Well actually it’s been a little too inclement to prepare for winter here today – I don’t engage in windspeeds over 20mph. Instead I’ve been to Binny Plants to stock up on ever more robust plants…..Rosa glauca; Aruncus and Chelone obliqua. Be afraid Mother Nature, I’m squaring up.

I know in the balmy south there is a fondness for gazing out at seedheads during the winter but here I chop back dead foliage in herbaceous borders to ground level (where I’m guaranteed to find my glasses – reading and drinking; long lost trowels and once, my passport) and phoning Laura for advice.
Lobelia Tupa, exasperation is likely to be its cause of death this winter

You see I agonise over what to do with plants that need a little bit of nursing. For example – Lobelia tupa (Devil’s Tobacco). It’s done wonderfully well this summer and I love everything about it.

The RHS says it’s hardy to H4 (minus 5 – minus 10), but what if we get one of those freak spells when the weather goes t*ts up and its minus 25 at midnight? Should I dig it up now and put it in a pot? (might die – Laura’s Echiums definitely have); should I chop it down and cover it in mulch (might die – it’s never been cut back); should I leave it and cover it in fleece (might die – fleece will blow off). Going by experience, the Lobelia is sensing the aura of ineptitude and is determining to turn up its toes right now to minimise its suffering.

If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3Growbags, just pop your email address in 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.

4 replies on “Want to prepare for winter, but not sure how?”

That is wonderful – thank you for saying that, Susie! It is indeed part of our plan that if our readers don’t agree with one of the sisters, then they might well agree with one of the other two – you see, all bases covered! Elaine

Great,as usual.No time for long comment as off to lift my cannas,fleece whatever and oh,lift an echium….

Thanks Irene! Pleased to hear that our column is giving people some handy reminders, though of course we all forget to do a lot more than we actually remember – it’s lucky that the garden is often very forgiving……..Elaine

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