Winter in the garden is all about planning and preparing for the year ahead. January and February are by far the coldest months here at Le Jardin Perdu. Nestled at 800m in the Parc Naturel Régional de Millevaches, freezing temperatures, frosts and snow are the norm. Winter gardening can be a bit of a challenge!
In order to be ready, whatever the weather, here’s our list of gardening jobs that can be done throughout January and February. Jobs that can be tackled outside if the sun is shining or inside if you’re under rain, frost or a thick blanket of snow!
Winter in the garden: Outdoor jobs
Cut back ornamental grasses.
Before new growth appears, cut back the old foliage of ornamental grasses. In our garden we have a large, statuesque Zebra grass, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’. Ornamental grasses add height and structure to a winter garden. They can also provide insects with shelter and nesting sites over the winter months. Although this is a job best done during the winter months, try to leave it until as late as possible.
Clear away dead foliage and cut back perennial plants.
Whilst some people cut back perennials as part of their late autumn garden tidy up, we leave as many of ours in place as possible until late winter. Dead flower heads add interest to the winter garden and also provide food and shelter for birds and insects.
Which plants get the chop in late autumn and which make it until late winter? Well that tends to depend upon how they’re looking. Some perennials flop to the ground, others don’t! Here Hosta, Sedum and Astilbe are usually left in place until winter. Whilst Day Lilies and Crocosmia are cut back in late autumn. If leaving the job until late winter, be careful not to cut into any of the new growth!
Keep an eye on Hellebore.
I love Hellebores! We have clumps of both Helleborus niger and Helleborus x hybridus dotted around the garden. These brave, delicate perennials flower in late winter. To ensure that you can fully appreciate their beauty when little else is blooming, remove older, larger leaves when the flower buds start to appear. Hellebores are also prone to disease. Remove any leaves developing black marks and put them in the dust bin. Do not add them to your compost heap.
Prune pear and apple trees.
Remove some of the oldest branches as the best fruiting wood is between 1-4 years old. Aim to create an open centre which will improve ripening and air movement around the fruit, thus discouraging disease.
Clean empty plant pots.
If like us you have a micro station d’epuration or fosse septic rather than being on mains drains this becomes an outdoor job. We have a petite source which runs through our garden, so this is made use of for washing plant pots. Definitely not a job for a freezing day!
Check Dahlia tubers.
My success with overwintering Dahlia tubers is somewhat hit or miss. Last year I decided not to dig them up and they survived fine in the ground. This year I have dug them up, so as in previous years, no doubt they will not survive! If you have removed your dahlia tubers from the ground, make sure that they are dry and showing no signs of rot.
I’ve already cleared out the greenhouse, but have not yet cleaned the glass. It’s important to keep the glass clean in order to maximise sunlight and to keep diseases at bay. Again this job will be relegated to a warmer day!
Winter in the garden: Indoor jobs
Plan the vegetable plot for the year ahead.
This is one of my favourite jobs. It involves lots of paper and coloured pencils. It’s like being a little kid again! Our vegetable plot isn’t very large so it’s a challenge each year to decide which vegetables should be planted where to ensure that crops are well rotated. It’s important to rotate crops to avoid the build up of pests and diseases in the soil and also to make the best use of nutrients.
Sort through and order new seeds.
I love doing this job on a cold Sunday afternoon with the wood burning stove blazing, a black and white movie on the television, seeds spread across the rug and perhaps a cheeky glass of wine to hand! Make sure you check the planting dates on all your seed packets.
I haven’t bought my seed potatoes yet but I have already decided on which varieties I will be growing this year. Amandine, a first early which is ready to harvest 80-90 days from planting and Ratte, a delicious second early ready 100-120 days after planting. Ratte potatoes are renowned for their distinctive chestnut flavour, delicious! For more information on French potato varieties, you can read our earlier blog Get Chitting. We use egg boxes to stand our seed potatoes in and we’ve already started collecting them in readiness. Leave potatoes to chit in a cool, bright, frost-free place.
I hope that this will give you a few ideas for jobs you can being doing this winter in your garden; come rain, shine or snow!
We’d love to know what jobs you do in your garden in January and February. Whether you be in France or further afield, please do leave your comments in the box below.