A winter garden may look a little tired, a little drab, certainly not the showpiece it blossoms into in spring and summer. In particular, your vegetable patch is likely to be a shadow of its former summer self – perhaps you still have some spinach, silver beet, broccoli or some other members of the brassica family producing winter greens for your table, but the abundance of the warmer months is just a fond memory in July and August.
This quiet period in your garden’s yearly cycle, though, does not mean you can rest on your laurels an absolve yourself of all garden duties. On the contrary, as we approach spring there is plenty to do to get your garden in tip top shape for the approaching growing season.
If you have a glasshouse in your garden, winter is a great time to give it a thorough cleaning in readiness for spring.
Check the structure itself – are there any cracked or broken panes that need replacing? Is the putty sound and does it provide a good seal? Do all the louvers and vents function properly?
One of the essentials of glasshouse success is a thorough sterilisation prior to the growing season. Sterilising all areas of the glasshouse will eliminate pests and diseases which could wreck your plants in the coming, warmer months.
Open beds in your glasshouse should have their soil changed or replenished during winter and any pots in the glasshouse should receive the same attention.
If you have an in ground or above ground watering system, winter is an ideal time to check that it is in good working order and perform any necessary maintenance. Check that there are no leaks in the pipes or joints, ensure all nozzles are unblocked and, if you use automatic timers, ensure that the batteries in these devices are fresh.
Compost and Preparing Your Soil
With spring a month or two off it’s a good idea to start preparing the soil in your open planting beds. Dig in generous amounts of compost and leave the beds exposed to the winter weather.
If you have clay soil, cow pats and manure will improve it by adding humus to the soil structure.
You can make use of all those autumn leaves that litter your garden by digging them into your compost heap at the end of autumn. With the accelerated decomposition that occurs in a compost heap the leaves will decay twice as fast and be ready for use as compost at the beginning of spring.
Winter is also the time to add fertiliser and lime to your soil (depending, of course, on the plants you plan to grow).
The end of winter is the time for planning your new vegetable garden. Decide what foods you want to grow in the coming season. Which plants can you fully consume yourself? And if you have a surplus, are there neighbours or friends who will accept the occasional bale of spinach or shopping bag full of spuds?
You may find it more efficient and economical to coordinate your vegetable growing with that of a neighbour. By swapping produce you’ll both spend less time and money on the crops you grow.
As spring approaches you’ll want to start laying down the crops you hope to feast on in the next few months. Here are a few common food crops you could consider:
- If you plan to grow cabbage, celery, silver beet, spinach, lettuce, onions etc. from seed, plant the seeds now in seed trays so that young plants will be ready for planting in spring.
- Seed potatoes can also be planted in winter for spring crops.
- For dessert dishes it’s the right time to plant strawberries and rhubarb.
- In warmer areas carrots, beetroot and peas can be sown directly into soil in the last part of winter.
- It’s also a good time to plant citrus trees.
The relative scarcity of food during the winter months makes pests even more ravenous and consequently puts your plants in greater danger from attack. Protect all seedlings and young plants from slugs and snails with an appropriate slug-killer.
Winter dampness can promote fungal diseases so spray winter vegetable plants and deciduous trees with an anti-fungal treatment.
The Bounty of Spring
By maintaining your garden through the colder months and preparing it adequately in the lead-up to spring, you’ll be ensuring healthy, bountiful crops of all those vegetables you love to eat.
Learn more about getting your garden ready for spring with this video.