If you thought gardeners hibernate in winter, you're wrong! There is still a lot of rich and careful gardening to be done during the colder months. Help your garden reach its full potential. In this article, Savana will let you know how to get ahead in your garden, even if you're new to gardening and don't know where to start!

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Trying gardening in winter can be daunting and uninspired, especially if you're new to gardening or just bought your first garden. Knowing how and where to start gardening is enough to keep you from trying again. If you're just trying to wait and see what comes up in your new garden, you might be missing a trick.

1. The difference between evergreen and a deciduous plant

Before we start doing anything, it's important to first determine the difference between evergreens and deciduous plants in the garden. This is because winter maintenance will apply to one more than the other!

If you don't know the difference between evergreens and deciduous plants, you may be pruning or planting over winter and doing more harm than good.

Let's look at the difference between evergreens and deciduous plants.

Evergreen plant

Evergreens keep their leaves in winter and need moisture and nutrients from the soil all year round. Their growth slows down in winter, then speeds up again in spring and summer.

Evergreens in the tropics may have large waxy leaves, such as Fatsia. Evergreens can also be found in cooler regions where the foliage has adapted to extreme drops or increases in temperature. These plants often have waxy needles that limit water evaporation/loss, or may have reproductive cones. Common examples are coniferous trees such as fir, spruce, pine. The shrubs are boxwood, mignonette, privet or Virbunum.

The misconception is that evergreens never lose their leaves. This is not correct. They usually lose their leaves every 2-3 years, but not all at once. That is, it's gradual, not winter based.

Deciduous/leaf dropping Plant

Deciduous plants dormant in winter and drop their leaves in autumn. Their water and nutrient needs are lower in winter than in spring and summer. Deciduous trees, shrubs, and plants shed their leaves to insulate them from winter weather. Let their sap recede further down to keep the temperature from dropping.

Examples of common deciduous plants are maple (maple), oak (oak - although there is an evergreen variety), beech (beech), birch (birch), wisteria, and dogwood, among others.

It's important that you identify the difference between the two, as they have different pruning and garden maintenance requirements.

2. When to prune evergreens in the garden

Evergreens should usually be left for spring or summer pruning. when they are most active. Winter pruning can cause sap loss or bleeding. If you have evergreens, such as camellias, it's best to prune them after they bloom. Even though it's midsummer.

3. When to prune or cut back deciduous plants, shrubs or trees

Deciduous plants, trees, and shrubs should usually be pruned when they are dormant for the winter. This is when their sap is low and can heal quickly. Winter pruning is the most effective time when the plant, tree or shrub is at least at risk of injury, infection or damage.

Pruning deciduous plants in spring and summer, when they are actively growing, can cause them to bleed or leak their precious phloem (food in the water/nutrient transport container), the veins that transport soluble food to the plant!

Winter is also the best time to prune because there are no foliage to hide the branch structure when pruning, so you can see exactly what you are doing. Winter pruning is much easier for the novice gardener because you can see what you're doing and it doesn't feel as drastic as pruning leaves or shrubs.

Making pruning cuts to deciduous plants

As a novice gardener, pruning can feel drastic and somewhat awkward. One thing to remember with any pruning is that although it may feel like we are removing or stopping growth, we are really just diverting the plant's energy elsewhere.

Pruning actually stimulates rather than prevents growth. So it doesn't harm the plants, but helps them transfer their energy elsewhere, usually the next branch or flower bud.

How to make correct pruning cuts

How To Prune Pruning is easy as long as you have the expertise!

  • Always only cut off non-living buds or side shoots (growing from the main branch or stem)
  • Cut off buds or side leaves at a 45-degree angle to aid water loss
  • Cut 5mm above the buds or sides – cutting higher will just kill you
  • Use a very sharp, clean secant
  • Stand back and take your time to review your progress

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4. When to cut back herbaceous perennials

Herbaceous perennials are plants that come back year after year. Every year, they grow leaves, then bloom, then set seeds, and then wither. They don't really die because the underground rhizomes keep the herb dormant. Usually, the plants don't grow back until the weather warms up. This situation is repeated every year for 20-30 years.

Herb perennials are great choices for attracting beneficial insects, bees, and birds to your garden. As they come back year after year, their value is much higher compared to the cost of annuals. You can also divide them every few years, which means more plants for free!

The best time to prune herbaceous perennials is mid-winter, when herbaceous perennials are dormant. You can see this as they usually turn brown and crisp.

When they're brown and crisp, it's time to cut them back into the ground with a sharp cut.

Cutting back herbaceous plants each winter is essential as it allows new growth to grow easily. If we don't reduce their numbers, these herbaceous perennials can become overcrowded, crowded, and even host pests like slugs or fungi due to lack of airflow.

How to cut back herbaceous plants

1. When herbs are brown and crisp, it's time to prune them in winter

2. Use a sharp wire cutter to cut them back 2 inches off the ground

3. Allows for a more open and uncluttered look and allows new growth to emerge this year

4. Compost or recycle waste

All cuttings can be easily composted on the compost pile, which means no waste ends up in landfill. By composting all cuttings and garden green waste, you help reduce our carbon footprint and also reduce the recycling of excess waste. Homemade compost is an amazing free plant feed, so it's worth considering starting a composting system somewhere in your garden, even if it's a small litter box tucked away in the back of your shed.

5. Do annual bedding plants come back?

For new gardeners, bedding such as violets, busy lychees, marigolds and crabapple is their first choice when buying new plants. These colorful, low-key small plants can add summer colors to the flower pots and containers in the garden. However, these plants, known as bedding plants, originated from the Victorian obsession with the formal beds of neatly arranged plants.

Sadly, most bedding plants are annual plants, so they can only survive for one year. That is to say, when they finish the task, they will not come back.

Surprisingly to most new gardeners, bedding or annuals are often bred to be sterile. They will not sow. This is because they bloom longer, rather than wasting energy producing pollen or seeds. So, despite their beauty, they are of no value to wildlife as most of them do not produce pollen or nectar.

The best thing to do with them is to compost them at the end of the year. So, at least when bedding plants end their life, you can recycle them. This may be because there are better herbaceous perennials available in containers and pots.

Or, why not grow your own annuals from seed?

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6. How to weed a garden in winter

As a novice gardener, you may look at your garden in winter and see no point in weeding or trying to get ahead of the game. How wrong is this view! Winter is the ideal time to get rid of those pesky perennial weeds. Perennial weeds are those that grow year after year. This allows the weeds to grow bigger and stronger before they can self-seed and spread weeds all over the garden.

By dealing with perennial weeds in winter, you can get a head start before spring begins. Spring is notorious for weeds to pop up in the garden, especially if you don't keep them under control during the winter months. So it's good advice to get rid of as many perennial weeds as possible to ensure less drama in the spring and summer garden.

Weeding in winter is easy. As long as the ground isn't frozen or waterlogged, you'll happily use a Japanese horizo, small trowel, or weeder to get rid of all of these evergreen perennial weeds quickly. Thistles, burdocks, and dandelions are all readily available.

The beauty of dealing with weeds in winter is that any other deciduous shrubs or herbs will have withered. Lets you easily spot evergreen perennial weeds!

7. Can I mow my lawn in winter?

If your lawn is getting a bit bad from wear and tear, it can be frustrating to know what you can and can't do to your lawn in the winter. You've probably done a lot of online research or read books on lawn care and lawns. Many different guides will tell you many different things, the key to winter lawn maintenance is the weather.

Many of the guides were written decades ago, when long, cold winters were common. That's why it's always recommended to keep your lawn quiet until spring.

However, as we are experiencing milder and warmer winters, recommendations need to reflect this. With the tips below, you'll be able to see what lawn care you can do in winter.

What can I do to my lawn in winter?

As long as the ground is not frozen, waterlogged or at risk of frost, you can do the following lawn care in winter:

  • Mowing on high settings – setting 4 or higher
  • Trim your lawn with a trimmer or half-moon edger
  • Aerate your lawn with a hollow aerator or garden fork in late winter (February onwards)
  • Mulch or cover with a small amount of peat-free compost or sharp sand
  • weeding with a weeder or hori-hori

What lawn care should I avoid in winter?

Lawn care should not be done in winter due to the possibility of damage or breakdown:

  • Mow the lawn only in spring or fall when lawn growth is active
  • Laying Sod – Chances of laying sod correctly are low with frost and temperatures
  • Sowing lawn seeds – cooler temperatures mean less likely to germinate
  • Fertilize or feed the lawn - it's a waste of time, seeps into waterways and won't benefit the lawn as much as spring

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8. Planning your garden in winter

Another fun and exciting task is planning the garden for next year. The great thing about this is that you can do it in the warmth of your own home or couch! More often than not, as a novice gardener, you can't wait to run to the garden center and buy plants. Lots of plants!

However, you may find that when you bring them home, you have no idea how to arrange them or where they would fit best. This is where winter garden planning can save you time and money.

By sitting down and thinking about (where the sun rises and sets), your soil type and what kind of plants you plan to grow, you can avoid buying the wrong plants or making costly mistakes.

When planning a new garden for winter, be sure to consider the following:

  • Attempts to identify all shrubs, trees and plants currently growing
  • Wait until mid-spring to dig up plants, as this will tell you what may be emerging
  • remove any perennial weeds between plants
  • Take a picture every month to check progress
  • Prune existing trees at the right time to rejuvenate them (evergreens in spring, deciduous trees in winter
  • Make a list of plants that are suitable for your garden's appearance and soil type, so you can avoid buying the wrong plants at the garden center
  • The tools you need for workout beginners
  • Enjoy the process!


We hope you now understand why winter is not the time for garden hibernating ninjas! There are many things to do to ensure your garden looks great for the year ahead. By following these winter garden maintenance tips, you can ensure your garden is ready to put on a wonderful display next spring.


December 21, 2022

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