What to prune and when
The biggest job in the garden over winter is pruning, which is best done during the cool months when most plants are dormant. Exactly when this happens depends on the plant – for example, hydrangeas shouldn’t be pruned until they start to bud, so you can see where the flowers will come through – but also on the tastes of the client. To illustrate, we like to wait until closer to spring before cutting back some of the herbaceous perennials, as many ornamental grasses brown off over winter and can look amazing. Though these rusty hues aren’t to everyone’s taste, they can be a gorgeous feature in a winter garden.
Winter is high season for tree pruning, particularly deciduous trees. Bare of leaves, it’s much easier to see any dead wood, hanging or rubbing branches, and it’s also easier to see the general structure of the tree, so you can sculpt it to the desired shape. Being dormant, the trees are also less likely to react by sending off water shoots – undesirable reactive growth.
Gardening through winter
There’s definitely less active gardening to be done in winter, but keen gardeners won’t be twiddling their thumbs. While most plants are dormant and not getting up to much, winter-flowering plants will be hard at work adding much-needed colour to the garden. These plants will want fertilizing, as will citrus trees, which like fertilizer year-round. Opt for liquid or water-soluble fertilizers, which are better suited to the cooler soil temperatures and will be taken up more quickly by the plants.
Lawns are far less demanding at this time of year and need mowing far less, as the grasses we use in Sydney, like buffalo, are dormant in the winter. Mow them on a higher setting than you would in summer and use the extra time to keep an eye out for weeds, like winter grass, and fungal diseases, like dollar spot.
The whole garden, from lawns to garden beds, will require less water at this time of the year. Adjust your irrigation, if it’s on a timer, to avoid wasting water, but also to avoid damaging any succulents or other dry climate plants, which won’t cope well with the extra water.
If you’re looking to fill some spare time during the winter months, this time of year is great for catching up on general maintenance or planning a new project. Keeping your tools clean, sharpened and in tip-top shape is a good idea at any time of the year, but winter is great for any bigger tasks – if you’ve been putting off getting garden machinery serviced, this is the best time of year to get it done fast before the spring rush!
It’s also a good time to start thinking about the shape of the garden and any new structures you might want to build or major changes you want to make. We’re blessed in Sydney in that even the coldest months of the year are still warm enough to get out and get stuck into an outdoor project or two.