December 3rd: Winter Cleaning
December isn’t the most exciting or encouraging month in the gardening year, but it’s the right time to clear the decks ready for the new year. Indoors we refer to spring cleaning, but in the garden the best time to focus on hygiene and tidiness is late autumn or early winter.
Since we’ve become much more mindful of attracting wildlife into our gardens the tightrope we tread between doing good and perpetuating bad has become much narrower. On one hand piles of dead and decaying leaves are good for birds, worms and the many beneficial insects that inhabit our gardens, on the other hand they shelter gardeners’ foes such as slugs and snails. In general one should remove blankets of fallen leaves from the crowns of any plants that stay green over winter, especially those from Mediterranean climes. It’s wise to keep paths, cold-frames and greenhouse glass free from slippery, light-reducing foliage.
Greenhouses require a good scrub before winter comes to reduce the chance of pest infestations and to minimise outbreaks of grey mould. I choose a mild day so that my plants are not shocked by having to stand outside for a few hours while I do this. Good ventilation on warmer days will help, as will diligent removal of fallen leaves. I try to minimise watering and avoid splashing foliage at all costs. Winter is also the best time to clean garden tools since these can also be responsible for spreading disease. I am woefully bad at doing this, so, do as I say, not as I do!
Before I bring any plants indoors I go over each one with a fine-tooth comb to make sure I am not inadvertently giving some little blighter a 5 star, all-inclusive winter break. I found a slug in my bath sponge this morning, which even for me is a step too close to nature. TFG.