Winter is often considered to be a quiet time in the garden where the riotous colours of spring and summer give way to brown and deep shadows. Indeed for many plants, it is a dormant period and you can see this in the way trees and shrubs shed their leaves during the autumn because of reduced winter light levels. Leaves are like solar panels for trees. Sunlight is a major component in the process of photosynthesis which is the means by which trees, shrubs and plants gain sugar for energy.
But your garden in winter is by no means a dead place. The plants are still alive, living off energy that they stored in their roots during the long summer days, ready to bounce into action at the first hint of spring.
"Soil is everything" so Australian Horticulturist Angus Stewart says referring to the most important element of your small space garden. Soil which feeds and supports all of your plants. Even in the middle of winter, the soil thrives with living, breathing, developing microbes. Some of which can stand freezing temperatures and even a thick covering of snow.
There’s been research which suggests that snow can affect the soils micro-organisms and the storage of nitrogen within the soil. The stored nitrogen is necessary for your plants to get a good start to their spring growth. It is the major nutrient required for vegetative, or leafy growth.
Worms, also vital for good soil, are not so active. Some species burrow deeper into the soil and hibernate for some of the winter. Some lay eggs that are encased in a small cocoon. These cocoons are better protected than adult worms against the very low temperatures of winter. But in any case there will be some worm activity on most winter days, unless your ground is waterlogged and has frozen.
I thought I'd share with you my top 7 winter gardening tips that work for me, or that I've considered for you, in my prolific balcony garden:
If you live in a frost or ice prone area you may need to cover your plants with fleece to protect them. Some potted plants may be brought indoors but kept in a sunny spot, away from drafts and too much heating.
If you want to prune to stimulate new growth its recommended to prune your trees during late winter and very early spring. The more the tree is pruned back in the winter months the more vigorously it will flourish in springtime. Some plants such as capsicums can be pruned back and "over-wintered" rather than pulled out and discarded.
The beauty of a container garden is that when the long shadows of Winter fall on your small space garden, you can shift your containers to sunnier areas.
Root Pouch grow bags are easy and light to shift with their two, sturdy industrially stitched handles. Creating different looking spaces with shelving, milk crates and stands allows a small surface area to accommodate more containers to share the sunshine.
Typically we get a bit more rainfall in the colder months and this Autumn-Winter period has been reasonably wet. This has meant very wet soil for most of the time.
Check containers are draining well and for anaerobic conditions (you'll know there is no life by the bad smell). If present, move your containers undercover to allow the soil to dry out a little. Wet soil will also breed fungus gnats that are often brought in in potting mixes. If you're in a frost or ice prone area you may need to cover your plants with fleece to protect them.
With the drop in temperatures, you’ll also notice a drop in the rate of decomposition in your compost pile. This means that any materials you add in the winter will likely sit there until things warm up in the spring.
Compost worms are slower and less hungry in the colder weather so be mindful of how much food waste you place in your worm bin at this time as it will not be consumed as quickly (if at all).
If you have freezer space, a good tip is to blend the food up and freeze into "bricks" and use them to both feed and cool the worms in the hotter months (that's if you have the freezer space!). If this is not possible, consider signing up to an online share-waste scheme where you can donate your scraps to someone with a larger composting capability or perhaps they have chooks!
Whilst I've just talked about winter as a sleepy, quieter period there is still a huge array of vegetables that can be grown. If seed sowing is daunting for you, the garden centre will have an array of seedlings that will thrive in these cold months. Again, planted in grow bags or containers, the young seedlings can be protected very easily by simply moving them to warm, sheltered positions.
There are plenty of flowering plants that can withstand cooler temperatures so pops of colour are absolutely possible on drab, cold days!
Polyanthus, Daphne ( an old childhood favourite of mine), Winter Rose, Primroses, Paper Daisy, Lavender...the list goes on.
Don't forget that bare rooted plants are ideally potted up in the winter so it's the ideal time to get those roses potted up! Again, potting up in a grow bag or container means when the frost or rain hits, the plant can be brought in under cover to protect the pretty blooms.
Some simple words of truth about maximising your space in a small space garden situation. Sharing the love of small space growing with the clients of APIA Australia recently talking about how to build a thriving garden on your balcony. The most common gardening myth is that you need space to build a garden - let's bust that myth!