How to prepare your garden to survive the cold winter months

Make sure you've prepared your garden for the cold winter months with our top autumn gardening tips.
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The new gardening year starts right here. October, while the soil is still warm, is the best time to plant trees, shrubs and springflowering bulbs, as well as move any plants that would be happier in another part of the garden. For this last task, follow garden guru Christopher Lloyd's sage advice to dig up the plant, move it and settle it in before it realises what's happening.

Preparing your garden for winter
© Gap Photos/Rob Whitworth
The lacy leaves of Acer palmatum Osakazuki turn fire engine red from early autumn

Prepare your garden for winter
© Gap Photo/Rob Whitworth
The fruity-scented Lady Emma Hamilton rose is compact enough to suit raised beds or any large container
This is also the time to get the garden — and your containers — in shape for the months to come. Clean up beds, raking off leaves, converting them to next year's valuable mulch by simply stashing them in made-for-purpose sacks. Don't be too tidy: leave seedheads for the birds. Above all, make sure there is always a potful of flowering pansies or berrying skimmia on the patio table, beckoning you outside — and providing an inviting view from the house.

Roses, whether in ground or container, need to be tidied up, but save the pruning until early spring. For now, cut back long, wayward stems so the bush doesn't shift around in winter winds, making it unstable, and pick up every last bit of blackspotted foliage around the base to avoid overwintering disease for next year.

Reward your good work by ordering a few stunning bare-root roses to arrive this winter. Top of my list is the tangerine-tinted, fruity-scented Lady Emma Hamilton, compact enough to suit my raised beds or, in fact, any large container. See other English beauties at

Clip herbs into shape so they don't get too leggy, snipping off spent flower stems, but not cutting into old wood, from which they won't regrow. You can spice up winter salads and stir-fries with oriental leaves and mustard greens if you sow the seed now, and cover with fleece. Garlic will grow in containers as well as the ground, but buy bulbs for the purpose: three cloves per 15cm pot, pushing them 3-4cms deep, root end down.

Preparing your garden for winter
© Gap Photos/Maxine Adcock
Clear leaves into biodegradable jute leaf sacks which, left for a year, will break down and produce useful leafmould mulch
If you have autumn-fruiting raspberries, cut the canes back to ground level to encourage new ones to fruit next year. If you don't have any, why not plant some now? New variety Joan J produces masses of large, delicious berries for weeks on end, needs no staking or special treatment, and will even thrive in a tub on the terrace. Buy canes from

Clear out has-been plants from containers and scrub pots clean before storing them, so they don't become winter retreats for snails, or broken victims of frost. Repot this summer's lily bulbs in a fresh compost mix of John Innes No 2 mixed with multi-purpose compost, topping with a layer of grit. Hold back a large container to create a succession of flowers for next spring — layer first tulips, then dwarf daffodils, then crocus or grape hyacinth into compost, and top with grit. Cap the pot with a secure cage of chickenwire to keep squirrels out. Try growing one new bulb in a pot, such as ravishing winter iris that flower as early as January, and can be bought indoors to be appreciated at close quarters. Find a great selection at

You need at least one tree or shrub that will give you a shot of glorious autumn colour, such as Japanese dogwood Cornus kousa or Cercis canadensis Forest Pansy, both suited to small gardens. However, if you have space for just one stand-out shrub or small tree, in border or container, make it a fine-foliaged Japanese maple. Acer palmatum Osakazuki has exquisite deep green, lacy leaves that, from early autumn, turn a spectacular fire engine red.

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