Maintaining a winter garden

With winter set in and colder temperatures, keeping the garden looking good takes a little more preparation and effort, says Adrian Goslett, CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa.  He notes that kerb appeal is particularly important when trying to sell a property and an aesthetically pleasing garden can be the difference between finding the right buyer or not.
Many people believe that the kitchen and bathroom are what sells a home, but the garden is the very first element of any building that a potential buyer sees first. Craig de Necker, managing director of The Friendly Plant, award-winning garden design specialists, says that winter-flowering annuals can be planted to add splashes of colour to the garden in winter. This will also help to pull attention away from what may be an otherwise drab winter garden. Planting annuals will take a relatively small amount of time and effort and can make all the difference when trying to create a pleasing first impression.

“As the saying goes, first impressions count, which is very true when it comes to selling a property, so it is vital that the garden looks its best despite the colder weather,” says Goslett. “A home’s outward appearance can affect its perceived value and can attract or turn away potential buyers, so it is always a good idea to have it in its best shape throughout the year.”
Here are a few tips for homeowners to have their winter gardens ready for show day:
Plan ahead

The colder months are an ideal time to evaluate the garden’s design and remove or move plants to another location. However, as with any project it is advisable to formulate a plan before breaking ground and making drastic changes. Research the types of plants that will thrive during the winter months and strategically plan a winter garden so that the garden will enjoy colour and interest all year round. Hardier shrubs will do really well during the winter months as they often use this time to grow larger root systems. When planning your garden, ensure that the goal is to protect the more fragile plants and make the garden easier to work in during the spring months. “On the Highveld, winter provides the ideal time to fix water features and garden-related construction as there is no risk of rain,” says de Necker.
Much more mulch

According to Goslett, adding a layer of mulch to the garden beds is an important part of the winter garden preparation process. He explains that mulch is often in the form of leaves or bark chips that can help to insulate plants and protect them from the severe temperature changes during the winter months. Hardier plants should be able to handle the winter months without mulch, but it is a necessity for the more fragile and delicate plants. Plants housed in smaller containers should be moved to a sunroom or indoors, while mulch can be used on plants in larger unmovable containers.
Plant protection

De Necker says that care should be taken in winter to water the garden less frequently. Watering in winter should be undertaken in the early morning in order to prevent freezing due to low overnight temperatures. Young trees and less hardy shrubs should be covered with frost guard material or hessian in order to lessen the potential damage of frost and severe cold.

With an abundance of fallen leaves, winter is the perfect time to start a compost heap or add to an existing one. While winter is in full swing, compost is continuing to decompose and get ready for use during the spring. Goslett says that homeowners can keep the garden neat and well-kept by collecting the leaves and removing weeds. He notes that while the leaves will make an excellent addition to the compost heap, the weeds should be thrown away so that they don’t cause further problems at a later stage.
According to de Necker, care should be taken to remove leaves from under trees. Lawn such as kikuyu does not grow easily in shady areas and where leaves gather under trees. “It is better practice to make use of a leaf blower (some models include a vacuum mulcher) rather than a rake, as routine raking tends to reduce lawn growth leading to receding lawns and large bald areas,” says de Necker.

Prune and shape trees and shrubs

Now that the leaves have fallen off the trees and shrubs, it is far easier to prune them and remove any dead or diseased branches to get them ready for spring. Winter gives homeowners a chance to see the shape of the trees and cut them into the shape that they want, lightening areas in the garden that are too heavily shaded during the warmer seasons. Evergreen trees may still have their leaves, but can also be cut back to look neater and tidy up the look of the garden.

Introduce hardscape features

Hardscape features such as a paved seating area or a cobblestone footpath will reduce the number of areas in the garden that require watering, while adding to the aesthetic appeal and overall feel of the garden.  These features can become functional, yet interesting focal points that add character and are central to the design of the garden. The lie of land may influence placement and design of hardscape features, particularly if drainage and water flow are affected. De Necker warns homeowners to consider placement of water features carefully as shady areas are typically treed areas, which will lead to a high maintenance situation as the falling leaves can lead to a blocked pump. Water glistens in the sun, which makes sunny spots a great place for installing a water feature.

“Spending some extra time in the garden and properly preparing for winter will ensure that the garden enhances the look of the property during the colder months and gets the garden ready for spring. A little preparation now will go a long way to keeping the garden beautiful the whole year round,” Goslett concludes.

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