Winter Garden Survival Guide
13th November 2015
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A very cold or wet and windy winter can take its toll on our precious trees, flowers and shrubs so here are a few hints, tips and ideas that  will help your trees, plants and shrubs survive another winter.

Exotic Plants

Exotic plants have become extremely popular in recent years mainly due to their showy flowers and architectural shape. Originating from tropical climates, a cold winter will make it much harder for them to survive but given some protection they will burst back to life in spring.

Tree Ferns

If you live somewhere mild or your garden is protected and fairly frost free, to protect the crown of tree ferns wedge some straw in the top of the plant for warm insulation. For ferns in exposed gardens, fronds need to be pulled up vertically, tied together with twine and then wrapped with a horticultural fleece, using more twine to hold securely in place. This will help stop the foliage from browning and dying off.


For flexible leaved palms, protect the central growing point by pulling the leaves up into a point, then tie together with twine. This method can also be used for the stiff leaved varieties but you will need to protect your hands by wearing gloves. If you are unable to manage this due to the leaves being too rigid, protect with straw and a fleece instead.

Potted Succulents

Any cold snaps can quickly turn succulents and cacti into mush. Try to move any reasonably sized pots to a porch, windowsill or a warm greenhouse, otherwise, any that need to remain outside should have their leaves wrapped in a horticultural fleece.

Winter rain can all too easily cause rotting to roots but building a simple shelter around the pot will greatly help. Place a pile of bricks on either side of the pot, making sure that this structure is taller than the actual plant itself, followed by a sheet of rigid plastic on top and you are done.


Cut back the leaves and flower stalks of any tender bulbs you have growing in pots, such as lilies and dahlias, leaving about 3cm of growth. They should then be moved to sheltered, warmer spots such as a shed, porch or greenhouse for the winter.

Any tender bulbs growing in soil should be fine if you live in a mild area, just cover them with a thick layer of bark or garden compost for added protection. If you would rather bring them in, cut back any leaves and lift with a fork, removing as much soil as possible and allowing to dry out.  Store them in trays of clean compost until spring.

Trees And Shrubs

We tend to think of trees and shrubs as being tough but a harsh winter can cause problems, especially to any that have been recently planted but luckily there are some very simple ways to protect them. This is also an ideal time to prune any shrubs and trees to improve their shape and keep them within bounds.

Newly Planted Shrubs and Trees

Any bare roots trees and shrubs that are planted in autumn or winter will be vulnerable to the wind. They have not yet had the chance to anchor themselves into the ground and may be rocked backwards and forwards, resulting in them becoming loose, therefore make regular checks of any newly planted trees or shrubs and if necessary firm them back into place.

Cold blasts can cause wind scorch and dry soil to evergreens. A cage like temporary shelter will protect them and is easy to construct. This can be done by driving four or more tree stakes into the ground around the plants and then attaching a length of wind break netting to the outside.

To prevent soil from drying out too quickly and to help retain moisture, mulch over the soil of newly planted shrubs and trees during autumn or mid spring when the soil is still warm and moist.

Shrubs and Trees Already Established

Tree stakes help newly planted trees become established in the soil and as a general rule should only be kept in place for about 18 months. Any tree that has not firmly anchored itself after that length of time may have something wrong with it or another cause may be the way it was originally planted.

Check the stakes and ties of any trees and shrubs that still need them, tightening any that have become loose, to prevent damage to the bark as it rubs against the tie. This is also a good time to check for any ties that have become too tight and need loosening, an expanding trunk can have its growth restricted by ties cutting into the stems.


A lot of snow settling on bare branches or on the top of shrubs may cause them to snap with the weight. Remove by gently shaking and for tree branches, knock with a cane.


Winter is an ideal time to prune any deciduous trees and shrubs. Without foliage, branches that spoil the shape of the tree or any wayward shoots can clearly be seen and dealt with.

Overgrown shrubs will benefit from being thinned out, not only improving shape but allowing more light and air through.  Take this opportunity to also remove any dead, dying or diseased branches.

Care Of Winter Pots

Whilst we spend a lot of time indoors keeping nice and warm during the winter months, spare a thought for plants growing in pots outside, it can be a really tough time for them. Long spells of chilly weather or a sudden cold snap may cause damage to tender shoots and roots, with rain also causing root damage as the compost can become waterlogged.

Protection for Pots from Frost

The sides of pots, especially if made of terracotta, can easily be penetrated by frost killing off the roots.

If a cold snap is predicted, place any plants that may be at risk from frost in a garage, shed or even better, if you have one, a greenhouse. For any pots that are too big or heavy to move, then bubble wrap or hessian around the pots and secured in place with garden twine will make an ideal insulation. Tip, when potting up any future plants, place a sheet of bubble wrap around the inside of the pot before adding the compost.

If you have a lot of pots, all this wrapping can become a huge chore. To make life a bit easier, place all the pots against the wall of your house as this will usually be a slightly warmer area and by packing all the pots as tightly together as possible, they will help to insulate each other. You can then run a single strip of insulating material of your choice around the outside of the whole group.

If you have any tender plants that come from tropical climates, straw to the tops of these plants will help protect them, then insulate the pots with bubble wrap or a horticultural fleece.

Pots and Winter Rain

Puddles that build up around the base of pots, wet, soggy compost and excessive moisture from winter rain can all cause roots to become starved of oxygen, with the roots becoming rotten and eventually the plant will die. The best solution is to always buy pots with drainage holes in the bottom. Filling them with the correct compost will also help, with most preferring a well drained loam based compost.

Pot feet, which are available from most garden centres, will also help. Raising pots off the ground allows excess moisture to escape through the pots drainage holes and also provides some air circulation to the plants root system.

Need a bit more help? Ask GraftinGardeners to give you a helping hand. Their services cover all garden related issues from small shrubs to towering trees. A friendly phonecall won't hurt!

About the Author

Andrew M

Member since: 10th July 2012

The Best of Wimbledon and Merton helps to bring all the best local information to all local residents and businesses throughout Wimbledon and Merton. We also bring trusted businesses and the community...

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