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They are dormant, not dead – take good care of your plants in winter


Beautiful Gardens of Doon – 59

“Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle … a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.” – Barbara Winkler


French existentialist writer and philosopher Albert Camus once said, “In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.” An apt thought that applies to winter garden. It’s a time when plants go torpid. And in an immuring state, they silently pass the tough phase, prepare themselves to bounce back when the weather improves.

Plants are smart. They do not waste their energy in fighting the frost, rather they lie low, conserve it for better time when favorable weather conditions set in to spread their wings. Harsh winter is a matter of survival. If plants have been provided good nutrition before the onset of morbid weather, they will sail through the severity of bitter chill. This does not mean that a gardener can rest during this time. There is always something to do, to prepare well for spring.

1. Move your plants into a verandah or shift them to a place where they are protected from frost, yet receive good light. Clean any dust gathered on the leaves so that the leaves can absorb better light.

2. Water your plants well before the frost, either during the day or in the morning. Always remember plants do not die due to lack of water rather they perish because of overwatering. Test the top layer of the soil and water accordingly. Many plants need to dry completely before being hydrated again. Check the drainage hole. It should not be clogged.

3. Many house plants get a burnt look due to chilly winds. Make sure that the delicate ones are kept under the bigger pots or provide a shield as a curtain. Pull it down to insulate the verandah.

4. Winter is the best time to prune the plants. Give them the desired shape. When weather turns little warmer, a fresh and vigorous sprout will be expected. Water less during this time.

5. The garden may look inactive, but lot of activity is going on few feet under the ground. Be mindful of that. The seeds, roots, bulbous plants, microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, amoeba are on their job. Handle gently.

6. Add organic matter to the soil during the growing season to promote root growth, in a way prepare them for winter blues. Apply mulch well in advance of winter freeze to help insulate roots. Mulch comprises chopped leaves, straw, grass clippings, compost, wood chips, shredded bark, sawdust, pine needles, and even paper.

7. Always remember whether it is summer or winter, the soil texture should look like cookie crumbles (loose and not compact). It should be fibrous (enough to hold pocket of air), sandy, dark and should have earthy smell at the same time to let the roots spread, retain moisture and be porous.

8. Water the grass in the morning, a running shower to beat the frost. Avoid evening showering in winters. It will invite mould, moss and fungi.

9. After doing all the above, if the soil suffers from frost heave (the upthrust and cracking of a ground surface through the freezing and expansion of water), push the plant back into the soil. Do not exert more pressure to compact the soil and disturb gas exchange. Apply mulch over it.

10. Keep a watchful eye for any pest and invaders. Due to lack of sunlight, moisture and humidity the pests may form their colonies.

11. Do not disturb the plant more often, as it is resting. Keep removing the affected, rotten and dead parts.

12. Remove the weeds on regular basis and till the soil gently. Water the plants to moisten the top layer before tilling. Weeds, if not removed, will drain the soil of nutrients.

13. Take good care of the annuals. Keep them in sun, if in pots. Water on demand and keep turning the soil till the buds appear. Give a spray of NPK (1:2:3) before bloom.

A traditional picture of a winter garden is stark and bleak; frost and chill, but it has its own charm and varied winter-cum-fall colors. Lot of activity is going on beneath the surface. A new robust life is ready to burst with joy as the spring approaches. Utilize the wintertime to revamp, declutter, reshape, tidy the yard and improve the garden’s bones.

Pictures courtesy- Captain Ruchi Dutta