Gardening in Cold Conditions
Although in some parts of the world gardens may be sleeping under a blanket of snow, some of us are faced with extreme winter wet. Mild conditions make this more of a challenge: the grass is growing, plants are starting to move, and there is plenty to be done ahead of the season. However venturing into the garden proves a challenge. A walk across the boggy lawn soon shows it is impossible to get the mower out. I would like to dig over the vegetable plot, but even my light, sandy soil is sticky and heavy. A trip to the compost heap leaves tyre tracks that fill with water. If these conditions do persist what’s the best course of action.
Check pots and containers
Firstly check to make sure that any pots and containers are draining properly. If drainage holes become blocked, and the growing medium becomes waterlogged, plants will suffer, whether freezing weather follows or not. Flower bulbs such as tulips are particularly vulnerable. They hate wet conditions anyway and will soon deteriorate if sitting in water for a few days. Make sure pots are raised above the ground on pot feet or pieces of roof tile. If a drainage hole is blocked push the pot onto its side and force a can through the drainage hole.
Spread the load
If the rain holds off for a few days and you decide to have a go at some digging, use boards to spread the weight on the ground. It’s a good idea to use a wide board under a wheelbarrow and use boards to stand on. Walking about on wet soil causes compaction and does damage. You will also collect lots of wet soil on your boots which will then get trodden across the grass, causing further damage.
Slatted duckboards are really useful across vulnerable areas on the lawn; those areas which get regular and heavy wear. These are useful to have on hand to prevent further damage as grass starts to recover. I have a couple of gentle sloped in the garden which get work and slippery. Heavy duty mess works quite well on these to prevent wheelbarrow and lawn tractor types from slipping.
Improving lawn drainage
One advantage of wet conditions is that the ground is soft and penetrable. When you can get onto the lawn without causing damage this is a great time to aerate. On poorly drained lawns which suffer from winter wet and moss growth, aeration can really improve the growth and quality of grass, particularly if you follow up with an application of lawn dressing in a few weeks’ time. Manufacturers try to lead us to believe that successful lawn care is all about throwing on a triple action lawn feed, weed and mosskiller a couple of times a year. This has some impact, but it does nothing to improve the growing conditions of the grass plants. Aerating the lawn improves drainage of the surface and gets air to the grass roots.
Hollow-tine aerators are the most effective because they remove a core of soil which leaves a bigger hole for the lawn dressing to fill later. Alternatively you can use a roll-along spiker, easier over a larger area. Or just spike with a garden fork. I have to say this is what I favour because you can go deeper when the ground is moist.
The spiked shoes that are widely advertised and promoted always look like a bit of a gimmick. Essentially a foot-shaped plate with nails attached they spike the ground with spikes that are close together as you walk. A bit like spiked running shoes, but more extreme. I am sceptical, but in wet conditions, if you attach them securely they are reasonably easy to walk with and they do spread the weight evenly and prevent you from slipping. If you’ve got some in the garage, dig them out.
Check staking and tree and shrub stability
Usually wet weather brings wind. As the ground may be less stable it is really important to check staking on trees and the stability of tall shrubs, especially roses. Roses have a very bony root structure which is easily loosened in wet conditions if the top of the plant rocks. It’s time to prune anyway, so cut back by one third and firm into the ground with your heel.
Alternatives for wet weather conditions
Of course the other alternative is to stay indoors until things improve. You could just enrol on a MyGardenSchool course and enjoy your interest in gardening on line. See you in class.