Early winter is a great time to give your backyard a tidy-up and prepare it for the season ahead. Ticking off these little jobs will make a big difference in helping plants, tools and outdoor surfaces survive the cold season and come back to life in spring.
Check the garden for any dead or dying plants. Their weakened state makes them more susceptible to pests and diseases, so remove them and put them in the compost or green waste bins. Also, give your perennial shrubs a tidy-up and remove diseased plant growth, says Sue Edwards of Seasol. “Deadhead spent blooms and cut off foliage affected by black spot or mildew to prevent further spread,” she says. (Don’t add diseased foliage to the compost.)
Tip: A wide-head rakemakes for speedier collection of fallen leaves.
To cultivate a robust base, organic matter is key, says horticulturist Chloe Foster. “Top up existing and recently cleared garden beds with organic matter,” she says. This may be in the form of compost, blood and bone or aged animal manures. As they break down, they improve soil structure and moisture retention. Plus, nutrients are released slowly, giving plants a gentle feed.
Chloe also recommends spreading organic mulch over any bare spots. “This will help insulate the soil from the cold weather,” she says.
Fruit and vegie scraps, cardboard, newspaper, fallen leaves, lawn clippings and non-diseased garden trimmings can all be added to the compost. To aerate it and improve the rate of decomposition, turn the heap regularly with a garden fork. If your compost is in a static bin, using a compost aerating tool might be easier. Rotating a tumbler often will help to accelerate the breakdown.
Tip: Compost is a great soil conditioner. Dig it into garden beds when it becomes crumbly and dark brown.
“Now is a great time to take stock of your garden shed,” says Sue. “Remove old pots, any half-used bags of potting mix into existing garden beds and spread mulch around the garden.” Give the shed a good sweep so it’s ready for activity once warmer weather arrives, and don't neglect your gumboots. Clean muddy gumboots with a brush, water and mild detergent, then store them upside down and indoors out of the weather.
Tip: “Do a stocktake of your garden to see what needs to be done before the cold weather really sets in. Each garden is different and will require different tasks” says Sue.
“Use steel wool and methylated spirits to clean and disinfect your secateur blades,” says Chloe. Follow up with a whetstone or diamond sharpener to keep edges sharp, and spray moving parts (springs and blades, for example) with a lubricating oil.
To maintain larger tools (such as spades, shovels and hoes) remove dirt from surfaces and use a metal file to sharpen the edges. “Apply linseed oil to the handles as this will help extend the life of the timber,” adds Chloe.
As the winter months roll on, deciduous plants become dormant and may require pruning. Fruit trees such as apple, pear, peach and plum will need a good clip-back to encourage fruit production (and make harvesting easier). In mid- to late-winter, prune off dead, diseased, spindly or inward-growing stems of roses. In late winter, prune autumn-fruiting raspberries back to ground level, and summer-fruiting raspberries back to fresh buds. For more on pruning, watch our guide on how to prune trees.
Always prune on a dry day to reduce the risk of spreading fungal and bacterial diseases. Use sharp tools for clean cuts and prune on an angle (so any water runs off) just above a bud on the outside of a stem. Remove dead and diseased areas first, then shape as desired, but don’t cut back more than a third. To ward off infections after pruning (and before buds form), spray roses and deciduous fruit trees with a copper-based fungicide. If you’re a beginner, don’t be too worried about misjudged cuts – roses, for example, are resilient and can bounce back.
Tip: When pruning roses, use secateurs to trim unwanted stems and sterilise the blades between cuts.
Learn all about growing deciduous trees.
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Asbestos, lead-based paints and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber are health hazards you need to look out for when renovating older homes. These substances can easily be disturbed when renovating and exposure to them can cause a range of life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancer. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page.
When following our advice in our D.I.Y. videos, make sure you use all equipment, including PPE, safely by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Check that the equipment is suitable for the task and that PPE fits properly. If you are unsure, hire an expert to do the job or talk to a Bunnings Team Member.