Protecting your winter garden in retirement

A balcony garden needn't be just for summer. There are lots of evergreen shrubs and plants which, with the right protection and care, can survive the winter months. Julien from Ashrdge Trees kindly shares his advice on how to protect the balcony garden of your retirement property this winter...

Balcony gardens in colder months

"Summer may be a terrific time to go wild planting flowering annuals however you can have just as much fun during the colder months."

During the winter and early spring, container plants do require a bit more TLC and it’s great to experiment with different colour combinations you may not have used during the hotter months.

Choose the right material for your containers

Even when you’re choosing your containers during the spring and summer, think ahead to the colder weather. Make sure the container material can withstand freezing and thawing so your balcony garden can continue to thrive.

Materials such as terracotta, ceramics and thin plastics are unlikely to survive unless you choose frost-proof terracotta. Instead, look for containers made from one of the following: stone, metal, hollow logs, concrete, fibreglass or thick plastic.

Prepare for a frost

Unfortunately, you can’t buy your plants individual coats so preparing them for a frost is vital in helping them survive the any cold blasts. You can, however, use bubble wrap around your plants in very severe weather to help reduce damage to the roots.

"You should stop fertilising containers, particularly perennials, roughly six to eight weeks before the first frost."

Ideally, you don’t want to encourage new growth which is very vulnerable to cold temperatures. If severe cold weather is forecast, move plants indoors to a frost-free area, if you have space.

Winter maintenance

Plants grow very little during the winter so be sure to use good-sized plants in sufficient numbers if you’re adding new plants to your garden. Despite there being less light, continue to position plants where they will receive as much light as they can so that foliage will remain green and healthy as possible.

Be careful with watering during winter and make sure you check the compost regularly to make sure it’s not drying out. Smaller plants are much more susceptible to over-watering so err on the side of caution.

To help with drainage, try raising containers off the ground using bricks or pot feet. This will help to aid drainage as well as prevent freezing which can cause pots to crack.

Plants that will continue into the spring

Evergreen shrubs will retain their green leaves throughout the winter and make for a very attractive display. Either use a large container as a focal point or mix with a variety of dwarf shrubs for a mixture of foliage and flowers.

Grasses are a great choice for adding height, texture and contrast to a winter display. Carex will make for a perfect addition to your balcony garden. Combining grasses with flowering plants will look fantastic.

Thank you to Julien de Bosdari for sharing his advice on gardening in retirement this winter. Julien is an avid gardener and owner of Ashridge Trees, a mail order nursery in the south east.