Your early winter gardening to-do list

Early winter is the ideal time to move trees and shrubs, plant roses or hedging, and keep decks and paving mould-free. Here’s a round-up of things to tick off your early winter to-do list


Slow down on the watering

Slow down watering for most plants at this time of year, especially those in pots indoors and out. Some plants, such as succulents and frangipani, need next to no water in winter unless it’s unseasonably warm.

Prepare the garden for frosts

As the weather cools, those in frosty regions should move cold-sensitive container plants such as frangipani, citrus, bromeliads, gardenias and Hawaiian hibiscus to a sheltered position on decks, under eaves or against a north-facing wall.  If grown outside think about protecting plants with frost cloth or wool mat if temperatures plummet.  A thick layer of mulch is another excellent way to protect the roots of shrubs and frost-tender perennials, such as canna, against the cold during winter. Use straw or compost but don’t pile mulch up around woody stems or they’re likely to rot.

Moving plants around

Winter is a good time for general tree and shrub planting and shifting, but not if you live in a very cold area. Winter is the best time to transplant for most things, with the exception of bulbs. Over the coldest months when most plants are not actively growing their metabolism slows right down, which means there is less chance of transplant shock when moving. Water new plants regularly to help new roots establish but not too much if weather is wet.

Planting and pruning

Don’t just focus on spring and summer interest in the garden. Think about planting winter-flowering shrubs and trees such as banksia, camellia and gordonia. When autumn-flowering Camellia sasanqua varieties have finished blooming they can be given a light trim. Early winter is also a good time to plant hedges while the ground is moist and shrubs can start to establish before it gets too cold. Mark out a straight line with a string line and dig a trench around 50cm wide and 40cm deep. Add compost, well-rotted manure and/or sheep pellets and mix into soil well before planting.

Rose selection

When selecting roses, good healthy plants will have smooth stems (wrinkles mean the plant may be too dry). To plant, dig holes at least 30cm wide and around 20cm deep. June is the traditional month for rose planting. Choose a sunny position where there’s plenty of air flow and make sure soil is moisture-retentive. A well-drained clay loam (a mix of sand and silt with a slightly higher percentage of clay) is the ideal growing medium for roses. Mix in some sheep pellets or stable manure and/or well-rotted compost to improve fertility, but do this at least three weeks before planting.

Summer prep time

Plant summer-flowering bulbs and tuberous perennials such as calla, canna, lilies, gladioli, hippeastrum and nerine. Plant alyssum, calendula and other bee attractants wherever you can in the garden as well as in pots and vegetable beds. Once they’ve finished flowering, large clumps of phlox, sedum and liriope can be divided and transplanted to other areas of the garden. Watch out for snails at this time of year as they love munching on liriope, renga renga lilies, hosta, day lilies and many other perennials.  Phlox can also be propagated from 5cm-7.5cm root cuttings in early winter.

Exterior and lawn maintenance

Watch out for mould on paving, steps and decks as it can make them very slippery in winter, especially if they are in shade. Spray with mould remover and water-blast to keep those areas safe to use. Aerate wet spots in boggy lawns with a garden fork and fill with sand. Reduce watering and mowing during winter.

Words by: Carol Bucknell