Although winter restricts what we can do in the garden it does have other benefits such as flushing out those winter pests.
You can use the cold weather and winter frosts to your advantage by exposing pests to hungry birds and unforgiving frosts. This will give your plot a head start for spring by reducing the number of pests.
Exposing pests to frosts
The best way to tackle overwintering pests is to figure out where they are hiding and bring them to the surface. Rake up and remove fallen leaves, especially around fruit trees and bushes before you turn over the soil 5-10cm or so.
Tickling the surface of the soil with a border fork and ruffling up the leaf litter can bring out the pest hibernating below.
As they will be fairly lethargic, bringing them to the surface and letting the frost do its job will work wonders on getting rid of them.
If you have areas covered with a thick layer of mulch, start by peeling the mulch back and rake it away during the coldest weeks to allow the frosts to penetrate and cleanse the soil.
You will want to keep some of your crops covered to protect them from the cold weather but exposing as much soil as you can will help reduce more pests.
If you can, expose your soil to the frost for three to four weeks during the coldest months to give it a really deep cleanse then recover it with mulch to feed the soil with nutrients.
Use the birds to your advantage
Uncovering and turning soil doesn’t only benefit us, it benefits the birds too. The winter months can be difficult for birds to peck through the frosts and find their meals. When you turn the soil, you expose all the pests and grubs ready for our feathered friends to feast on.
A little trick is to stock your bird feeders and draw more into the garden, this will help with pest patrol and keep the birds happy too.
Before you bring a flock of birds to the garden, investing in a fruit cage to protect your fruit bushes and tree’s will stock the birds from attacking your fruits.
Winter washing fruit trees
Fish or plant oil based solutions can be sprayed on exposed branches to fight off unwanted pests. This is called winter washing. These are effective against many sap-sucking aphids and mites, winter washing will also help decrease the spread of viruses.
Choosing a day that is fairly calm and not so windy will help cover the exposed branches, spray a good layer of winter wash across the branches to either kills the pests on contact or smother/suffocate them.
Pests love weeds, they’re probably the only things that do but they love hiding out amongst the weeds. Before you go digging them all up, be sure that you are clearing away the annual weeds as well as pernicious perennial weeds such as couch grass, bindweed and ground elder.
Keep your greenhouse clean
Make sure your greenhouse maintains good ventilation to avoid any grey mould that might start growing. It’s always good to scrub your greenhouse and equipment during the quieter season. We’ve put together some tips on how to clean your greenhouse thoroughly here.
- High nitrogen fertilisers encourage soft leafy growth which is a great source of food for garden pests. Try to avoid using these where possible.
- To prevent pest reaching your crops, cover with a fleece or use a fruit cage to protect your crops.
- Knowledge is power! Diseases and pests are usually specific to a certain type of crop. Knowing what could attack your crop and researching how to prevent or cure it will help you spot diseases and attacks quicker.
- Continually check your plants and crops for early signs of diseases and attacks.
- Keeping your garden, tools, greenhouse and growing areas as clean as possible helps prevent the spread of diseases.
- Watering your crops on a daily basis at the same time and sticking to a regime helps prevent your crops and plants becoming weak. Weak crops are susceptible to attacks.
- Ladybirds and lacewings will feed on aphids which will help prevent them spreading.
- If you need to use chemicals, be sure to read the label and follow the advice on it. Wear protective clothing and use a calm day to use your chemicals. Always keep chemicals away from natural habitats, ponds and bird baths.