Navigating the Winter Garden: Challenges and Pruning Tips for Frosty Nights and Wet Days

This month has seen many frosty nights and beautifully sunny days but also wet and damp spells. Several storms’ systems have also passed through, making it a challenging time of year to be out in the garden. On frosty days, when the ground is frozen, cutting back perennials is impossible. On very wet days, working on sodden soil damages it and causes compaction. So, a good job to do is wet and cold march is to pruning our roses and wall shrubs.


This month the gardeners have been pruning roses on the Haha borders. Climbing roses need pruning annually to achieve a good and long-lasting flowering displays. It is best to prune roses and other spring flowering climbers between November and late February. This is because pruning a rose involves making cuts, and these cuts are easy access points for pests and diseases. During winter both roses and most of the rose pests and diseases are dormant and inactive. In March when the weather warms, the rose plants are able to quickly heal and seal any cuts made during the pruning process.

Climbing roses need to be trained against a wall. They have thin woody stems and are very vigorous, so without support they would quickly smother any plants growing beneath them. At Fairlight Hall we have large stone walls, which have steel braided wire supports running horizontally across the face of the walls, these are arranged up the wall at 30cm spacing. The wire is held away from the wall on steel pins cemented into the wall.

When first pruning a rose, cut away any dying, dead or diseased stems. Next, if possible, unwind and pull the entire rose away from the wall and supports and re-establish a new framework. Selecting the healthiest stems (index finger to thumb sized in thickness). These stems are then tied onto the horizontal wires in an even manner and tied in place with 4mm thick garden twine. Many of these stems will have smaller side stems coming from the main stems. Simply trace back to where the smaller stem arises from the main stem and count three buds. Just above the third bud. A clean cut should be made. It is important to remember that flower buds only form where the branches are horizontal this causes the sap which rises from the roots to slow, which in turn, encourages flower bud formation. After completing the winter prune, it is best to give the plant a feed. A granular feed, of hoof and horn or bone meal will do well, or well composted manure.

Aside from cutting back herbaceous plants and winter pruning. January is a time to plan ahead for the new growing season. In the cut flower garden, we are planning what seed to buy and even starting to sow some of the earliest flowering seeds in our glasshouse on a heated mat and propagator. If not done so already, vegetable seeds should be ordered, though it is a bit early yet to be sowing and germinating vegetable seeds, there is not enough light and day lengths are too short. In the vegetable garden, as the winter vegetables are harvested, empty vegetable beds can be cleared and liberally mulched over with garden compost or well composted horse manure.


Fairlight has quite an extensive annual meadow 50m in length and 5m at its widest length it is a large triangular area. All the colour in it has finished and it needs clearing in advance of April sowing. At Fairlight Hall we try to work to a no dig principle. It is felt digging a bed, disrupts all the good soil structure and chemistry. One way of clearing a bed that doesn’t involve digging is covering the bed over. This can be with heavy layer of mulch or a large plastic sheet. The sheet acts to prevent light and moisture getting to the plants below causing the plant below to rot down. We have opted to first put a layer of cardboard over the bed, and then secure this in place with plastic sheeting and bricks. One particular weed in our annual meadow called Bindweed. Last year this pernicious weed swamped much of the sown annual wildflowers. It has bright white long stringy roots, full of energy. Extensive Digging to remove as much of this plant as possible helps, however bindweed can quickly regrow from even a tiny part of the root if it is missed. So smothering the area with a sheet, while looking a bit odd, will significantly help us in controlling this weed.


This month we have welcomed 4 new garden volunteers to Fairlight Hall. Jane, Caroline, Luiza, Matt.

With the exception of Caroline who is an experienced garden, they are all very much beginners keen to learn as much as possible about gardening whilst they are here. Below is a image of Jane and Caroline undertaking the task of Pruning a Wisteria.

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