Winter gardens in the Southern Highlands can flourish and be every bit as beautiful as in the spring and summer months.

Writer, horticulturist and gardening expert, Jecca Blake, offers these tips on how to prepare your soil, what to plant and how to ensure gardening is enjoyable and not a chore.

“July might not offer the ideal weather to entice you out into the garden, but there is plenty to do in preparation for the busy growing months ahead. Start with your tools and your soil,” she advises.

Winter Garden Chores

The first thing you. want to do is to clean and sharpen your secateurs – don’t spend money buying a new pair. A little TLC will see yours last at least another season or two.

“Secateurs are a gardener’s best friend,” says Jessica,”but dull and dirty blades can spread disease and tear the leaves and stems of your favourite plants. Here’s how to easily clean and sharpen your trusty snippers. 

1. Tip a little WD40, or similar product, onto a scourer to clean off any sap or dirt from the blades.

2. Add some water to a sharpening stone. These are fairly inexpensive and readily available at hardware stores. Allow the water to sink in. Holding the secateur blade flat, run it across the surface of the stone turning the blade over with each stroke. Work slowly and methodically, applying even pressure and checking the sharpness regularly.

3. Use a soft cloth to apply to apply some vegetable oil to the blades and moving parts to stop them rusting and store in a dry location.

Prepare Now

Feed your soil with some well rotted cow manure or blood and bone and dig it through using a decent pitch fork. In a couple of months, when you are ready to plant tasty edibles like tomatoes and cucumbers the soil will be bursting with goodness and reward you with fabulous veggies.

Spear And Jackson Garden Fork From Bunnings Mittagong, $29.95.

Admire Now

Camellias are in full bloom pretty much from Autumn right through to spring, so visit a local gardening centre and plant away! Hellebores are also in bloom right now, so try to get your hands on them, too. Visit Welby Garden Centre,
Mittagong Garden Centre, or Bowral Co-Op Garden Centre.

Hellebore Double Ellen Purple Bloom.

For indoor options, choose Moth Orchids, which come in a kaleidoscope of colours and thrive almost on neglect. Simply keep in a warm environment, in direct sunlight and water well once a week.

Moth Orchids thrive in sunny spots with moist soil.

Prune Now

It’s a great time to prune deciduous fruit trees and perennials – plants that flower in summer and autumn then go into a period of dormancy in winter. Using your (newly sharpened secateurs, cut off about one third of last year’s growth to encourage new growth that will develop more fruit. 

Use some of the more interesting branches you have pruned as a alternative to flowers to decorate your home.

DIY Mini Greenhouse

Before you throw away the plastic carton your berries or cherry tomatoes come in, reuse them as a mini greenhouse. It’s free and great way to get some seedlings going during the cool months of winter.

Simply pick a clear plastic clamshell container that closes and wash and dry your containers then fill them about 2/3 with seed raising mix that you can buy at the Co-op. Press down gently to firm it in. Plant seeds with enough space for you to be able to dig them out when ready without damaging any neighbours. Sow them to the depth suggested on the packet. For

Water with a spray bottle when tender young seedling pop their heads through, as it is gentler. Close the lid and place in a sunny area outside and bring it in at night into a room without heating. Check regularly and keep moist.

When they are big enough handle use a butter knife to separate seedlings and plant into a large container or directly into a garden bed, if they are frost tolerant. Orr, for a unique twist, plant them in an old unused wheelbarrow.

Wash and disinfect your mini greenhouse and you can use over and over again.

Plant now

Use your mini greenhouse to pop in seeds of lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, carrots and Brussels sprouts. Or if you’re after some flowers try pansy, poppy, snapdragon or ranunculus. You could also give coriander a go now, as it won’t bolt to seed like it does in warm weather. Just be sure to grow it in a spot that gets plenty of winter sun.