Taking care of your plants in winter

By Morag Flight

Zimbabwe does not have severe winters like those experienced in other countries, even though we still get a fair share of our cold days (and frost in some areas).  Now is the time that roses, lawns and indigenous shrubs are entering a dormant period so reduce watering and fertilising.  If you keep feeding and watering during this rest period, you can restrict the flowering and growth in the next year.   It is advised to finish watering all plants by 3 pm when it is cooler to reduce frost burn at night, which leads to fungal disease. 

As it gets cooler, the bugs will start to disappear, so it is a good time to plant broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.   Also grow beetroot, lettuce, carrots, Swiss chard, radish, garlic, leeks, onions and strawberries during this cooler period.  Make an effort to prepare beds and sow seeds for peas – you will not regret it!   The backyard garden should have a selection of vegetables you like because it is always a joy to eat homegrown food.  

As our hours of daylight shorten, lawn growth starts to slow down and so mowing is less frequent; remember not to mow too low. Watch out for snails with your newly planted annuals and veggie seedlings. Sprinkle snail pellets around the seedlings but remember to do it sooner than later as they will be chomped before you know it. If you do not want to use pellets, crush up eggshells and scatter them around the seedlings. 

Ensure that newly planted trees and shrubs are well protected in all frosty areas. If any plants have got frosted damage, do not prune until the weather warms up. The frosted branches act as protection against the further cold. When deciduous trees are bare, this is a good time to see where an evergreen tree or shrub could add interest to your garden or what needs pruning.  

Pruning is essential to maintain the health of the plant. Regular removal of dead or diseased wood keeps plants healthy. When you prune correctly, you encourage healthy growth, flowering and well-shaped plants. It helps to know when to prune too; some shrubs are best pruned in winter and some right after flowering.

The principal reasons for pruning are:

  • To produce more or better blooms and/or fruits.
  • To develop or maintain a desired size or appearance- prune to save room for an interesting variety of plants and to keep plants from becoming leggy or scrubby.
  • To re-establish a balance between root and branch systems after transplanting.
  • To train a young plant
  • Removal of old, overcrowded stems or limbs encourages the growth of vigorous young ones.
  • To repair injury. 


  • With cuts that involve cutting above a growth bud, angle it at about 45 degrees, with the lowest point of the cut opposite the bud and even with it, the highest point about 1/4 inch above the bud.  This stops water running into the new cut and causing disease.   
  • Pinching – To stop a stem from growing longer, help shape a small-leafed shrub, and to encourage bushy growth, pinch the terminal bud (the new clusters of leaves at the tip of a stem) with your thumb and forefinger. Do this with annual and perennial flowers. 
  • Heading – To encourage dense growth, shorten branches, redirect growth and help shape small shrubs and flowering perennials, cut further back on the shoot than with pinching. Use hand-pruners to remove a portion of the branch to just above a healthy bud or side branch. 
  • Thinning – To shorten limbs, improve light penetration into plants and to direct the growth of shoots or limbs, remove an entire limb or branch either back to its point of origin on the main stem or to the point where it joins another branch. Use hand-held pruners, loppers, or a pruning saw to make thinning cuts, depending on the thickness of the branch being cut.
  • Shearing – To create a hedge or bush with a spherical or square form on small-leafed plants such as boxwoods, use hand-held or electric hedge shears to closely trim leaves until the desired shape is achieved. Shearing stimulates many buds to produce new growth.


  • Prune without a good reason
  • Remove any more than 25 percent of foliage during a growing season
  • Prune a newly planted tree for the first year, unless you are removing dead or broken branches.
  • Prune within 3 m of a zesa line – leave it to the experts.
  • Try to tackle a pruning job that requires a chain saw and ladder work – leave it to the experts.
  • Leave branch stubs, or cut off the branch collar (not make a flush cut).

Images from Morag Flight

Originally published in the 4th Newsletter of Ndeipi.

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