A well cared for polytunnel can last for years. But there is no doubting the fact that a polytunnel can be vulnerable to damage – especially over the autumn and winter months. Before wilder weather arrives, it is a good idea to do some checks and some basic maintenance jobs to help make sure that your polytunnel survives autumn and winter.
Take good care of your polytunnel, and be aware of the environment around it, and your undercover growing area should keep your plants safe and secure during the coldest and windiest months of the year. If you have planned and planted for year-round growing, you should be able to continue to harvest and grow over the months to come and right through until spring.
Here are some important jobs to take care of in the next month or so, before worse weather arrives:
Make Sure Your Polytunnel is Clean and Clear for Autumn and Winter
Early autumn is a good time to give your polytunnel a clean. The polytunnel may be a little emptier than it is at midsummer (though plenty of crops should still be in active growth). After the intensity of the summer harvesting, you may well have a little more time on your hands. So you should be able to spend some time on maintenance of the structure itself.
Making sure that the cover is clean will help to prolong its life, and keep it intact for longer. What is more, giving the cover a good clean now will help ensure plants get the light they need. As days shorten, and daylight is in shorter supply, this is especially crucial.
The health of your plants over winter also depends on practicing good hygiene in the polytunnel. Make sure you clear away any dead, damaged or diseased plant material quickly and efficiently. This will reduce the chances of any issues occurring inside over winter, and reduce the chances of diseases overwintering in the soil or growing media.
It is also good practice to clear away loose pots and supports, so these do not blow around and rip the plastic cover. It is a good idea to avoid clutter in your polytunnel, as this can also make it more likely that mice and other rodents will take up residence.
Make Sure the Cover on Your Polytunnel is Still Taut
Before high winds arrive in autumn and winter, it is also a good idea to check the tension on your polytunnel cover. If the cover is not as taut as it should be, it may be more likely to rub against supports or flap and become damaged in strong winds.
Make sure that the support structure is raised to the correct height and that the cover is still well-secured at all points. If you have a base rail, make sure this is secure. If you have used the trench method to secure the cover along the edges, make sure this is still help firm below the ground and that the ground has not been excessively eroded around the edges of the polytunnel over time.
See To Any Small Repairs Before Damage Gets Any Worse
Little rips will occur from time to time. But if you get on top of these quickly, they should not get any worse. This is a good time of year to check your polytunnel cover thoroughly. If there are any small rips or areas of damage, see to these straight away so they do not get any worse over the winter months.
If you do find a small split or rip in the plastic, this is not the end of the world. It will not usually mean that you need a new cover. Making a small repair in a timely way can help make sure your cover, though finite in its lifespan, will last a lot longer.
Patching the area should mean that your polytunnel still functions exactly as it did before. But leaving it alone to flap and rip worse over the autumn and winter really could mean the expense of a new cover.
Cut Back Branches or Vegetation Close to The Polytunnel
To prevent the chance of any damage, it is also important to look beyond the structure itself to the surrounding immediate environment. In a garden, a polytunnel may be relatively close to a hedge, trees, or other vegetation. It is important to make sure that no branches or other rough growth can rub or whip against the polytunnel. Walk the perimeter around your polytunnel, get rid of weeds and cut back any growth that is getting too close.
You should also note any branches overhanging the area around the polytunnel. If any look weak, damaged or diseased, it is best to remove these as soon as possible. If you do leave it for later, the wind could take matters out of your hands. They could come down, and potentially take a polytunnel along with them.
Examine all the trees growing close by. If any look like they might be reaching the end of their lives, it could be best to take them down too. While it may seem sad to lose a tree, trees do have a natural lifespan just like anything else. If a dead or dying tree needs to come out, you can always plant one or two more to replace it over the winter during the dormant period.
See To Any Repairs Needed on the Roofs of Other Structures Nearby
As well as looking closely at everything growing around your polytunnel and garden, this is also a good time to examine the built environment. Look at the roof of your home, garage, sheds, and any other structures nearby. If any repairs do need to be made, it would be best to make them before worse weather arrives.
Polytunnels can easily be damaged by guttering that comes loose, for example, or by flying slates. So make sure that everything is in good repair so your polytunnel does not end up a casualty or your lack or foresight and action over autumn and winter.
Make Sure There is Nothing in Your Garden That Will Blow Around in Autumn and Winter Storms
Over the summer months, you have no doubt spent plenty of time in your garden. You may have a lovely seating area or an outdoors kitchen and dining space. Over the summer, you can quite happily leave plenty of items outdoors without worrying. But as wilder weather arrives in autumn and winter it is usually best to tidy everything away.
Untethered smaller items and even some outdoors furniture can easily blow around in stormy conditions, and if they end up blowing into your polytunnel, it could be a disaster. By tidying up well ahead of bad weather, you can forestall any catastrophes and keep your polytunnel safe for the coming seasons.
Consider Adding Extra Protection From Autumn and Winter Winds
This could also be a good time to think about improving the site of your polytunnel. Ideally, you will have chosen the location for your polytunnel very carefully in the first place. But we don’t always live in an ideal world. You may have discovered certain shortcomings of the positioning only after erecting your polytunnel and living with it for a while.
If you have positioned your polytunnel in a rather exposed position, you may wish to spend a little time now improving the site and adding a little extra protection from autumn and winter winds. One way to provide that extra protection is with a wind break hedge.
This is a good time to plan a windbreak hedge, which you can create with bare root plants once the dormant period arrives. You may also simply plant a few shrubs and trees in a more informal way across a boundary of your garden, to shield the polytunnel somewhat from prevailing winds.
How do you keep your polytunnel safe in autumn and winter? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.