Sinead Murray returns with her first gardening colum of the year and with the longer days it is time to get busy when the sun shines.
February can be fickle. All around there are signs of growth and even colour from flowers but warm sunny afternoons can quickly turn with icy winds blowing over your seed beds and wreaking havoc with newly emerging buds and also gardeners! Resist the urge to get started seed sowing outdoors a little longer and concentrate on weeding clipping and pruning and the general preparation needed to encourage your garden to thrive this year. Late Winter or Early Spring?
It can be confusing to open a book and read -prune in mid summer or sow in early spring on a seed packet. What exactly does that mean? February is usually called
Late Winter in the northern hemisphere and so it follows that Early Spring is March, Mid Spring- April and Late Spring is May. However, these terms are only ever meant to be used as a guide and not an exact science. Before you put seeds into the soil you have to take into account the differing conditions in your local area and garden , its micro climate. Don’t sow early crops in early spring if the weather is really cold and soil is sodden or frozen. Under these conditions seed wont germinate well if at all. Wait until the soil warms and drys out sufficiently. A good indication is when you see the grass begining to grow.This is the sign that the soil temperature has reached 5 to 6 oc when the very hardiest seed can begin to germinate and grow eg broad beans and sweet pea.
Its a good time to plant or move deciduous shrubs and trees and to prune some types. Prune summer flowering shrubs like Buddleja davidii, Spiraea japonica and hardy Fuchsia.They benefit from cutting down hard in mid to late February. If your garden is prone to late frosts then cover the cut stems to protect new shoots.Don’t prune spring flowering shrubs now but wait until they have flowered.
Examples of spring flowered shrubs and climbers are Clematis montana rubens,Viburnum tinus, and if your lucky enough to still have one after our last couple of winters-Ceanothus the blue flowered California lilac. Once flowering is over, prune as required, cutting back hard or re-shaping if necessary. If you want to simply reduce an overgrown tangle now just remove a few selected branches to thin things out.
More on Clematis.. Prune late flowering clematis now (Group 3 types) by cutting stems back to about 30cm from the base leaving a pair of healthy buds to produce this years flowers. You may be removing lots of tangled growth which can look daunting but these old stems will not produce any flowers as they flower only on the current seasons growth so hard pruning is required. Group 2 types (the types that are first to flower in Spring)can be cut back to reduce size or simply to tidy them up after they flower later in the month eg Clematis montana as mentioned earlier.
Buy your seed potatoes now if you haven’t already got them. Store the tubers in a light, cool (10°C) frost free spot and leave them to sprout. This is known as chitting. Egg boxes make good chitting trays. Make sure you place the tubers eye end - where the shoots will grow from- upwards. Try Sharps Express which is a favourite.
Force some delicious tender rhubarb this spring. Remove all dead foliage from the crown of the plant and place an upturned bucket , bin or an old compost bin on top to exclude light. If you have fresh manure place it around the outside of the pot to create warmth. In a few weeks you will have gourmet sweet pink shoots to enjoy.
Dead head winter pansies to prolong their display. Check pots and tubs for moisture, water in the morning but not if frost is forecast, the water may freeze and cause damage to the plants roots.
Sow some hardy annuals now in trays in an unheated greenhouse or place in a cold frame. This protects them from heavy rain, slugs and cats. At planting time don’t go to the bother of pricking out individuals but chop them up in blocks and plant out as clumps for a better effect.They attract lots of beneficial insects. One I wouldnt be without is Night Scented Stock. Mix it with a packet of Virginia Stock for Summer colour by day and scent by night. Theres nothing to beat it!