Okay, so it’s later winter, it’s freezing cold and you can’t for the life of you imagine what you could possibly be doing in your garden right now. Surely the gardening season won’t start until spring when the warmer weather arrives! Wrong on so many levels!!
Yes it is pretty cold right now, and probably the last thing you feel like doing is wrapping up in winter woollies and venturing outside in order to prepare your garden for the upcoming season, but bite the bullet and do it now, the end results will be worth it.
I intend to break this up into various sections in order to give you a few ideas of where to begin now you have made the decision to get started. Hopefully this will inspire you to start planning ahead, and give yourself and your garden a head start ready for the arrival of spring, (which will be here before you can say ‘phooey, it’s far to cold to venture outside yet’.)
Now is a great time to plant your bare rooted roses. Prepare the planting hole well with well rotted manure or home produced compost. Bury the plant so the bud level is just above the surface of the soil and then firm the soil around the plant with your foot. Water well and then mulch thickly around the base to keep down weeds and protect the new plant from frosts.
Prune your bush and shrub roses back now. the basic rules are to prune out Dead, Diseased and Damaged wood, (the three D’s). Use sharp secateurs to so that the cuts are clean and less likely to crush the stems and attract disease. Always slope the cuts away from any buds so that rain water does not drain on to them. Beginning at the top of the bush remove any congested or crossing stems. Remove any woody stems that no longer produce flowers. Tidy up the outside of the bush so it doesn’t interfere with neighbouring plants. Reduce any young stems growing from the base of the bush by half, always cutting just above an outward facing bud. Look out for any areas where stems have died back from a previous prune, then cut back to a new outward facing bud.
Prune your large flowering clematis back quite hard. Follow the stems down to a pair of buds close to the soil level and prune away all growth above these. With the later flowering hybrids and Clematis viticella cut away all the old stems down to the base. New growth should be tied in as it emerges.
Take some root cuttings from your hardy perennials such as oriental poppies, acanthus, phlox and verbascums. This is easy, simply take cuttings of root from the relevant plants and place them on the surface of compost in a tray or pot. Cover with a thin layer of compost, water and then leave in a cold greenhouse or cold frame where they will root in and form new plants.
Take the time to sprinkle some fertiliser around your hedges and then mulch with a good layer of compost. Use a fork to gently mix these into the surface of the soil.
Prune back your willow, dogwoods and smoke bush to ground level using secateurs or a pruning saw.
Regenerate your old perennials as soon as you see new foliage appearing. Cut away any dead leaves, lift the clumps and divide before replanting individual outer portions elsewhere. Loosen the soil around the clump with a fork and then spread a good layer of garden compost over the surrounding soil.
Plant your lily bulbs for an attractive fragrant display later in the season.
If you have ornamental grasses growing in your garden now is the best time to cut away the dead stems that you left on for winter interest. If the grass clumps have become large and compacted now is also a good time to lift and divide them before the new seasons growth starts.
Remove dead or old stems from established shrubby perennials. Cut as close to the base of the plant as you can so that new shoots can emerge once the warmer weather arrives.
In the greenhouse
Clean the inside of your greenhouse glass with disinfectant in order to prevent pests and diseases that have survived the winter from infecting your new seasons plants. Also sweep up any old plant matter and clean all pots and trays in hot soapy water mixed with disinfectant.
Plant up some hardy annuals from seed such as marigolds, dwarf sunflowers and compact grasses ready to plant out once the warmer weather arrives.
Sow pots of herbs such as basil, parsley, mint, thyme etc.
If you are lucky enough to have a heated greenhouse you can now sow vegetable crops such as sweet peppers, cucumbers, chillies, tomatoes and aubergines. Alternatively use a heated propagator and sow them in March instead.
Plant up seeds such as onions, leeks and lettuce ready for planting out later in the season.
In a propagator plant tender bedding plants such as begonias, petunias, lobelias and impatiens.
Pollinate blossoms of fruits such as nectarines, apricots and peaches. Use a small paintbrush to transfer pollen from flower to flower.
In the garden
Check any young trees to make sure the stakes have not been loosened during the winter winds. Replace any damaged or rotten stakes and loosen or replace and tree ties that have become too tight.
Check out your ponds and get rid of any dead plant foliage so it doesn’t fall into the water and rot. Remove tall aquatic plants that are now beyond their best and are likely to decompose and toxify the water.
Put up a nest box for the wild birds either on a tree or a wall making sure it is inaccessible to predators such as cats or rats. Choose the boxes according to the types of birds you want to nest in them, e.g. small entrance holes for bluetits, large holes for starlings and open sided boxes for robins, wagtails or wrens. Leave out straw, human hair from your hairbrush, grass cuttings and twigs to provide the birds with easy nesting materials.
Clean your cloches with hot soapy water containing disinfectant. Place them in the appropriate locations that you intend to use them in so that they can warm the soil up in advance of when you wish to plant up your early vegetable crops. Make sure you peg down your cloches so that they don’t blow away in windy weather.
Cut down the remains of climbing plants such as sweet peas from trellis, arches and obelisks. Now is also a good time to treat any wooden supports with a stain or preservative.
Get your garden machinery serviced now, e.g. petrol strimmers and lawnmowers, ready for the coming season.
Use a pressure washer on paths, steps, decking and patios to remove dangerous slippery algae and moss.
Prepare soil where you intend to sow lawns or lay turf so that it has time to settle before the April planting time.
Remove any snow weighing down the branches on your shrubs and hedges to avoid the weight bending or breaking them.
Cover any soil you intend to dig with weighted down polythene to stop it getting too wet and also to warm it up. This way you can dig it when you want to without having to wait for the warmer dry spells.
Use copper rings to protect the new shoots of flowers that slugs and snails are attracted to. Use copper tape around potted flowers for the same reason.
Fruit and veg
Spend some time tying in the new canes from raspberries, blackberries and loganberries to support wires, (spacing them out evenly). With the more vigorous blackberry varieties arch the several metre long stems over, and then tie them in to the supports so they fruit all the way along the length of the stem.
Finish pruning fruit trees such as apples and pears, but do not prune plums or gages.
Buy onion sets and shallots and store in trays in a light dry place until it is warm enough to plant them out, (Shallots can be planted out now under cloches or in an unheated greenhouse).
Plant out bare rooted fruit trees, cane fruits and shrubs before spring.
Prune gooseberry bushes to remove crossed or over crowded stems.
If you are planning to grow the expensive to buy vegetable asparagus, now is the time to prepare the beds for planting.
Sow lettuces, Brussels sprouts and cabbages in an unheated greenhouse ready to plant out in spring.
Enrich the soil around your fruit trees and bushes with a high potash fertiliser, (following the pack instructions for the correct application rates). Lightly fork or hoe this into the surface of the soil and then cover with a thick mulch of compost.
Force your rhubarb using a forcing jar. This will exclude light and provides the height required to produce long pink stems. An inverted pot will also work, but the resulting stems will not be quite so long. Check often to monitor progress, and harvest when the stems are long enough to eat.
Warm up cold soils with cloches, and then sow hardy peas, early carrots, parsnips, broad beans and salads as the warmer weather approaches closer.
I hope this has been useful to you and you are now donning your gardening gloves, scarves and hats, before heading for the shed, grabbing some tools and getting started. If you haven’t begun already I am way ahead of you as my onion seeds and shallot sets are already in, now I am planning my next tasks. Just remember, the more you do now, the less of a rush it will be when the warmer months arrive.