Gardening Gardening 2020

Gardening – February 2020 – Helen Robins

A New Year, and better weather thus far, any way. Although it has been howlingly windy at times, we have got through it, and had a few absolutely beautiful days, on which I trust you got out there and made the most of it. I certainly did.

What have you been up to, you may ask? A bit of everything really, and still I could have done with more time.

The first thing we really got on with was mulching, as I pipped on about at length last month. We have found a good source of well rotted horse poo and we are cleaning them out, so to speak. No, not telling you. You can tell it is really well rotted because it no longer smells “horsey”, and my younger dog, Ernie, has not tried to eat it. Which is more than be said of the cow and sheep poo we encounter most days on or walks.

It’s reasonably heavy work, but I urge you to get some in yourself, and soon. You will not believe the difference it makes in a single year to the health of your established plants, and if you are growing annuals, herbaceous perennials, or fruit and veg, to the quality and size of those fruits and flowers. It also dramatically improves soil condition as well, which can often be difficult here on the Roseland with our underlying shillit. Stony and unforgiving. A few good years of mulching though and you will be amazed at the difference in how your soil handles and how it looks. And don’t waste your time and effort digging it in – spreading it this time of year means the worms will do it for you.

If any of you, like me, have a birthday early in the year, you might find yourself in possession of some new plants to get in.

Bare root plants are available this time of year; while dormant they can be dug up and moved on without interrupting their growth pattern, and that also applies to any plants you decide to move within your garden. It tends to be deciduous (ie losing their leaves) shrubbier plants, trees and hedging which people buy most readily as bare roots, and they tend to be much cheaper bought this way too. I found myself the lucky recipient of 4 new bare root roses as birthday presents.

Because they arrived a bit before my birthday, and wouldn’t have taken too kindly to sitting around until then, hubby took advice from my gardening buddy over the fence and heeled them in to a trug of topsoil. Heeling in really is just planting loosely to keep the roots covered. It is done in a way that the plant is easy to unearth again, and therefore will not suffer when you have decided on its final planting position. After a bit of reorganising and culling some plants I really should have moved to the great compost heap in the sky before now, mine went in – mulched with a fat layer of horsepoo and with their graft point just below the surface of the soil. Heeling in is really only a good idea for a few weeks at most at this time of year, as any longer and there is a danger the plant will put out fine feeder roots which will be damaged on moving.

If you have been given potted plants, you have more leeway, although do check that the plant isn’t potbound or starving before you tuck it in a corner to deal with another day. Simply slip the pot off and take a look. If the roots are going round and round the pot, it is overdue coming out of that pot. Either pot it on, or plant it in the ground as soon as practical. In either case, you should tease out the roots so that the plant is encouraged to put roots out sideways and down, rather than continuing that spiralling effect. it won’t hurt, and will probably benefit the plant, as it will encourage some reparatory root growth.

And the most exciting thing I have been doing of course is planting seed! Not much this early on, but chilli, sweet peppers and the hardier annual flowers can get going this early on, as they need a long growing season to do their best. These, I have set off in my Christmas present heated propagator (there is a theme to my presents these days….) and now they have germinated, have brought them out into a warmish summerhouse, because they can dry out so easily otherwise.

Lettuce is another great one to set off at this time of year, because it really doesn’t like heat, and they will pop up in a week to 10 days on an unheated window sill. We have been harvesting in our Collective poly tunnel for weeks now and same day picked salad is  unbelievably fresh and crunchy to eat. I read the other day that bagged salad in the UK is often washed in chlorine. Apparently it is not detrimental to our health (for now, anyway), but who really wants to be drinking swimming pools if you don’t have to? Yep, that really is our homegrown lettuce in the picture.

Unfortunately, all that doesn’t even make a slight dent in my (and your) to do list at this time of year. There is still rose pruning to do, fruit tree and bush pruning, stripping the old leaves of hellebores, tidying away last year’s tatty herbaceous top growth, sourcing and chitin your potatoes, buying onion sets, pruning evergreens, getting the mower serviced, sharpening your tools…..aaaargh! Just pick one a day to focus on otherwise you might feel like running away altogether. Might see you at the train station.

Helen Robins

Calendra Collective

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