Here we sit on the warmest February day for years, itching to tell you to go wild in the garden, but good sense and an element of “been there before” is telling us not to. Let us not forget, the Beast from the East came in March last year and froze our proverbials for quite some weeks, and temperatures took a long time to rise after that. You can crack on with the traditional winter jobs with aplomb, but curb your enthusiasm when it comes to the real Spring jobs. (Sarah to Helen : No don’t do that yet!! Helen : hrumph)
So, having taken the wind out of your sails and spoilt your day a bit, what can you get on with?
If you haven’t pruned your fruit trees and bushes yet, or fruiting ornamental trees such a crab apples and sorbus (rowan), there is still time before the sap starts rising too quickly. And it’s a good time to plant new fruit bushes (soft fruit of all types) possibly with the exception of strawberries which tend to be smaller plants and a little more vulnerable. Hold fire on those for a few weeks more.
You’re probably a little late if you haven’t pruned your wisteria and grapevines yet, but it may be worth the risk to ensure good flowering or fruiting this year. The worst that will happen is a bit of sap bleeding, as the sap rises very early in these particular plants.
One thing you definitely should prune now though are your late flowering clematis (known as the group 3 clematis). These are the ones that flower from late summer well into autumn put on vigorous new growth each year and flower only on that new growth. Typically, they are smaller flowered than the high summer flowerers and fall into a few species categories – tangutica, viticella, and texensis. Be harsh – cut back right at the base to about 12”/30cm from the ground. It makes for a quick and easy job this way, but feels like you are murdering the plant! You’re not, you’re doing it a favour. Feed it afterwards, as you should do with anything you cut back hard.
Move stuff. That sounds like a sweeping statement but the soil is warm, and any cold snap will not do any harm to plants you are moving now as their roots are tucked away into warm soil. Always water in well to close the gaps in the soil, and check for watering once a week or so.
And mulch and feed. While it is dry but not cold, it is the perfect time to add a layer of goodness and weed suppressant in the form of well rotted horse or cow manure, your own garden compost or bark chippings if you are focusing to the weed suppressant element. It is amazing how smart your beds look all of a sudden with a layer of new material on them, and you will be replenishing the nutrient levels in the soil. If you take the no dig approach to your raised beds, simply layer it on, but if you do dig, just mix it in evenly without going too mad.
Indoor seed planting is one way to move forward into the new gardening year without too much risk. It is a good time to plant your tomatoes, chillis, sweet peppers, aubergines and other bits that need a long growing season and a bit of heat underneath. A sunny windowsill is good, but if you have a heated propagator or a heat mat, you will see results more quickly and reliably. Chillis and peppers in particular can be a bit temperamental to get going, and can take up to a month to pop up, so be patient, and resow soon if you have any failures. Having the perfect temperature under your seeds can produce germination in a couple of days if you’re likely, but do remove from the heat and uncover when the plants look like a viable size; otherwise, they are likely to damp off (ie rot and flop) or cook.
If you can’t resist the urge to plant some spring pretties to cheer you up, there are lovely primroses and polyanthus available, and plenty of spring bulbs which won’t be affected too badly if we do have a late cold snap. All sorts of narcissus, crocus, fritillaria, tulips, and bluebells are available ready potted (Helen: I have a tulip out already – just WRONG!!) And enjoy what’s out in your garden already. There’s so much loveliness out there already (daffs, hellebores and so on).
Sarah Daniel and Helen Robins, Pengelly Garden Centre
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