There we were last week, contemplating another week of dreary wet weather and instead we have had bright sunny days after some alarmingly frosty mornings. Such frosts are a good reminder to place frost tender material carefully.
- It is time to contemplate the major winter pruning round. Roses, wisterias, fruit trees, grape vines, most clematis and even hydrangeas in coastal areas can be pruned now. Take wisterias back to about three or four shoots from the main branch structure. Don’t cut wisterias or hydrangeas off at the ground unless you are planning a one-off major renovation because they flower on last year’s growth and you won’t get any flowers if you level them. Most clematis can be cut back to ground level but don’t do it to Clematis Montana – the rampant pink (or sometimes white) one that flowers first in spring.
- If you are planning to plant fruit trees this winter do not delay on buying them. The word from garden centres is that they are selling at an astounding speed and if you leave it too long, you won’t find any. Apples, pears, feijoas and plums are the most reliable croppers in Taranaki, with kiwifruit, tamarillos and citrus in warmer, coastal areas. Peaches can be marginal, nectarines even more so and cherries and apricots are rarely worth the space here.
- Be careful of stomping on bare patches in the garden where you have plants which are currently dormant. Some will be pushing new shoots towards the surface already. Also take care around the emerging leaves on bulbs, especially if you are weed spraying.
- Hostas can be dug and divided now. It is easiest to dig the whole clump and hose off all the dirt so you can see what you are doing. Divisions need both roots and growth shoots, preferably plenty of both.
- The first snowdrops are flowering here, although fortunately we don’t get the snow. These are a bulb that can be dug and divided when in full growth, if you have some of the little charmers.
- Early spring is the busiest time in the vegetable garden and experienced producers are preparing their garden beds now so they are ready to meet the spring challenge. But you can be planting broad beans now. Asparagus crowns are available bare rooted in the shops now. You will have better success with asparagus if you start the divisions off in trays or pots and delay planting them out until are well established. Asparagus is a permanent plant and because it needs to be planted deeply, if the divisions are small or weak they can fail to reach the surface and grow.
As you start the winter pruning round, console yourself with the words of that great British gardener, Vita Sackville West:
The true gardener must be brutal – and imaginative for the future.
To which Anonymous may have replied:
Gardening is the slowest of the performing arts.