Certainly in the north we are warming up noticeably and the grass is starting to grow again. While we will no doubt get a few more wintery blasts, when the sun comes out it is feeling positively spring-like. In the gardening world, this means that the pressure is about to increase exponentially to finish the winter pruning and clean up round.
- Climbing roses get pruned differently to shrub roses. Tie in the long whippy growths for the first three years after planting and resist the temptation to prune them back. If you can undulate the whips along supports or train them more or less horizontally, it encourages all the side shoots to sprout and hugely increases the flower production. After three years, take out the oldest, woodiest stems and replace them with fresh green whips on a rotational basis. Prune back the side growths from the tied-in whips, to a few buds just as you do with wisteria. Climbing roses are not the easiest of subjects to prune and tend to be very vigorous but you may live to regret it if you fail to prune them hard.
- Beware an explosion in weeds which is just about to happen. If you can stop this first seeding of the season, you will substantially reduce your workload later.
- It is an ideal time for planting woody trees and shrubs. Put in now, they have time to establish themselves before the dryness and heat of summer. People on sandy soils which dry out faster, should take particular note.
- It is time to be vigilant on slugs and snails again. These unwelcome critters will be multiplying up nicely and nipping off all your young shoots. Some intensive control now will reduce numbers later but you do not need to use slug bait like fertiliser. One bait can kill several. Digital control, beer and other environmentally sensitive approaches are also kinder to hedgehogs, birds and the odd suicidal family dog.
- Container plants should be repotted every two years or so, especially if they are somewhat rootbound. It is a good time to attend to them now so they can settle in again before making spring growth. If you are intending to prune the roots to make them fit back into the same pot, then it is even more important that you do it without delay. Hose off all the old potting mix and make sure you prune the top of the plant to reduce stress. Slow release fertilisers were developed for container plants. We don’t recommend their use in the garden generally (there are cheaper, more environmentally friendly options) but we do use them in pot plants. If your plant is destined to stay undercover, halve the recommended rate of fertiliser to avoid burning the plant.
- Early sowings will be starting in the vegetable garden – potatoes in warm areas, peas (pick an early cropping variety), turnips, carrots, parsnips, summer spinach and beet. A reminder that if you are buying asparagus divisions, you are likely to have more success with them if you get them established and growing well in pots before you plant them at the required 10cm plus depth in the garden. Asparagus is a bit of a long haul crop at the best of times (you will be waiting three years for the first harvest) and it is a permanent fixture so it is worth this extra effort and delay.
According to The Curious Gardener’s Almanac, over three quarters of all garden chemicals sold in Britain are for the improvement of lawns. It is likely to be similar here and that is a disgraceful situation when you think about it. Time to rethink attitudes to lawns.