It’s time to dandy up the dogwoods
OK, you’ve enjoyed those lovely bright stems of Salix (Willow) and Cornus (Dogwood) cultivars all winter, cheering up the garden through the dull months, but if you want the same again next year, you must be very stern with them (being a schoolteacher, I’m quite good at that). Sharpen your secateurs and cut their stems back to the base. The fancy word for this task is the slightly unfortunate term ‘stooling’, but don’t let that put you off. New coloured and leafy stems will quickly replace them.
If you don’t do this pruning, your plant will gradually become a rather dull thing – the stems are only colourful when they’re young. We have even been known to do this with a small chainsaw, to save time! Weaker-growing cultivars like Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, gorgeous as they are, need gentler treatment – only chop out about 1 in 3 stems, so as not to shock them too much. The 3Growbags aka my sisters and I, had a little chat about this job in Laura’s garden last spring. Laura was at Wisley last weekend and took our feature photo – don’t those cornus there look fantastic?
I sometimes use the prunings to lend some early decorative support to perennials, sweetpeas etc. but you must be careful that they don’t inadvertently root and start growing there! Shortened, they are lovely in a vase with daffodils, and a friend of mine even keeps the red stems for Christmas decorations!
Pots and pots of love…
I bet you’ve got some plants in pots, inside or outside, that would LOVE a bit of love. Now is the time to check whether they have become pot-bound – so full of roots that it is not able to take up the water and nutrients that would enable it to thrive. Look underneath – are roots coming out of the drainage hole? Carefully take it out of the pot – are there dry fibrous roots everywhere in the exact shape of the pot you have just removed? The poor thing needs at the very least, the roots gently teased-out or trimmed, soaked in water, and re-potted in a slightly larger pot and fresh moist compost. If your plant is VERY congested with thready little roots, you might dare to be more drastic…I remember listening open-mouthed to Neil Lucas of Knoll Gardens describing how he would slice the whole bottom half of the roots of a pot-bound ornamental grass crosswise, then put the remaining plant and roots onto the fresh compost. Scary stuff, but if anyone knows what to do with a grass, then Neil does! One more thing, don’t try the strong-arm treatment on something like a Bougainvillea – handle the roots of these beauties really gently or they will repay your attention by turning up their toes.
* There are a few perennials that will flower even in their first year, if you are quick off the mark with sowing the seed now – these include all sorts of jolly and pretty things like Coreopsis, Achillea and Geum. Same amount of effort as your annual bedding and you’ll have them for years.
* If your blackcurrant bushes are at least four years old, prune out about one in three of the old stems, especially in the middle of the bush – the fruit grows best on young wood.
* Dig some well-rotted compost into your veg beds and then keep the soil a bit drier, weed-free and cosier with some weighted-down black plastic sheets ready for the plants and seeds soon.