New year, new beginnings – hurray! And even in the deepest days of winter, you can get on with some tasks that will make you feel that spring is on the way – clearing things up ready for the early bulbs, pruning the shaggy shrubs, ordering seeds……….
Sprucing up for early spring
There are plenty of bright little treasures to find among flower borders and winter bedding, but they can become lost among rotting leaves, dead flowers and general debris. Things like aconites, early primroses (‘Barbara Midwinter’ is a gorgeous little carmine star), miniature iris like the ethereally pretty I. histrioides ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ in our feature pic, winter pansies, Cyclamen coum etc. can hugely benefit from a touch of TLC.
So give these little gems a chance to shine even in depths of winter. Pick over the plants every few days, trimming off the tatty dead leaves and flowers. Aim to allow the maximum amount of light and air to reach the plants. Top-dressing winter pots with grit is a great way of keeping the plants looking good, as well as deterring overwintering snails and bugs from nibbling them.
If you have bulbs among your winter bedding, they will start emerging soon, so clear foliage around their shoots , making some space around them. If it snows heavily, it could be worth going out and knocking the snow off these new shoots because they are often quite weak and breakable – the weight of the snow rather than the cold can damage them. And watch out that you don’t trample all over any bulb-shoots accidentally if you are growing them in grass!
I hope you had some mistletoe (Viscum album) in the house this Christmas and made full use of it! It grows as a parasite on other plants – it doesn’t kill it, but it can weaken its host if there’s a lot of it. There’s masses of it growing in Normandy (and Herefordshire, interestingly……) but if you have a hankering to grow some of your own, save some of it with some white berries on, until the seed has ripened in March or April.
At that time, put the berries into a bowl of water for a few hours to re-hydrate them, then take the skin off each one, leaving you the seeds and some of the sticky white stuff (‘viscin’).
Make flaps under the bark of tree-branches (apple-wood is the most likely to succeed, but you could also try hawthorn, poplar or lime. The tree you choose should ideally be the same species as the one that the original seeds came from, if you know it, and should be at least 15 years old. It’s a good idea to use the topside of the branches as the mistletoe will get more light there.
Tuck the seeds under the flaps and be generous with them if you have enough, because it may be as few in one in ten that actually germinate. You’ll need more than one to germinate, because there are male and female plants. Bizarrely, you may even be able to get a plant of the opposite sex growing on top of the first one – this weird plant can even be parasitic on itself.
Give shrubs a winter haircut
The depths of winter can in fact be a good time to prune lots of tough overgrown summer shrubs. Think Berberis, Buddleia, Cotinus, Spiraea, willow, etc. The sap has slowed to almost a standstill, and you are very unlikely to cause it damage by pruning now, but don’t touch Mediterranean plants like Salvia and Myrtle which need their topgrowth to protect their lower buds from frost damage. One other warning – pruning on very frosty days isn’t a great idea as the cold can damage the freshly-exposed parts of even the toughest customer.
Have a good look at your shrub first. You’re going to cut out the oldest wood first, and anything damaged or crossing. Work out the shape you want to finish with, then arm yourself with a pruning saw and some secateurs, and get in there!!!
Pull out the wood as you cut it so that you can keep assessing the overall look. Try and get light and air into the centre of your shrub, and you can be really severe with Buddleia – cut it right back down to old-looking wood, and it will pay you back with masses of strong new spring growth that will carry heaps of flowers where you can actually see them rather than yards above your head.
In subsequent years, if you cut out about a third of the shoots that grow from the base, you will be able to maintain the look of your smartened-up shrub.
- Start planning your 2020 campaign – make notes about what you fancying growing and begin ordering seeds from the flower and seed catalogues that have started arriving.
- This can be a good time to repair broken or loose fences and trellis, while most plants are dormant and you can see what you’re doing.
- Ventilate the greenhouse even in winter – if humidity builds up, it can cause all sorts of problems with bugs and fungi.
NB: We’re so looking forward to 2020 and all the good times ahead in our gardens with the bugs and birds alongside us. If you’d like to get more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags, just type your email address in here and Mailchimp will magically ping you a verification email. Wishing everyone who’s got to this point in our blog the wraparound arms of the3growbags. In love and laughter, ever onward together dear friends.