With the lengthening days and snowdrops making their entrance, thoughts are definitely turning to the glorious gardening year ahead. So let’s get cracking on some handy tasks to set the scene like top-dressing plants in pots, taking some root-cuttings, and cleaning up the tools ready for the great Spring Push…….
TOP-DRESSING FOR TOP SHRUBS
Many, many people grow shrubs in pots for all sorts of reasons. For instance: to save on space; to give the plant the specialist soil it likes; for moveability if the plant is less than fully hardy or only gorgeous for a short season………..etc.
The temptation is to leave ‘em in their pots, chuck ‘em some water if it’s dry, a bit of fertilizer if they’re looking peaky, and otherwise leave them to it.
But it is a really good idea to give them a little more care at least once a year. First of all, check them over, taking out any dead or overcrowded shoots, and pull out any pesky weeds in the pot – they will be competing for water and nutrients with your shrub.
Take off the top couple of inches of compost, and replace it with fresh, using an ericaceous compost if your plant is an acid-lover. Mix some general purpose slow-release plant food into this layer while you’re about it.
I like to add a layer of fine gravel on top – it gives a neat finish and helps the pot to retain moisture better.
I am not a grower of citrus, but my sister Laura tells me that this is a good time to thin any overcrowded branches of oranges or lemons, or to cut back leggy specimens to encourage them to branch more. Using a winter feed, which is higher in Potassium and Phosphorus (to help develop the fruits) can be extremely helpful for citrus-growing. The summer feed is much higher in Nitrogen, which is needed for leaf growth.
SPRUCING UP THE SPADES
We rely on our garden tools so much, but how much love do we actually give them? Like us, they should sharp and shiny at all times, and also like us, they often need a bit of help to achieve that state of grace!
I could not garden without my beloved border spade which gets used for all sorts of random things besides digging – flattening, edging, hoeing, raking, carrying, chopping…. Not much of any of that activitiy happening at the moment, though, so I shall fill a bucket with water, and soak the blade in it. Using a scrubbing brush will remove mud and any sticky streaks etc. Once it’s drained and dried with an old cloth, I shall then spend a few minutes sharpening up the blade with a garden sharpener.
Lastly, it will get a very light coating of thin furniture oil on both the metal and wooden bits. A quick wipe-down with a cloth will remove any excess oil, and then my spade can rest gleamingly ready for action on its hook in the shed till it’s needed again.
ROOTING FOR YOU
Who wouldn’t want to make a few more plants for free from a lovely summer beauty? I know that some hybrids of Japanese anemones can be a little (or a lot!) too much of a good thing, but oh, how pretty they are! And how long-flowering and floriferous! And they honestly are a piece of cake to grow from root-cuttings now. Here’s what to do:
- Japanese anemones are deep-rooted so rather than dig a plant up (the top bit is likely to snap off) it might be easier to dig down next to a plant and expose some of the fibrous roots. Cut a few of these off and fill in the hole you made.
- Fill a tray with a seed-n-cuttings compost mix, which you’ve levelled and watered.
- Lay pieces of root about 4” (10 cms) long on top of the compost.
- Cover the cuttings with another thin layer of compost and water again. A little top-dressing of grit wouldn’t go amiss either, if you have it.
- Label the tray, then just leave it in a cold frame.
- You should see signs of growth by mid-spring when you can pot them up individually to plant out in the garden the following year.
- Cut down grasses like Miscanthus now – leave it much later and you run the risk of damaging the new green shoots that will be coming up soon through the dead stuff.
- Hold off turning the compost-heap until at least mid-spring, to avoid disturbing any hibernating wildlife.
- Start cutting back your late-flowering Clematis varieties – I’m very brutal with mine chopping everything to about 18” off the ground – it seems to work. Please don’t do this with the spring-flowering types though, like C. montana and alpina, or you’ll lose all this year’s flowers!
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