Brilliant! We’ve made it to February! And it really won’t be long now before the early spring flowers will be everywhere to cheer us through these dark times. It’s still pretty quiet in the garden, but we can certainly start getting the beds ready, begin rose-pruning, and sow some broad beans…………………
Can you dig it?
There has been a great deal written about the no-dig method of veg growing, and it certainly has its ardent supporters, Charles Dowding for one. The idea is that you are not disrupting all the micro-fungi and other organisms in the soil that are so vital for plant roots. Another plus point is that you’re not wrecking your back while you haul heavy clay around, like they always did in the old days!
For the no-dig method to work, you do need a really good amount of organic matter to hand – leaf mould, well-rotted manure, bagged peat-free compost or the homemade variety. You initially add at least 15 cm (6″) of this material as a mulch on your veg beds in the winter, and in subsequent years, you add another 5 cm (2″). You let the worms etc. come up and digest it all.
About a week before you want to use the bed, fork it over lightly and then rake the surface to a fine tilth (I love that word!) before you start sowing and planting. I only grow veg these days in raised beds (or pots) and this is by far the best method for me of preparing the soil for the coming season. If you want to know more about no-dig gardening, have a look at the garden-organic site – link is at the end.
But there are still thousands of traditional gardeners out there who dig their veg plot over thoroughly every year and also get fabulous results. Digging does aerate, warm and drain the soil; this helps to wake up the active bacteria which break down organic material. So while you dig, be sure to incorporate your compost or composted manure as you go.
As lovely as an English rose….
How lucky are we that David Austin had a brilliant idea back in 1969 to combine the sumptuousness and scent of old-fashioned once-flowering roses with the vigour, disease-resistance and staying power of modern hybrids, and create the glory of English roses! His company brings out a few more beauties each year, and I don’t think there is a dud amongst them!
I grow a lot of them among all sorts of other kinds of roses (floribunda, Hybrid Perpetual, ‘shrub’ etc. ) and almost all of them get the same pruning treatment (keeps it simple, saves time…..) at this time of year:
- I take out any crossing, broken, dead or diseased stems.
2. I take out one or two of the oldest stems right at the base, particularly if they are growing up through the middle of the shrub – I try to keep the centre as open as I can.
3. I cut back everything else by about a third to a half
4. Finally, I sprinkle some high-potash fertiliser round the base and cover it with a mulch of good compost. And the job’s a good ‘un – move on to the next one….
One of the exceptions to this method is if I’ve remembered that I’m dealing with a modern Hybrid Tea rose such as ‘Lynda Bellingham’ or ‘Chandos Beauty’, because they, unlike English or shrub roses, ONLY flower on the current season’s growth, and should thus be pruned much harder in February or March.
As for Rugosa roses, they get rather more brutal treatment, I’m afraid! Check out the link at the bottom to find out what happens to those!
- If you grow spring bulbs in grass as in the feature photo, tidying around them carefully is a great idea as they emerge. Soggy leaf-litter or mulch can encourage the shoots to rot off, the flowers will look prettier when they open – and it also make them easier to see, so you don’t tread on them!
- What about that fabulous photo of a frosted border in Louise’s column last weekend – such a ringing endorsement of the idea to leave all the dead stuff on your borders until the end of winter! But can I just mention that hard experience has taught me not to leave the old stems on grasses like Miscanthus TOO much later – it is nigh-on impossible not to damage the new green shoots while you’re doing it, if they have already started to push through.
- Time to start some broad beans off – You might sow these outside once the ground has warmed a little but I prefer to start them off inside. Tuck each seed on its edge 5 cm (2″) down into deep pots, cardboard tubes, or root trainers of peat-free compost. Water and leave in a cool frost-free place (cold windowsill is fine). After germination, stand them outside during the day, but bring them in at night for a few days, before planting them outside.
This is the link to the site that tells you more about no-dig gardening
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