At a loss at how to prepare for the new growing year? Our guest blogger Ciar is here to guide you!
In winter our gardens die back, so it is the ideal time to remove any lingering weeds and to cut back dead and dying leaves and stems. While most herbaceous perennials will benefit from being chopped down to ground level, don’t be in a hurry to be too tidy. It is beneficial for wildlife to leave some plant cover over the winter and then cut it back just before the new growing season gets underway. Many seed-heads can also look very beautiful and even architectural in the winter months, particularly when they have a dusting of frost.
Winter is the perfect time to give your garden tools a really good clean (I find baby wipes come in very useful here) and to sharpen blades. Why not clear out the garden shed while you are at it. It is also a good time to clean greenhouses and to empty, mix and refill compost bins.
Towards the end of winter, when the ground is not frozen, dig over empty beds and incorporate well-rotted organic matter – maybe that garden compost from the bottom of your compost heap.
4. Prune roses
Shrub roses should be lightly pruned in late winter by cutting back some of the older main stems to the base to encourage vigorous new shoots and by thinning out any crossing or crowded canes. With Floribunda roses – the ones with clusters of flowers – shorten the strongest shoots to about 25-30cm above ground level and prune less vigorous shoots more lightly. With Hybrid Teas – the larger flowered roses – shorten the strongest shoots to about 10-15cm from the base and less vigorous shoots to 5-10cm. Use sharp, clean secateurs and make cuts sloping upwards with the higher end just above a bud.
5. Prune fruit trees
I have to confess that despite studying the subject for the RHS Level 2 exam, I have still not quite got my head around how to prune fruit trees. We have several in our garden including three apples, two plums, a damson, a mammoth fig and a pear tree which has been allowed to grow so high that we need a very tall ladder to collect the fruit. Consulting my notes I remember that apples fruit on 2, 3 or 4-year-old “laterals” or side branches. Branches that are growing well horizontally with good fruit buds on the second and third year growth should be left in, while any that are overcrowded, weak or pointing upright should be removed entirely or cut back to fruit buds.
6. Chit potatoes
In early February, take seed potatoes and place them with the sprouting “rose” end facing upwards in a box or tray in a single layer and keep them in a cool, light, airy place such as a greenhouse (I keep mine on a north facing windowsill). By late March they should have developed strong shoots that will help them to grow quickly when they are planted. This is particularly useful for early varieties such as Arran Pilot and Pentland Javelin.
Broad beans and sweet peas can be sown under cover in late winter if you have not already done so in the autumn, to be planted out after the first frost. Where we live, February is also the month of our local seed swap “Seedy Saturday”: there are seed swaps up and down the country where you can exchange your own seeds, or buy seeds cheaply from local allotmenteers and gardeners. When you have bought your seeds, store them somewhere cool, dry and dark.
8. Reflect and plan
This winter, I am going back over all of the photos I have taken of my garden in the last year to see what worked well and what I would like to change. It is also a welcome reminder of how lush and colourful the garden looks in the middle of summer. Then I will sit down with all the seed and plant catalogues I have collected and draw up a planting plan for the new growing year.
By Ciar Byrne from CarrotsandCalendula.co.uk