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How to prepare your garden for spring by planting, digging and pruning

How to prepare your garden for spring by planting, digging and pruning

Winter gardens can help inject cheer into even the coldest and darkest of days, wowing with their colourful berries and textured barks.

Now is the time to get out and enjoy the show – but also to begin sowing the seeds for next summer.

1 — The mild autumn has led to delayed clearing away of spent summer bedding and container flowers. Happily, plenty of Bellis, primulas, pansies and violas are still available, which can be combined with ornamental ivies and sedges (Carex) to repopulate the patio, hanging baskets and window boxes.

2 — Even in winter there are tempting plants in the garden centres – two good ones are Christmas roses or hellebores, which provide long lasting flowering for shady places, and witch hazels that will flower in yellows and red from the New Year, many of them being fragrant as well. It is a treat to have at least one scented plant near the front or back door or alongside a frequently used path. Think Viburnum fragrans and Viburnum Dawn, shrubby honeysuckles such as Lonicera standishii and Chimonanthus praecox which bears yellow green flowers. In areas that have experienced heavy rainfall, planting might have to be delayed until spring.

3 — Where the soil is dry enough, get planting done, particularly trees, climbers, roses, fruit and shrubs – residual summer warmth will help roots to grow out. Evergreens, however, are best left until mid-spring.

4 — Hedges of deciduous trees such as beech and, for rural gardens, hawthorn, can be planted now using inexpensive 60cm trees called whips. Space them about 40cm apart so they compete and stunt each other’s growth, making a thick and slower-growing barrier that is longer lasting then fencing. It offers important value for wildlife by providing shelter and food, absorbing pollutants and promoting rain water infiltration – reducing the risk of flooding.

5 — Almost inevitably, some plants will be found over time to be in the wrong place. In winter, dig them out with as much root as can be safely handled and convey them swiftly to a new, ready prepared hole with no drying of the roots. They will need watering carefully next summer. Trees and shrubs over five years old are less likely to survive a move and replacement might be easier.

6 — Once the leaves fall and the plant’s skeletal form can be discerned, deciduous trees and shrubs can be pruned. Maples, birches and grapes bleed sap if pruned in the spring and pruning now will avoid this.

7 — Overgrown deciduous hedges, such as beech for example, are easily brought back into bounds by cutting the top and one of the sides to about 15cm inside where regrowth is desired. The remaining side can be cut when the initial areas have regrown.

8 — Severed shoots can be used as hardwood cuttings. Currants and gooseberries are particularly easy to root, but most ornamental shrubs, dogwoods and elders for example, will root to some extent – use plenty of pencil-thickness shoots about 25cm long to ensure success, inserting them to most of their length in soil or pots.

9 — Rather than burning or discarding prunings, consider cutting thicker ones evenly and stacking them in out of the way places as wildlife refuges. Mere twigs can also be heaped and will disappear into the soil in a year or two, again benefitting wildlife.

10 — Hard freezes can be expected now and draining and lagging outdoor pipes and taps is prudent. Don’t forget to insulate the stored potatoes and dahlias and cannas in the shed with plenty of dry newspaper and cardboard.

11 — Unless your pond is very shallow, there is no great need to keep a hole going in the ice – but for shallow ponds where the limited water can become cold and lack oxygen, an inflatable ball will maintain an ice-free space.

12 — Algae and lichens can make paths and patios treacherous. Brushing with patio cleaner will temporarily shift the slippery material. In the longer term, anything that can be done to promote airflow and drainage and reduce shade will slow recolonisation of these hard surfaces.

Guy Barter is chief horticultural adviser for the Royal Horticultural Society (@GuyBarter).

The Royal Horticultural Society is a charity working to share the best in gardening and make the UK a greener place.

 

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