The later arrival of spring this year has delayed the appearance of many bulbous flowering plants and, as i write, tulips are still in bloom in many gardens several weeks later than one might expect to see.
However the promising weather of the last two bank holiday weekends has prompted gardeners to prepare and sow vegetable beds. At this time of the year carrots, beetroot, vine peas and runner beans can be sown direct and, although a little later than usual, the longer daylight hours combined with the warming soil should ensure healthy germination. As usual these favourable conditions will encourage a first rash of weeds so hoeing regularly through the beds on a dry day is critical to prevent competition to emerging seedlings.
Winter / Early Spring flowering shrubs such as Sarcococca, Chaenomeles (flowering quince) and Forsythia can now be pruned back to ensure they retain a good habit for next year. Azaleas and Rhododendrons that have finished can be deadheaded and pruned back, although many of our clients have still got containered plants in full flush as the late arrival of the warm weather has slowed these down too.
Ornamentals such as sweet peas can now be planted out, ensuring that supports are in place to allow them to climb, applying a liquid or granular feed on a regular basis to encourage strong growth.
Dahlia tubers that have been overwintered in the greenhouse should now be planted out, whilst those that have been left outside under a 6 to 8 inch heap of mulch should now be beginning to push new shoots up through. Free draining soil is normally considered suitable to leave tubers in overwinter as opposed to heavy soils prone to water logging where the likelyhood of frost damage and then subsequent rotting of the tuber is considerably higher. Mice are another problem for some gardeners as the tubers can prove an irresistible source of nutrition when other food is scarce!
Formal lawns should now be cut every 7 to 10 days, a high nitrate feed used post cutting to encourage green growth and every effort made to rotate the direction of cutting to ensure the sward is not compressed in the same way consistently.
Slugs and snails are thankfully not such a problem so far this year and gardeners everywhere are hoping for an improvement on last years disappointing summer!
Well the first week of February may have been milder but the bitter north easterly wind of the last three weeks is only beginning to abate as I write, hopefully allowing the mercury to rise again to the temperature we’d expect at this time of the year!
Jobs for this month include applying a medium nitrate fertiliser to hedges and borders to encourage strong spring growth, protecting early tender growth on plants such as Hostas from damage by slugs and snails (ferric phosphate pellets are a more wildlife friendly option than metaldhyde) and pruning back Cornus (such as ‘Winter Fire’ grown for their ornamental red / orange stems) to the stool to encourage strong new growth and prevent them out-growing their position in the border.
Supports for perennial plants that require it (such as Lupins and Delphiniums) should be put in place in the next few weeks to ensure the emerging growth is well secured for the coming months. Sweet peas can now be sown outside, as well as vegetable crops such as legumes and root vegetables. Ground should be well prepared prior to sowing to remove any weeds and aerate compacted winter soil, helping to encourage good drainage and soil fertility.
Tender annuals such as Rudbeckia and Cosmos can be sown indoors later this month and hardened off in a cold frame before being planted out once all frost risk has passed.
It is also an excellent time to assess the lawn and decide if scarification and aeration are necessary to ensure the health of the grass. Scarification removes moss and thatch, which suppress grass growth, whilst aeration with a hollow time aerator removes plugs from the lawn to allow air into the roots, helps reduce compaction ad improves drainage.
The extra daylight encourages plants to shed their winter dormancy and as soon as the clocks roll forward at the end of the month we have the opportunity to prehaps do a few of these jobs in the evening after work!
The last week of milder weather has caused an explosion of crocus and daffodil bulbs to emerge and roses everywhere are covered in new buds as the dormancy of winter begins to lose its grip on plantlife, however, gardeners must still remember that we can have severe frosts right up until late April (sometimes even late May!) that can damage containerised plants so due care should be taken to keep these containers well insulated (with bubble wrap around the container) to prevent the rootball freezing and to continue to leave horticultural fleece wrapped around any half hardy species.
The current snow and icy conditions are proving difficult for gardeners, however the glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel is that this cold snap should help to reduce the number of pests seen in the garden next summer and, for once in the UK, the snow drops are truly living up to their name. Our team have even spotted a few very early daffodils poking their heads through the covering of white!