BLOG - 08/02/2019

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Signs of Spring approaching are starting to appear quickly now, with bulbs coming up and wildlife getting more active.

There’s plenty to do, both in and out of doors, to get ready for the year ahead. Whether you’re an old hand, or a newbie up for giving gardening a go, here are just some of the things to be getting on with at this time of year.

INDOOR PLANTS

Houseplants hate winter, but with a little more light and air, they respond with new growth. Tidy them up them a bit by taking off any dead stuff - and start giving them a bit more water. Not too much though - that will usually kill most indoor plants pretty quickly.

Snip away any foliage that is, or is starting to go, yellow or brown. It’s not coming back, so remove it. The plant can then focus its energy on growing healthy new stuff, instead of trying to repair the irreparable.

As your indoor plants wake up from winter dormancy, they start to stretch out, producing new growth (roots and shoots) for the first time in a while. Give them a bit of extra space to grow and develop by repotting into a slightly larger pot, with fresh houseplant compost. Many plants prefer to be kept slightly root bound, so only pot up into a pot with a diameter around 3-5cm bigger than the one they’re already in. Plants will then try to grow into the space they’re given and get a nutrient boost in their new growing medium. Even if you want to keep them in the same pot, it’s worth cleaning it thoroughly, to minimise the risk of root disease, before freshening up their compost.

Now’s the time to give your plants a bit of food too. A liquid fertiliser is good, but any good houseplant food will do fine. You can actually harm your plants if you give them too much (the roots can burn, for example), so err on the side of caution and always dilute your fertiliser a bit more than recommended on the package instructions.

Dust and wash your plants’ leaves. Apart from making them look better, this will really help them out. Dust and dirt reduces the amount of effective light they’re getting -  it also inhibits photosynthesis and respiration (i.e. plants using sunlight to synthesise nutrients from carbon dioxide and water; and plants using the sugars produced during photosynthesis plus oxygen to produce energy for plant growth, respectively).

OUT IN THE GARDEN

Prepare vegetable seed beds by removing any weeds and forking in plenty of compost and perhaps some well rotted manure. Start to warm up the soil with fleece, micro-netting, polythene or cloches, in preparation for sowing and planting in the coming months. Also, vegetable plots will be more productive if you throw a couple of handfuls of lime over them around this time of year. Brassicas, for example, can access more nutrients in a neutral to alkaline soil, so it’s worth pH testing your soil. That said, a little lime will usually only do good things to a veg. garden.

Build raised beds now, before the growing season gets underway. Raised beds let you to make an early start in the garden because the soil warms up faster. They drain well too, so they’re a great way to get round some of the London clay soil issues almost all of us have to deal with locally.

Sow some vegetables indoors or under cover. It’s a good idea to organise the year’s seeds by sowing date around now too. Decide what you fancy growing, then get a box with dividers and file your seed packets by the week/month they need to be sown. That way you’re all set for the coming year.

Chit potato tubers (nerd fact alert: ‘chitting’ means sprouting the potato tuber – putting it, most eyes upright, in a light, cool but frost-free place at about 50F (10C) to encourage the little shoots to start developing…..as you were…). A module tray or egg box will help with positioning.

Protect blossom on fruit bushes, trees and plants. Most fruit and soft fruit are pretty hardy, but once they start into growth in spring, flowers and buds are especially vulnerable to frost and may need protection to crop well, so keep a keen eye on the weather forecast for any sign of a cold snap. Use fleece to cover and protect the flowers and developing crop. Strawberries can be protected with cloches, mini poly-tunnels or a double layer of fleece. Just make sure you remove or open up the protection during the day to let pollinators get to your plants. Also, try to keep any grass around the base of fruit trees mown short at this time of year. Long grass prevents valuable heat being radiated from the soil.

Net fruit and vegetable crops to keep the birds off. Mini net and fleece poly-tunnels and bell cloches work really well on smaller plants, seedlings, salad leaves and the like.

Prune winter-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering.

Divide bulbs such as snowdrops, if you want to move them or create more planted areas. They should be divided or moved while they’re still ‘in the green’ (green stems still forming part of the bulb).

Remove faded flowers from winter pansies to stop them setting seed. This will encourage another flush of flowers when the weather warms up a bit.

Prune Wisteria. Cut back last summer’s side-shoots to 2 or 3 buds. Also, if you have summer-flowering Clematis, now’s the time to prune it, before active growth starts. Winter flowering Jasmine will need a prune too, once its flowers have finished for the year. This will really encourage new growth for next time around. Cut back the previous year’s growth to around 5cm from the older stems.

Prune hardy evergreen hedges and cut back, prune an shape any overgrown deciduous hedges.

Now’s also the time to move any deciduous trees or shrubs that need repositioning. Dig out as large a root ball as possible and use secateurs to make clean cuts where any roots have been broken during the excavation process. It’s the same principle as pruning above ground - clean cuts reduce the risk of rot and disease.

Cut back deciduous grasses left uncut over the winter to within a few centimetres of the ground, and remove any dead grass from evergreen grasses.

Have a good go at any perennial weeds too. Dig them up, roots and all, getting as much of the plant out of the ground as possible. Even just a little piece of root is often enough for the pesky things to to grow again from.

As always, if you have any questions or think there’s something we may be able to help you with, please feel free to get in touch.

 The Lancasters Team.

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