BLOG - 15/02/2019

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As time goes on, it seems that spring-like milder weather is arriving earlier and earlier in the year in this part of the world. So what was historically something to be done in the garden in late March is now something to consider towards the end of February. This isn’t a forum for discussion around climate change of course, but suffice it to say that, with our thermometer having touched fifteen degrees celsius today (15th of Feb. - chripes!), it’s probably reasonable to think about doing some of the more ‘March-y’ stuff from anytime around now.

There’s usually some sort of frosty sting in the tail to bite us on the over-enthusiastic, er, ‘body’ (!), but as long as we keep an eye out for it, getting into some of the stuff that follows should really set the garden up for a fantastic year ahead.

LIFT DIVIDE AND PLANT PERENNIALS

Dividing perennials every couple of years not only makes more (free) plants, it also rejuvenates them. They get ‘tired’ if they’re not divided, so doing it gets them energised to display at their best again. If you have any perennials that haven’t been looking great for a couple of years, that’s quite possibly why. Dig them up now, split them into smaller parts, each with some roots, and re-plant. If you’re going for mass planting (a load of one plant in a single area - a technique often used in cottage garden-style planting, for example) just space them out more than they were as the one big plant. It can get pretty pricey buying 30 of each kind of perennial to get that mass planted effect, so divide and conquer!

Now’s an ideal time to plant herbaceous perennials too. Us garden centres are starting to get in the new season’s stock around now, so do a bit of research online to see what you’d like to try in your garden. If you need any advice on planting and planting design, let us know and we’d be more than happy to help, if we can.

Hydrangeas need a bit of TLC around now. Remove the dead flower heads, cutting back each stem to the first strong, healthy pair of buds down from the faded bloom (this can mean taking off as much as a third of last season's growth, but don’t worry - go for it). Hydrangeas flower on new growth, so don’t cut into 'old wood’ - this can reduce the quantity and quality of flowers produced for the next couple of summers.

GET READY TO PLANT!

Bear in mind that once the soil temperature reaches 6C you can start to sow seeds directly outside. Salad crops, rocket and broad beans can go in now, with a cloche or fleece mini-poly tunnel for protection, as can sweet peas. Chit seed potatoes and plant the ‘first earlies’. Line out shallot sets and onions too.

PRUNING AND SOIL IMPROVEMENT

Improve your soil and compost. Once your soil is workable, dig a 5cm (or more) layer of compost or well-rotted manure into your beds to prepare for the growing season ahead. You can also work in a general-purpose fertiliser.

Top dress your containers with fresh compost. Remove the top 2.5cm (1") of soil and replace it with fresh stuff.

Slow release fertiliser lightly forked into the soil surface around plants, shrubs, trees and hedges and in containers will pay dividends later in the year. You don’t need to go mad, just get the pellets below the soil’s surface.

Roses like a good feed around now. Given them a specialised rose feed and/or top dress some well-rotted manure around their bases. If they haven’t been pruned yet, give them a clip. Cut them down by around a third to a half (yes, really!), cutting off stems just above an outward-facing bud. Pruning off any stems that are growing across and through the middle of the plant’s structure will help let more light into the plant overall, resulting in a better display.

Prune Clematis. Prune early-flowering varieties once their flowers have finished and summer-flowering ones before they start into active growth.

Finish cutting back Cornus and Salix cultivars, and other shrubs grown for their colourful winter stems. Cut them right back to their bases for strong growth and a brilliant display next winter. Pruning back hard also give you more space to fill with year-long interest plants that’ll then die away in time for the winter stuff to come through again.

Cut out the top rosette of leaves from mahonia shrubs after they have flowered, to encourage branching.

Prune overwintered fuchsias back to one or two buds on each shoot.

Prune winter-flowering jasmine when it’s finished flowering. This will really encourage new growth for next year's blooms. Cut back the previous year’s growth to 5cm from the old wood.

Trim winter-flowering heathers as the flowers disappear, to stop them getting ‘leggy’.

Keep deadheading your winter pansies to stop them setting seed. This will encourage flushes of new flowers throughout the spring.

Cut the old leaves off hellebores to remove any foliar diseases and make spring flowers more visible.

 FRUIT

Cut autumn-fruiting raspberry canes to the ground to stimulate new canes. These will then fruit in the autumn.

Cut just the tips of summer-fruiting raspberry canes that have grown beyond the top of their supports; snip them off just above a bud - as close to it as you can get without damaging it.

Feed blueberry plants with ericaceous plant fertiliser and top dress (“spread”!) a bit of ericaceous compost around their bases.

 Mulch (also “spread”!) around the bases of fruit trees with well-rotted manure and/or garden compost. Take care not to mound it up around tree trunks - trees really do not like having any form of nutrient-based medium piled up around their trunks (if you’re putting in raised beds that will incorporate an established tree, for example, you’ll need to leave a section boxed off without soil in it to keep the trunk free of the new level of soil).

Protect the blossoms of apricots, peaches and nectarines from frost with horticultural fleece.

Cover strawberries with a fleece cloche to encourage earlier fruiting. 

LAWNS

Cutting lawn edges is a great way to sharpen up the lines of your garden. It defines the borders and gives you a bit more space for plants to grown into.

Taking this idea one step further, metal lawn edging is a good way to retain the sharpness of the lines and helps prevent crushing down of the lawn edge when it gets walked on.

It won’t be long before your lawn will wake up and start growing. When it’s time to cut it for the first time this year, choose a dry day and set the blade(s) higher than you might during the summer. The grass will appreciate having a little more length while it picks up its growing momentum and cutting it when it’s wet will rip, rather than clean-cut it (it’s also a pain having to continually unblock slimy cutting lumps from the mower!).

Laying turf is fine all year round - although not recommended when the turf and/or the ground is frozen. Now, however, is a really good time to do it, just before the growing season begins in earnest. The turf will establish much more quickly, bonding with the ground and closing the pieces together into one unified section of lawn.

If you want to start a lawn off from seed, then now’s the time to prepare the soil, giving it time to settle before you actually sow.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch and we’ll do all we can to help.

The Lancasters Team.

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