It may be warm inside, but in my garden it’s …. well let’s say it’s warming up. Certainly the bulbs are telling us that spring’s not far away, with Daffodils having started to emerge as early as January. Bulbs are one of the first group of plants to give flowering colour in the new year and because they are mostly bright amongst an otherwise dull background, they act to cheer us up and inspire us to get our gardening togs on again. If you feel your garden isn’t yet colourful enough then nurseries and garden centres may have the answer, with potted bulbs that can be planted straight into the ground. You’ll find bright yellows of Tete a Tete’s and other miniature Narcissi, mauves and purples of Crocus and very soon, the reds, pinks and purples of tulips. Otherwise it’s a case of keeping a shopping list for September, for that’s when these bright beauties can be bought in their dormant state.
There aren’t many flowering shrubs at this time of year but those that do put on a show are valued all the more, often with the added bonus that they have a strong fragrance, as they need to attract the few pollinating insects around at these cooler times. Some evergreens such as Mahonia and Camellias have particularly colourful blooms though a sharp frost can hasten their end. Skimmias, Viburnums and winter Honey suckles are more subtle. Their flowers generally last far longer than they would in the warmer months, so they perform well for the space they occupy – a valuable characteristic for small gardens or important positions in a front garden.
Other shrubs which won’t be flowering until after mid-summer also require some attention at this time of year. These mostly flower on the growth which they will make in the next few months. Therefore, pruning older plants now means that the plant will react by putting on spurts of growth, and the more growth, the more flowers. This applies to popular species such as Hydrangeas (prune hard), Escallonias, Buddlieas and Potentillas. There is often confusion surrounding Clematis, and this is because some varieties flower before July and others afterwards. Those that flower afterwards are those that flower on current year’s growth so these too can be pruned hard now.
Apart from cutting back shrubs, fruit tree pruning is another reason nature gives us for venturing outside at this time of year. If we don’t do this then trees can become out of shape and the older wood produces fewer fruit of a lower quality. Fruit tree pruning has to achieve a balance of retaining last year’s growth which is where the flowers are borne, and at the time stimulating fresh young growth this year which will carry next year’s fruit. Therefore the pruning of ‘top’ fruit should be moderate, as a general rule cutting back about a third of last season’s growth. This can easily be identified by its generally lighter colour than that from the preceding year. Prune to just above an outside facing bud in order to maintain the ‘wine-glass’ shape of the tree. The other reason for pruning is to completely remove any ‘cross’ branches or diseased wood.
So, if you haven’t emerged into the garden as yet, there are now some good reasons to go out, brighten things up, and stimulate some growth for the coming year. You’ll be rewarded.
6 Tasks for February
Ian Shilling, Garden Managerback to blog
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