This winter has been one of the mildest and driest winters on record, so what does this mean for your garden? This week Paraic talks about what can be done in the garden at this time of year to get it ready for spring.
The unusually mild and dry weather has led to plants flowering unusually early this year. Snowdrops and Camellias, who normally wait another month or so, are already in bloom.
The mild weather has also left the soil in perfect condition to be worked and planted. Now is an excellent time to plant a wide variety of spring flowering plants such as daffodils, snowdrops and tulips. They make a lovely addition to a door or window box or they can be planted outdoors in your garden. They could also add some nice colour to a grave and they will flower up until the end of May.
Pruning and Lawn Care
Now is an excellent time to start pruning back your roses and summer flowering shrubs and fruit trees. The popular hydrangea shrub often seen in gardens should be left for a few weeks yet as they are prone to damage from the inevitable frost we will experience. Wait until the end of February to prune them back in order to optimise their growth. Fruit trees for example should be pruned back by about two thirds of last year’s growth. Now is a good time to apply a winter wash to your garden. This will essentially cleanse the tree removing all pests and parasite which can lead to problems later on in spring and summer. Fruit trees, rose bushes and beech hedging will all benefit greatly from this.
As far as lawn care is concerned, Paraics first cut this year was actually on New Year’s Eve. He suggests that you give your lawn a light cut, with a raised blade, and afterwards to apply a moss treatment. The unseasonably warm weather has encouraged the growth of more moss than usual. This can be treated with Zero moss treatment which works overnight, saving you a lot of time and hassle come spring and summer.
There are many different spring flowering bulbs available from your local garden centre. Daffodils, Tulips and snowdrops can be bought now and they are really lovely in window boxes or containers. Spring flowering pansies, spring flowering heather and a variety of alpine plants such as Aubrietia, Aribas and Yellow Alyssum are perfect additions to your garden. They are hardy by nature and they will withstand any frost we may get as well as adding some lovely colour to the garden year after year. They are perennial so you have many years ahead to enjoy them. Bedding plants such as Spring pansies and Primulas will also add reliable and consistent colour up until the end of May.
Climbing plants can transform unsightly inanimate objects in your garden into beautiful features. Old walls or poles for example can be transformed by adding a colourful climber. The Clematis Montana Rubens will flower in spring and other varieties such as the Clematis Dr. Rupple are fast growing with lovely purple flowers appearing nearing the summer months. They need to be planted with plenty of compost and you can guide them towards the wall with some small clips until they take hold themselves.
While it may be a bit early to plant your potatoes outdoors, you can chit (sprout) your potatoes indoors to get them ready for planting. Remove the seeding potatoes from the bag and place them on a tray in a bright and airy location. They can be planted outdoors in March or April and depending on the variety you choose they can be harvested in July or August. Early seeding potatoes such as the Sharpes Express and Duke of York variety can be planted now into large composting pots and placed in your greenhouse. These varieties will mature earlier giving you a fine crop of potatoes in May. For more information on growing your own potatoes check out our blog here. As well as potatoes, early in the season is a great time to plant some garlic, spring onions or shallots. They are quite easy to grow and their hardy nature will allow them to withstand any spring frost. They will be ready to harvest in April or May.
Greenhouse Vs Polytunnel
A common question that many people have is should they invest in a greenhouse or will a cheaper polytunnel suffice? Greenhouses are essentially a self enclosed and sealed unit ideal for propagating plants, sowing seeds and bulbs, as well as growing different types of fruits and vegetables. They can be heated during winter months using electricity or a simple oil paraffin burner to keep the frost off the plants. Any sensitive plants can be covered with garden fleece for extra protection. You can easily grow tomatoes, peppers, chillis and many different types of herbs. Greenhouses come in many different attractive designs that compliment your garden, and they essentially give you a head start for your gardening season.
A polytunnel on the other hand is not enclosed and difficult to heat for obvious reasons. It is however ideal for growing potatoes, vegetables and other salad crops such as onions and shallots. Vegetables take up a lot of space, so a Polytunnel will give more space to grow at a lower cost than a greenhouse. Paraic even has peaches and nectarines in his own polytunnel, as well as a nice relaxing hammock! They can also be moved or taken down with less hassle than moving a greenhouse. Both greenhouses and polytunnels have their advantages and your choice should depend on your needs as much as your budget.