Gardening Calendar: Jobs for Late Winter
Early spring bulbs spell the end of winter, and preparations for spring can begin on mild days.
Late winter can bring some exceptionally cold days and nights, together with freezing winds, snow and poor light. The greatest possible use should be made of any available glass — a greenhouse, cloche or cold frame. Glass cover will not keep out frost in a severe winter, but in most years it gives reasonable protection against the night cold. Use cloches to warm up theso that outdoor sowing can take place a week or two earlier.
Late winter is the last opportunity for clearing the dead tops from last year’s herbaceous perennials.
Preparation of the ground for spring planting among existing border plants can be carried out in late winter whenever the weather permits. Lightly hoe or fork over the top 5-7.5cm (2-3in) of soil. At the same time, work in bone-meal, hoof and horn or any organic fertilizer which is high in phosphates and potash but low in nitrogen.
Also, lightly fork over beds which have been previously winter-dug and reserved for sowing and planting annuals. If manure or compost has not been applied earlier, rake or hoe in a 100g/4oz per sq m/yd dressing of bone-meal.
If frost has loosened any border or rock garden plants, firm the soil around them. Remove small tufts of grass and the seedlings of annual weeds. These often germinate unnoticed during the autumn but become more prominent during a mild late winter. Scatter slug pellets during mild weather, especially if slime trails are seen.
Roses, shrubs and hedges
Prune callicarpa, campsis, spiraea and Tamarix pentandra hard back by cutting away the previous year’s growth to within a few centimetres of the old wood. This will encourage new, vigorous shoots to develop.
Prune summer-floweringhard back, either to 30cm (1ft) above ground, or to within two buds on young growth.
Cut back all the shoots that have completed flowering on chimonanthus and winter jasmine, but leave this until early spring if they are still in bloom. Thin out climbers such as celastrus and potato vine by removing any weak growths, and shorten or pinch out the tips of main shoots.
Cut back overgrown hedges towards the end of late winter so that they produce new growth in spring. Cut the top growth 30cm (1ft) or more lower than the height ultimately required, so that there will be space for new growth to hide the old skeleton.
Plant of the Month
Winter-flowering mahonia (Mahonia x media ‘Charity’) is one of the most elegant of all shrubs, especially during late winter. Its upright branches carry huge evergreen leaves which are made up of-like leaflets. Tapering sprays of lily-of-the-valley-scented, yellow crown the branches in late winter. Tassels of berries then develop, which ripen blue-black with a grey bloom. At maturity, this imposing shrub reaches 2.4-3m (8- 10ft) in height.
Other late winter flowers
Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is a delightful wall shrub, its green stems being showered with bright yellow trumpet flowers over a long period in winter.
For rich purplish pink flowers on upright naked branches, choose Daphne mezereum. As the flowers mature, tufts of bright green leaves unfurl at the tips of the branches. For a low display of late winter blue or mauve flowers, grow chionodoxa and Iris reticulata.
In dry periods, aerate, rake, and brush off worm casts. Apply sharp sand to lawns on heavy wet soils, and sieved loam and organic materials on light porous soils.
Apply lawn sand towards the end of late winter to control daisies and clover. Moss invasion may be serious now. Try to discover the cause — it may be bador impoverished turf. Correct poor physical conditions and treat with a mercury-based moss killer.