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WINTER TOPICAL TIPS- From our Chairman,Tony Buckle

For many of us  our gardens were both a comfort and inspiration in coping with the Covid 19 pandemic last year, so whatever may happen in 2021 it‘s time to prepare our gardens for the year ahead.  Gardening is very much about forward planning and being optimistic, so our efforts now will be rewarded later on. There is always a job awaiting us outdoors on those bright and sunny days of winter that will keep us fit and prepare our gardens for that first flush of colour in the spring. So make way for the snowdrops and crocuses by gathering up any fallen leaves remaining on borders, lawns and pathways. Stuff them into plastic sacks punctured with holes, to allow air in, and turn them into leaf-mould that can be used in potting composts and for mulching.  Remove the old leaves from Hellebores so that the emerging flowers will not be obscured and complete cutting back any perennials to ground level.  Dig up weeds in flower borders and apply a layer of leaf mould, made last year, or compost to the surface without digging it in so as not to disturb any bulbs or plants that have already died back.  The compost will suppress weed growth and gradually decompose to enrich the soil with moisture retaining humus and plant nutrients.

Bare root roses can be planted at any time during the winter provide that the soil is not frozen.  They can be ordered on-line and delivered by mail or courier.  On arrival soak the bare roots in a bucket of water overnight before planting. Dig a hole deeper than the length of the roots, part fill with compost, add a handful of bone-meal, sprinkle the bare roots with mycorrhizal root fungus ( supplied in packets as granules) to promote vigorous root growth.  Place the bare rooted plant in the hole then refill with soil and compost, ensuring that the point at which the rose has been grafted on to the rootstock is at least 3”/7.5cm below ground level, then water with at least 2 gallons of water.  In March apply a rose top-dressing to get them off to a flying start.  Climbing roses can be lightly pruned in winter, cutting back old flowering stems just far enough to leave a couple of dormant buds from the main stems.  Lightly prune bush roses, then complete pruning in the spring.

Sweet peas can be sown at any time during the winter, provided they are protected under glass, no heat is required.  Try filling toilet rolls with compost stood upright in a tray of compost, then sow one seed per toilet roll.  They can be planted outside in the spring with minimum disturbance to the roots.

The same technique is also suitable for getting broad beans off to an early start by sowing one seed per toilet roll then planting out when they are about 2” /5cm tall.  Early sown broad beans tend to be less susceptible to black fly and can survive the harshest of winters and will be one of the first vegetables to harvest in early summer.

In February cut back autumn fruiting raspberries to ground level, apply some general purpose fertiliser and mulch with compost, leaf mould or well-rotted manure.  Summer fruiting raspberries should be left to fruit on the stems produced last year.

As seed potatoes become available in garden centres during February start off early varieties by placing the seed tubers in a tray or old egg box.  Put them in a cool, light, frost-free place in order to encourage the production of shoots. Once they have produced shoots about 1-2 cm they can be planted.  For an early crop they can be grown in large pots or buckets having 2 cm diameter holes in the bottom, then fill with compost mixed with a small handful of fertiliser.  Start them off in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame until the danger of frosts has passed and then they can go outdoors for an early crop.  Water generously with a liquid sea-weed feed to maximise the yield when in leaf. 

For an early crop of carrots try sowing early varieties, such as Nantes or Amsterdam Forcing, under glass directly in the soil in cold frames or in pots or containers, at least 8”/20cm deep, in an unheated greenhouse. They will mature sooner than those grown outdoors and will also be less likely affected by carrot root fly.

Even when the ground is frozen or covered with snow there are several indoor jobs awaiting you, such as tidying sheds and greenhouses, washing the glass, cleaning and sharpening tools and having motor mowers and other power tools serviced so they are ready when needed. Then it’s time to come indoors and browse those plant catalogues that fill you with aspiration and new ideas to create that summer display or cultivate a new vegetable.  So there’s no excuse for just putting your feet up and waiting for Spring to arrive.  Get ready now to give your garden a flying start in 2021 and keep the Covid blues away. 

For more tips and advice see also the RHS Wisley Website January advice page

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