Winter To-do list
What fun it is, in the dead of winter, to dream of spring bulbs and billowing summer perennials. But don’t hang up your gardening gloves just yet. There’s still plenty to do in the garden. And your winter chores will lay the groundwork for a successful sp
FLOWERS TO SOW
• Don’t waste your time sowing in trays or pots unless you have a glasshouse or a heated propagator and a conservatory to grow your seedlings on. In cold climates, gypsophila can be sown in August; in warmer areas sow bellis daisies, cosmos, delphiniums and dianthus, but once again, wait until winter is almost over.
FLOWERS TO PLANT
• Plant hardy annuals such as pansies, primulas, polyanthus, Iceland poppies, blue and white lobelias, and cinerarias for a cheery splash of bedding colour.
• Deciduous trees and shrubs mightn't look like much but they'll be a picture come spring. Stake at planting.
• Don’t forget to take your tulip bulbs out of the fridge and get them in the ground pronto.
• New season’s bareroot roses are in garden centres from midwinter.
• Prune hydrangeas. A nip and tuck keeps hydrangeas compact and bushy. For common lacecap and mophead varieties, best practice is to remove older canes as near to the base as you can. Remove any small spindly stems as well. On the remaining healthy stems, make a flat cut just above a fat pair of double buds. Some stems have a single tightly furled bud in a point at the end of the stem – leave these on as they're the earliest of the flowers.
• Roses are traditionally pruned in late winter. Leave off as long as possible; if we get a mild start to the season, pruning can simply encourage tender new growth, which can be damaged if late frosts appear. While repeatflowering roses are pruned in late winter, once-bloomers are pruned immediately after flowering. Hard pruning (for classic Hybrid Teas) is taking two-thirds off the bush; moderate pruning (for most roses) is removing one-third. Make angled cuts just above outward-facing nodes. Try to end up with a balanced bush. If there are useless old canes, saw them off at the base.
• When early sasanquas finish flowering, prune for shape.
• Deadhead red hot pokers and use your fingertips to nip off the spent blooms of bedding annuals.
• Frost-damaged plants. Tender species hit by unexpected frosts may look miserable, but pruning off frostbitten foliage will only make matters worse, as it encourages new (and even more frost-tender) growth. Leave this job until late spring.
• Move tender plants under cover, roll out frost cloth or spray with Liquid Frost Cloth. Mulching the dormant crowns of perennials with pea straw also helps to insulate them.
• Fungal diseases such as black spot, rust and mildew can be kept to a minimum by spraying roses in winter. Spray twice (two or three weeks apart) with a copper-based spray, such as Yates Copper Oxychloride, mixed with horticultural oil. The oil helps the copper to stick to the roses. Cover the whole bush – as well as the soil underneath – with spray to be sure to kill any overwintering fungi.
• Cut back on watering. The biggest reason for plant failure over winter is too much moisture. Water only when the soil is dry. Use tepid water or tap water at room temperature. Cold water can reduce the ability of roots to take up water and can cause leaf drop and, eventually, death. Unless your plants are cool season bloomers, like kalanchoe and Christmas cactus, stop feeding them too. As light intensity is reduced over winter, you may need to compensate by moving your plants closer to a sunny window, but make sure the plants don't touch cold windows.
• If nothing else this winter, peruse the new seed catalogues. Most seed companies put out their annual catalogue in July or August. Some still release a printed pamphlet; while others are online only. Place your order early, so you'll be ready for late winter or early spring sowing.
“I’ve been a dweller on the plains, have sighed when summer days were gone; No more I’ll sigh; for winter here Hath gladsome gardens of his own.” DOROTHY WORDSWORTH, PEACEFULOURVALLEY, FAIRANDGREEN