It’s time to dust off your gardening gloves says Jane Moore, even though the frost is still on the ground now is the time to lay the prep for the rest of the year
Before you know it spring will be here and time will be running out to do all those jobs you’ve been meaning to do for ages. I like to mix it up a bit, saving some sweet little jobs for those days where there is a glimmer of sunshine. Other tasks are meatier, something to get your teeth into on a chill brisk day. As a reward for completing one of those bigger jobs, I make sure I’m going indoors at the end of the day to a nice hearty stew. I feel I’ve earned it. To take a little of the hard work out of it here’s my to-do list of jobs that need doing.
ONE…Prune your clematis
Regular readers will know this is not the first time I have covered this particular subject, but if those readers are anything like me they need to remind themselves of The Clematis Code as I like to think of it. It is quite straightforward so I won’t waste time pontificating about the virtues of various clems and will cut straight to the point. Early summer flowering, May and June, varieties need a good hard prune back to within a couple of feet of the ground, each stem to a pair of strong buds. This includes all the dainty flowering C. viticella types, probably my favourites, and some of the big beauties such as ‘Perle d’Azur’. But this is not the way to treat the majority of the big bloomers that flower in high summer including the likes of ‘Nelly Moser’ and ‘The President’. Oh no, these are tricky to prune properly but really you can’t go too wrong if you simply take out a quarter to a third of the old shoots now. The true spring flowerers such as C. montana, C. alpine and C. macropetala are simply left to their own devices and kept within bounds although you can cut back super hard to rejuvenate every few years if you wish, but save doing that until June. Give them all a nice mulch of garden compost afterwards and then head indoors for that bowl of stew.
TWO…Prep the veg
While the compost bin is in use get those vegetable beds ready for sowing by having a thorough weed followed by a mulch of garden compost. You’ll need to plan a little first to make sure you don’t compost those beds where you want to grow root crops or you’ll end up with comedy carrots as they fork and twist in the too rich soil. Plan your sowing regime while you’re at it and order any seeds you may need. Chitting potatoes always makes me feel spring is just a skip away and this is the perfect time to get those early and second earlies going. Simply space them out in trays or egg boxes which are brilliant for holding the blighters in position, ‘rose’ side up – that’s the end with the most little sprouts or ‘eyes’. Put them in a cool, light place such as the porch, spare room or greenhouse until the ‘chits’ or sprouts are about an inch or 2cm or so long which will be in about March when they’ll be ready to plant. Favourites of mine include ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Cherie’, both second earlies, and ‘Home Guard’ for those very first new potatoes of the summer.
I know the dainty little native snowdrop is only just getting going but consider this a timely reminder for the end of the month. If you have any of the super early varieties such as the G. atkinsii or G. elwesii these start flowering practically on New Year’s Day and will probably need dividing any day now as they go over. If you don’t have any of these sturdy, reliable brilliant snowdrops but a neighbour does, then offer to divide theirs for them as long as you can have some.
Snowdrops clump-up wonderfully and split so superbly it’s only the time of year that counts against us all having gardens full of them. It’s easy enough, gently lift, split clumps and replant in clusters, firming in to the same depth as previously. So set to, my brave Bath gardeners, and make sure your garden is a picture of winter next year.
FOUR…Train your fruit
All your fruit need pruning and training now except the plums, cherries and peaches which should be done in summertime. The apples, pears, quinces, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and so on all need a good sort out now. I always find the wall trained fruit a joy to do as it looks so good afterwards, neatly plastered to the wall with the little spurs just waiting to break into blossom. True trees just need a prune to open them up to allow light in to ripen the later fruit and make sure the boughs don’t get too heavy.
“Make sure you don’t compost those beds where you want to grow crops or you’ll end up with comedy carrots as they fork and twist in the rich soil”
– JANE MOORE –
It’s the currants that bother me as I always, always forget the rules and have to look it up. How many years have I been gardening and it’s still my bête noir or is it my currant noir? Well, here goes, without checking. Blackcurrants fruit on last year’s wood so you need to remove a third of the stems to keep them fruiting, while red and white currants fruit on this years wood so should be pruned to an open, goblet shaped framework from which the fruiting shoots will grow in the spring. Yes I’ve got it at last! As for gooseberries, well I need to leave something for you to look up…
FIVE…See to the leaves
My sweet little five minutes in the sunshine job of all time is de-leafing. I’ll happily spend odd moments chasing a ray of sunshine while systematically de-leafing a patch of hellebores or epimediums. Keen gardeners among you may well be muttering how these plants are all shade lovers and they are but dappled shade when trees are bare can lead to some sunny spots and I’ll take whatever I can get, secateurs at the ready. Granted it does lead to some slightly spasmodic de-leafing but we get round everywhere in the end, eventually. The truth is the hellebore and epimedium flowers look so much finer, more elegant and utterly charming without those horrible coarse leaves smothering their beauty. Plus it reduces that disfiguring leaf spot hellebores seem to suffer from so often. So improved beauty plus Vitamin D makes for a happy, healthy gardener and garden to head into March.
Jane Moore is the award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at The Bath Priory Hotel. Twitter: @janethegardener