Who would have thought that a week ago, fired up by the spring sunshine, many of us would have rushed out to work in the garden? As it is, I have been snowed in at the end of an icy track in the depths of Cornwall rather than designing gardens in Hampshire. Not that I am complaining: yesterday I went down the side of a hill in a kayak followed by a golden retriever - an adventure that ended in a close encounter with a bramble hedge. The sacrifices one makes in pursuit of harmony with nature eh? On the subject of snow, it is interesting to note that snow in itself very rarely finishes a plant off. Snow actually as a thermal layer: think igloos and eskimos. It is the frost that causes the water to expand that damages the cell structure of plants and it is this that causes them to go limp. Winter damage done by high winds causes die-back due to de-hydration and more often than not, water saturation of a root system will effectively 'drown' a plant by inhibiting its supply of air to the root system. That is why planting a tree or a shrub at the correct depth and with the appropriate soil is so important: it can make the difference between a struggling or a flourishing plant in years to come. Part of the work in March therefore, is to prune plants to ensure that the spring growth has the best chance of succeeding:
- Prune roses and add a suitable fertiliser that will boost the flower growth in the coming season. Any fertiliser containing a high level of potassium (K) will do the job. Spread mulch around the base of the plant to help keep moisture in and the weeds at bay.
- Prune the dead growth of climbers when the worst of the frosts are over. Honeysuckle (Lonicera), ivy (Hedera), actinidia (Aktinidia kolomikta) and the winter-flowering jasmine (Jasmine nudiflorum) will all have signs of new life appearing. Just cut back to the new growth.
- Cut back the stems of dogwood (Cornus) and willow (Salix) when their vibrant colours start to fade. Commonly known as coppicing, this technique of taking the stems down to 5-7cms from the ground will prolong the life of your plant and promote colourful stems the following year. The cuttings are also great for flower arranging and even weaving.
- Deadhead the daffodils but leave the foliage as this enables the bulbs to be fed.
- Scrape off the top few inches ( 5cms) of large potted plants and replace with fresh compost giving them a sprinkling of slow-release fertiliser at the same time.
If your attempts to garden are so inhibited by the weather that you can't actually see your hand at the end of your arm, then it is probably time to do something else. I recommend finding a dog and a kayak and having a bit of fun outside.
Don't feel guilty: just call it field research.