It’s been a pretty wet winter so far so, perverse as it may seem, I actually would like it to get really cold and dry for February and well into March. If December and January had supplied plenty of cold, dry, days then, at this point, I’m generally praying for a rapid climb out of winter and an early return of spring. As it is, given that I garden on a soil that can be prone to water logging, I am behind in all those vital winter tasks that would have necessitated getting onto the soil.
Walking on, digging, cultivating a sodden soil will do more harm than good as you are in danger of destroying the ‘soil structure’. A soil without structure will be lacking in oxygen and this in turns means that plant roots are unable to ‘breathe’ and will fail to thrive. You can rebuild the structure, by deep digging and the addition of ‘humus’ (compost, well rotted manure, that kind of stuff) plus grit for drainage, but prevention is always preferable to a cure. Cheaper, less exhausting and a better use of your time too.
Hence I am hoping that winter extends a little longer than usual or else I fear that there will be a terrible ‘time crash’ as completing winter tasks, before plants break dormancy, will collide headlong into the myriad spring jobs which need to be got under way before the moment is lost. The arrival of my recently ordered 2016 seeds is what brought this home to me; so many neat little packets offering so much future promise.
If you’ve got a garden, but have never grown anything from seed, there’s still plenty of time to put an order in, or pop down to the garden centre / supermarket. You really can’t go wrong if you read the back of the packet and make sure you can provide what the instructions suggest. Remember that plants have an inbuilt urge to grow and thrive so give it a go – what’s the worst that can happen?!
If I get my wish and we do get a decent long, cold, dry, period it will buy me that bit of extra time. Having said that, some tasks are firmly fixed in the schedule, like doing the second shortening of wisteria shoots (to a few buds) this month, whilst others are more random and reliant totally upon the state of the season. Even before the onset of global warming, the vagaries of the British climate have always ensured that no two years follow precisely the same pattern. The comparative ‘earliness’ or ‘lateness’ of the season gives we gardeners plenty to chat about because, as always, there are pros and cons to each scenario.
However weird the year, by now spring bulbs will be adding a sprinkling of colour to many parts of the garden; lawns, beds, borders, the largest urn to the smallest thumb pot. They don’t have to be showy to make an impact at this, florally diminished, time of year. The daintier bulbs have the advantage of not leaving a legacy of unsightly dead and dying leaves in their wake. Use early narcissi, ‘February Gold being an obvious one, and ‘tough as you like’ species crocuses naturalised in grass. Remember that you can’t have too many of these so aim for hundreds, preferably thousands, rather than a half-hearted dozen. Make a note in your diary now, to order them from bulb suppliers in the autumn, assuming you can resist ‘instant’ pots of bulbs in flower. The instant hit is, obviously, a much more expensive way of satisfying your spring bulb habit.
With bulbs emerging ‘left, right and centre’ this may be your last chance to add a good layer of humus-rich mulch to your beds. I always find it hard to get the timing right for this particular task. I don’t like to add a thick layer of organic matter right at the onset of winter where it then sits, in a saturated mess, on the crowns of slumbering herbaceous perennials and up against the twiggy stems of sub-shrubs.
Adding your mulch later, just as plants begin to break out of dormancy, means that it can still trap winter rainfall underneath yet the plants will be active enough to fight off any potential ‘smothering’ by the blanket of organic matter. Sprinkling a generous quantity of your chosen fertiliser, I rely on ‘fish, blood and bone’, as you lightly fork the soil between plants ensures that this is incorporated into the soil as the mulch is applied on top. This general ‘fork, weed, feed then mulch’ process can continue until all your planted areas are spruced up and reinvigorated in readiness for the galloping spring.
Getting a head start with a few propagating tasks, in the greenhouse, is always a good idea. Slow growing annuals can be sown, towards the end of the month, if you can provide them with supplementary heat and a light position. Otherwise a timely tidy up and stock take, in readiness for the main seed sowing, makes sense. Repot any cuttings of tender perennials that have been overwintering, but only if they need it, and only into marginally bigger pots or else they’ll rot off. Keep everything else under glass just ticking over for as long as my hoped for frostiness continues. As sure as eggs is eggs, spring will be sprung soon enough and, as ever, all good things are worth waiting for.