What a glorious time of the year. Spring is nearly here and the gardener is full of optimise and just can’t wait to get started. However, there are a few jobs that need to be done immediatly to ensure that all is well through the summer to guarantee good displays next autumn and winter.
It is in March and early April that all those plants that have been grown for their colourful stems over the winter need to be pruned so as to generate enough strong vibrant wood for next year’s great displays.
All that is necessary is to cut down all the shoots to about 2-3 buds above ground level. Shrubs that need this treatment include the dogwoods such as Cornus alba, C. sanguinea and C. stolonifera and all their cultivars, the willows grown for their stems such as Salix alba and all its cultivars and S. irrorata.
The white washed brambles Rubus cockburnianus and R. thibetanus ‘Silver Fern’ look so fantastic against the grey skies of winter. They also need to be treated in the same manner to ensure new vibrant growth that will supply all of next seasons display.
Once you have cut down all your stems, it is necessary to apply a good quality feed such as a rose fertilizer or growmore following the manufactures instructions. You cannot really expect spectacular growth and good colour unless you provide the plant with some energy.
Remember that if we experience a dry period the plants will benefit from being watered. You are expecting a lot out of these plants so remember a bit of tender loving care will be rewarded by good growth which you will then enjoy all winter.
Do not throw all these stems away. The willow stems can be used for making sculptures or for weaving fences. All the other material should be put through a shedder and the material composed for at least six months before using it in the garden.
Garden shredders have come a long way in the past few years. They are much quieter than in the past and are available in a much wider range of sizes to suit all needs. Take a look at the catalogue or the website for details. I am sure you will find a machine suitable for all your material.
Think about safety when pruning or using a shredder. A pair of goggles or a wrap round safety visor if you wear glasses is a valuable piece of kit to protect your eyes. Strong gloves will keep your hands not only warm on a crisp spring day but will also prevent minor injuries to your hands.
A strong pair of loppers, a folding pruning saw or a bull nosed bow saw will make light work of this annual operation.
This is also seed sowing time outdoors in the warmer parts of the country. Wait a bit longer if you are in the north or have a cold garden. I find that a draw hoe is the easiest tool for taking out a drill. Drawn against a good strong garden line you will be able to create the correct depth required for seed sowing with this tool. Once the seed is in the drill then rake back the soil and firm with the back of the rakes head. Those rakes with straight teeth are better for this job in my opinion.
If you are not sure when to start seed sowing just remember that not a lot gets going until the temperature gets to about 50°F. A good garden thermometer that records both the maximum and minimum temperature is a valuable tool at this time of the year.
Soil thermometers are also available and are essential if you are intending using biological control agents such as eelworms for the control of slugs or vine weevils. If applied before the soil is sufficiently warm and moist you will be wasting your time.
It is also planting time and a well-balanced garden trowel is worth its weight in gold. I have recently invested in a new set of stainless steel hand tools, as the maintenance is so much easier than with the old fashioned steel tools. All that is needed is to wipe the tool clean to remove any soil before putting them away.
Long handled trowels and hand forks are now available and these are great for those difficult to reach spots. I like those with handles that are about 12” long as distinct from those with full size shafts that are to be used standing up. I find these full sized shafted tools a bit of a luxury and I only tend to use them if my back is playing up.
Enjoy the spring and happy gardening to you all.