Sunday 17 December 2017

Only January but plenty to do

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Andrew Collyer.
Andrew Collyer.

Force rhubarb crowns

Galanthus nivalis, our beloved snowdrop

The worst is over? That's certainly the way it felt when I was out in the garden last Tuesday afternoon. The sun was out and warm and not a puff of wind. It was dare I say it almost spring like, I can't recall a day as pleasent for a very very long time.

It was a welcome tonic for the gardening soul as we have been enduring the worst gardening winter I can remember, it really has been very hard to do anything. Yes it is still wet under foot but just one good day can invigorate and raise the enthusiasm levels, it did for me. Its been a long while, and I would consider myself a pretty hardy gardener, that I have enjoyed being out there. And oh is there plenty to do.

Rhubarb is begining to show new leaves so I need to cover some crowns with large pots to force [make grow quickly in the dark] some early stalks. It is also a good time for spliting and transplanting from old crowns. Mulch all rhubarb with well rotted manure now. Next to my rhubarb is a strawberry bed that has become a little too shaded from nearby shrubs so I want to lift and transplant these into four raised edging beds where they will get more sun and be easier to manage.

It is recommended that you don't allow strawberries to fruit the first year after planting but as these are established plants and I am going to lift with as much soil on as possible and hope they don't even realise they have been moved. Also in the vegetable garden I want to put in some garlic, onion and shallot sets, sets are tiny treated bulbs and are easier than sowing from seed.

The soil is too wet for digging at the moment but I am going to cover a couple of veg beds, my veg area is divided into eight foot square beds, with a heavy duty plastic sheet. This will keep off any more rain that might fall plus warm up the soil earlier. On dry days I will pull back the plastic to allow the soil to dry out and also leave the areas uncovered on frosty nights to kill off any bugs and help break up the soil structure.

A winter prune of established currants bushes needs to be done by removing about a third of the old wood back to the ground. Finches in particular have started pecking the new buds on all fruit bushes and trees which will discourage fruiting later. Either cover with netting or tie tinfoil on string to scare them off. Providing an alternative food source will help too. In tunnels and greenhouses crops like broad beans, peas, carrots, beetroot, lettuce and seed onions can be started. They can be grown in the ground to crop or sown in pots for planting out later.

In the ornamental part of the garden I still have some tidying to do. This would usually have been completed before Christmas but it was just too wet. Now to make up for lost time I am taking an educated risk and pruning roses and penstemons back now, this would usually be done a little later. I am doing this as I work through the borders so I don't have to revisit the area in a months time. I am hoping we don't get a late freeze to damage new shoots.

Other plants like large flowered clematis, ornamental grasses and any dead growth on herbaceous plants can be cut back now. Cut back the Clematis to about 18 inches and they will flower better for you later in the year. Wisterias should have all the loose whippy growth cut back to the plants main framework. I have left dahlias in the ground this year to see how they fare. Rot is more likely to be a problem for them as we have had very few frosts of note this winter so far. I know of someone who has left their dahlias in situ for years to no ill effect. There are still some leaves on the grass and borders that really do need removing know as they are rapidly turning to a slimey mess. Throw these onto your compost heap.

As I write this it is another wet and windy day but I have no fear as I know another pet day is just around the corner.

Wexford People

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