Work to do in dormant season
Plant your tulip bulbs
Iris unguicularis 'Mary Barnard' - intermittently flowering all winter
The dormant season generally refers to the months of November through to February. Four months. Increasingly these four months seem to be being whittled away from either end with deciduous plants holding their leaves longer, pre- Ophelia at least, and breaking bud earlier too. Herbaceous plants are flowering longer, dying back later and re emerging earlier.
Evergreens are now growing a little even in winter and this is to say nothing of the lawns that virtually need mowing year round. This is however still the gardening season of opportunity to plant bare root and root balled trees and shrubs and lift and move plants in your own garden.
A bare root plant is supplied unsurprisingly without any soil attached to the root system. They are grown out in open fields in soil rather than compost then lifted in winter.
This is a very useful way to buy hedging plants in large quantities as they are cheaper , easy to transport and easier to plant. It is also a good way to buy certain trees and for some species in larger sizes at a fraction of the cost of a containerised equivalent.
When planting a bare root specimen it is very important to ensure that it is well and securely staked and tied as obviously it is very venerable to being blown over by winter gales.
A root balled plant is supplied with a undisturbed ball of soil still attached to the root system. They are still grown in an open field but are lifted carefully in winter with as little disturbance to the roots as possible.
There, in the field, they are wrapped in hessian sack or even hessian in plastic wrap for smaller plants and hessian sack and chicken wire cages for large plants. This still works out cheaper than buying containerised plants as the growing costs are reduced.
When planting root balled plants it is advised to leave the hessian sack or wire cage intact but once the plant is in position in its planting hole cut away the tying knots at the top of the rootball or any wire close to the stem. Both the hessian and wire cage will root in the ground within a couple of years without inhibiting root growth. Of course if there is plastic wrap involved this needs to be removed completely.
This lack of root disturbance is particularly important for species like birch and beech that in largers sizes resent being moved and can be difficult to transplant. Planting bare root or root ball plants should be done with the same care and preparation as for container grown plants. Summer watering can be particularly important with bare root transplants in the first year.
The dormant season is also a good time to reassess your existing planting. We all fall into the trap of slightly over planting, after all who wants to wait ten years to feel your garden has a fullness to it.
This doesn't mean that after five years when your planting scheme has filled out a little that a shrub or tree can't be shifted to a new position. Many woody plants within this time frame will replant quite happily although Mediterranean plants like lavenders, cistus and Erysimum along with ceanothus are not sucessful.
If moving an established tree or shrub it is best to cut back the existing growth by half, with a tree this is done on the crown only.
This should be done whether the plant is evergreen or deciduous. This pruning will reduce the amount of leaf on the plant in spring relieving the stress on the root system allowing it re-establish more easily.
When digging up get as much soil and root as is possible and disturb as little as possible. Always have the new planting hole prepared and ready to receive the lifted plant immediately.
Herbaceous plants tend to be easily moved in winter with the exception of fleshy root plants like Agapanthus and Paeonia that are best left until early spring to help prevent their roots from rotting. Otherwise it is just a matter of digging up and spliting. This can be done by chopping with a spade or if two garden forks are placed back to back then force the handles together - it will rip the root system apart.
This division of herbaceous plants in most cases is advisable every three to five year anyway to keep the stock plant fresh and flowering well. Always mark where the new roots are planted as this may not be evident later in winter.
ABOVE: Iris unguicularis 'Mary Barnard'.