Our gardens are often abandoned at this time of year; yet carry out these five jobs now and they will pay dividends come spring, says horticulturalist Camilla Bassett-Smith
DARE TO GO BARE ROOT
Instead of waiting for the summer benches of flowering roses from which to pluck your pickings, why not buy them in dormant form? This will save you money as, minus the blooms, it is the cheaper purchase option. Winter offers a huge choice of bare root roses, and is a great time for them to establish themselves. Top of my shrub rose recommendations and perfect in peach is the recent introduction Roald Dahl. For an orange climber you won’t regret, try Scent from Heaven – revealed at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show as Rose of the Year 2017.
TIME FOR TULIPS
As Editor of the Daffodil Society, I have a soft spot for bulbs. It is often best to leave the planting of your tulips as late as possible as this can discourage the onset of tulip fire – a fungal disease that you can well do without. Plant roughly twice the depth of the bulb and consider using a selection of early to late flowering cultivars in order to maximise flowering time. Queen of Night is a classic dark purple, while Ice Cream looks good enough to eat! For a more naturalised effect, try the native Tulipa sylvestris or the eccentric 17th century acuminata.
Everyone loves a winter pansy, but keeping them going throughout the winter is not always guaranteed. For the best display, keep on top of deadheading and look out for fuzzy grey mould on leaves, as this can indicate downy mildew – remove any infected leaves immediately to prevent it spreading. If you’re yet to plant, go for bright colours that stand out more; I’ve gone for white with purple faces this year, but yellow and orange will also jump out. Quiet sophistication can be found in the wines and dark blues. Much like you and I, they love the best of the winter sunshine, so pick an open spot for viola perfection!
Let your tools be like a bull to an oily rag! Good hygiene is vital for a healthy garden. Gleaming and disease free is what we want to see at this time of year. This is like an early spring clean, but without the spring (well, apart from the one in your secateurs!). Pests may still be lurking in corners, so brush down any dirty pots or seed trays and wash them with a mild disinfectant solution. Don’t forget the ends of canes, too!
MAKE THE CUT
Now is a good time to prune some of our plants. Sap is not active and therefore bleeding from cuts is less likely, preventing too much shrub shock after your attack of kindness! Where plants are deciduous, it is also easier to see where you are administering your surgery, making the creation of a good shape more possible. Wisteria, grapevines, blackcurrants and apples, to mention a few, will appreciate your attention at this time of year. Damaged, diseased or dead wood is for the chop and a mild, dry day is the ideal time for this.
Camilla Bassett-Smith is a freelance media horticulturalist. Having trained in horticulture, Camilla is currently Garden Producer on Channel 4’s Inside Out Homes and is Editor of The Daffodil Society.