Spring back into action

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Despite a few hard frosts, a chilly wind and a light dusting of snow our region has had a fairly mild start to the year enabling gardeners to get ready for the busy season ahead.

At home the raised beds in the fruit and vegetable garden are gradually getting prepared; several have been dug over now, perennial weeds removed, the soil improved and, where necessary, replenished.

We have decided to replace some of our old soft fruit and, to kick-start the rejuvenation, my sister-in-law and her husband have kindly sent me a couple of heavily cropping red currants for my birthday, ‘Junifer’ which fruits early and ‘Rovada’ which crops in August. The bushes arrived bare- rooted in the post, beautifully packaged with clear instructions and were planted on the same day! Hopefully the ancient raspberry canes will also be replaced this year. The existing blackcurrants, loganberries and rhubarb are still productive will and benefit from a good mulch now.

Remember that in addition to fruit bushes and trees, bare-root ornamental shrubs, trees and hedging can be planted out until the end of March. If they cannot be planted immediately on arrival in their final position, heel them into a trench until they can be planted out. Container grown material can be planted throughout the year.

My husband has his first early potatoes chitting in egg boxes on the window sill of a frost-free building ready to plant out in late March. A large variety of seed potatoes are available to grow at home; if a bag is too big or you want to try a couple of varieties, consider buying your seed potatoes with a friend and sharing the bags. There is a vast array of vegetable seed on offer; consider what you want to grow in the coming season and when they need to be sown. Curly kale, Swiss chard and perpetual spinach are my favourites although the visiting pheasants often snip off the odd leaf with their sharp beaks! Last year the roe deer nibbled away all the lower foliage and pods of my runner beans leaving only the leaves, flowers and beans at the top where they couldn’t reach; oh the joys of rural living!

Whether you are sowing seeds for vegetables or flowers, ensure a fine tilth is produced on the beds but don’t be in too much of a hurry to sow seed directly into the soil. Seeds can always be started indoors and hardened off; this can help to protect against slug damage and also seeds being flushed away by heavy rain. Wait until the weed seeds pop up; hoe them off; let the weed seeds pop up again; hoe off again and now sow your seed.

Unless they were pruned in the autumn, March is a good time to prune shrub and climbing roses, mulching afterwards with well-rotted farmyard manure.

Cut back the coloured stems of Cornus and Salix to prevent them becoming too congested and to maintain the intensity of colour for another year. Winter flowering shrubs can be pruned now if needed; tie in the new stems of Jasminum nudiflorum, cutting out the old flowered stems to 2-5 cm. In addition prune shrubs that flower after about mid-summer such as Hydrangea, Buddleia, Hebe, hardy Fuchsias and late flowering Ceanothus.

Climbers can also be tied in and pruned; Ivy, for example, can quickly get out of control. Tidy up and cut back now before garden birds start looking for nesting sites.

The list of tasks in the garden at this time of year is endless, cleaning out the pond, sorting out the tool shed, tidying up/splitting perennials, planting out summer bulbs, feeding the garden birds not forgetting to admire the fabulous spring bulbs which are dancing across the borders but, whatever you do find time to do, enjoy your garden!

Written by Garden Designer, Sally Cunis

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