Now that the worst of the winter darkness has passed; the days are getting longer and the sun is gaining strength, plants are starting to think seriously about waking up for the year ahead. Buds will start to swell, and the early bulbs will start to flower. There are a few timely tasks to do this month to set yourself up for a great garden through the spring and summer.
Cut back roses – for detailed advice and ‘how to’ guides I suggest referring to the RHS website https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=186 , but as a general rule, prune back shrub and hybrid tea roses to 1/3 of their height, choosing an outward facing bud and cutting about an inch above it at a 45o angle. Rambling roses are best pruned in late summer, removing the stems that flowered that year and tiying in the new growth for the following year, but climbers can be pruned now. Remove 1-2 of the oldest looking stems as close to ground level as possible, and cut down remaining stems by 1/3 -1/2 keeping the heights of stems slightly different each time so as to look more ‘natural’, rather than sheared!
Prune Acers (Japanese maples) as they start to show signs of buds swelling slightly. This swelling indicates that the sap is starting to rise, and so any bacteria introduced from pruning cuts will move out of the stems rather than in, thus reducing the chances of disease and die-back. Aim to thin out crowded and crossing branches, and reduce the stems to the size of plant that you want (remembering it will grow over the year!)
Cut back grasses, perennials and ferns ready for the new growth in spring
Move and plant any shrubs during this month
“Feed the birds”. We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again! Please keep putting out food and water for hungry birds, including those visiting us over winter from colder climes. Sunflower hearts are hugely popular for many species of bird, and ground feeders will appreciate foods high in fat and protein – specialist ground feeding mixes, mealworms, or cheese, oats and egg.
Sowings of many summer bedding plants, such as geranium, petunia and nicotiana along with some perennials, can be made in a propagator, in a heated greenhouse or on a windowsill at a temperature of approximately 21ºC (70ºF),. Take care not to sow too thickly or over-water as this can lead to the seedlings damping off (small patches of them suddenly dying for no apparent reason). Many people find that it’s best to pour the seed into the palm of their hand first, rather than sowing it directly from the packet. If seed is very fine, it can be mixed with silver sand to make it easier to sow thinly and evenly across the surface of the compost. Also during this month cuttings may be taken from chrysanthemums that have been over-wintered.
Vegetables that can be sown now include broad beans, peas, leeks, onions, peppers and aubergines (the latter two in pots in the greenhouse)
Remember to regularly deadhead pansies, primulas along with other winter/spring bedding plants as, depending on the temperature, you may find they flower at varying times. Also by removing faded flowers this will help to prevent seeds setting which in turn reduces flower performance.
This month is also a great month to renovate lawns or lay new turf.