If you think that you’re had a bad winter,
think how your garden must feel !
I don’t know about you but it feels as though this winter has dragged on forever. Maybe it’s the dreadful weather that has been bringing us down or the dull light levels that have kept us in the dark for so long, longing for a bit of sunshine but at last we can see light at the end of the tunnel as March appears on the horizon. March can be a wonderful month, the start of spring with all of its promises of glorious daffodils, plants exploding into growth, longer days and the prospect of much needed bright sunshine. But before we get too excited, we should remember that just as easily March can be a real disappointment, with more sharp frosts and rain possible.
Just as we have had enough of this winter then so have our gardens. It seems that our glorious climate has thrown everything at them over the last four months; they have been battered by winds, covered by snow, frozen solid and completely waterlogged by incessant rain.
So, what are the results of these trials and tribulations and what can we do about them. The frosts have certainly done plenty of damage, tender plants have been hit such as variegated hebes, yellow choisyas, potato vines and purple cordylines. In some cases these frost-bitten shrubs will just need the dead, brown bits trimmed off and then they should recover, in other cases you’ll have to whip them out and pop down to the garden centre for replacements. With some plants that are only just hardy (such as Phoenix palms) we have been chancing our arm over the last few years; this year nature has reminded us who’s boss and not to push our luck.
Snow too has done its own damage, weighing down and breaking branches, stems and leaves. The phormiums look a mess, all bent over and out of shape. These will just need a bit of a tidy up with the secateurs to recover their shape and form. Other plants might need staking or tying back. Keep an eye out for damaged bark on trees and shrubs where the weight of the snow may have caused cracks and splits. These wounded areas can give rise to fungal and bacterial infections in the future. If you do see cankers or diseases such as coral spot then you will have to cut them out, remembering to cut at least 6 inches beyond the infected area into the healthy wood to ensure you have caught as much of it as possible. Make sure that you wash and disinfect your pruning tools after they have come into contact with any diseased plant material so you don’t spread the infection around the garden.
The cool temperatures have also affected our spring bulbs; most are 3 or 4 weeks behind where they should normally be at this time of year. This isn’t too much of a problem, unless you are trying to organise a snowdrop walk or are relying on some early spring colour, as they will soon catch up. In fact most spring bulbs, especially daffodils, do need to be exposed to a period of cold temperatures to get them to flower properly. (A process known as vernalisation). So this year we’re predicting a riotous show of colour when they do come out.
Our lawns are also looking very sorry for themselves at the moment. The combination of snow and rain has kept them very yellow and sad. This is only temporary, they will soon go the other way in April when the sun comes up, the soil warms up and the grass starts to grow and take on that lovely verdant green colour. You might want to think about a feed and weed treatment in April to help the lawns recover a bit quicker and to also think about improving the drainage. One problem that has been particularly bad this year, exacerbated by lying snow, is a fungal disease called ‘snow mould’. This is caused by the pathogen Fusarium nivale, which forms patches of whitish pink mould all over the grass, especially in shady areas. Usually, this subsides as the temperature warms up and the lawn dries out. But to prevent it from happening in the first place you could spike the grass and apply a heavy potash feed in late summer. There are fungicidal treatments but these are only available to professionals and need to be re-applied to be effective.
The soil conditions are also pretty dreadful. At this time of year you want to be out there digging the soil over and breaking it down in preparation for sowing some vegetable seeds or for planting your spuds. When the soil is as wet and sticky as this, you are better off staying off it, as trying to work it now will lead to compaction and damage to the soil structure. Best to leave it to the end of the month when it starts to dry out and more importantly when the soil starts to warm up. Ideal conditions for cultivation is when the soil no longer sticks to your boots, we are far from that at the moment. A delay in planting is no bad thing as sowing some vegetable seed too early into cold wet soil can cause rotting off and poor performance. As a rule of thumb, a good sign that the ground is starting to warm up is when the hawthorn comes into leaf.
So next time you look out of the window at the weather and sigh, give a thought to your poor battered garden, it too can’t wait until spring. It’s only a few weeks away!