One of the most commonly asked questions I get asked is ‘how do I get rid of moss in the lawn’?
I hope this answer will help:
Moss in the lawn can be a major problem, especially during the rainy winter months.
Moss takeover is a result of a series of garden problems. Identifying and solving these problems promptly will discourage moss growth in the future.
Moss spores, exist naturally in the garden and only becomes a problem when the lawn can no longer compete with it. A weakened or stressed lawn can be due to a number of causes, low or unbalanced soil fertility, compacted or wet soils, and heavy shade acidic soil.
A thick thatch layer (thatch is a layer of dead grass that has not decomposed; it inhibits water, air and fertilizer penetration into the root area) these problems can be corrected chemically and by hard manual labour scarification (vigorous raking). Try pruning nearby branches to allow even a little more light in. One way to help eliminate moss is to first rake as much as possible out with a spring tine rake but you will not get it all.
Then apply your preferred iron sulphate based moss killer to the moss that remains after raking. The moss will now be thin enough to allow better penetration of the moss killer; this method will get about 90% of the moss. Moss killers combined with a fertiliser are beneficial where grass vigour is low. Apply moss killers, either by hand or with a push-along spreader but be careful not to apply lawn sand (ferrous sulphate mixed with a carrier) at too high a rate as this can blacken and kill the grass as well as the moss. Apply lawn moss killers in fine weather. Some require watering after 48 hours if there has been no rain. Check the packaging for details. Also, take care while spreading near the pavement and the house to avoid staining the cement.
If you want to apply ferrous sulphate (sulphate of iron) before raking it. It is best to do this 7 to 14 days before raking. A light high grass cutting with the mower beforehand will help, because ferrous sulphate acidifies the soil you MUST use it evenly over the whole lawn otherwise you will create pH changes which may affect grass growth and may even increase moss growth in future. The lawn should stay dry for approximately forty eight hours after applying the moss killer, and then a thorough watering is required. After seven to ten days the moss will begin to turn black, at which time you should hand-rake or dethatch your lawn. This will allow the grass to grow again in areas previously covered by moss. If bare or thin patches result from moss removal, reseed the area with a grass seed mixture containing a high percentage of perennial rye grass seed. A thick, healthy lawn does not allow room for moss to become established.
It is best to rake out the moss on a dry day when the grass is noticeably growing. Mow the lawn reasonably close before hand to better expose the moss and reduce resistance on the rake.
Try Maintain a good fertilizing and watering routine. For the first feeding, a well-balanced lawn food, such as Maxi crop Moss killer and Lawn Tonic, Westland Lawn Feed, Weed and Moss killer, Scot Granular lawn Feed Weed and Moss Control, or Gouldings Lawn Feed Weed Moss Killer.
Later in the summer, a higher-nitrogen fertilizer can be applied to stimulate green growth, but please keep in mind that while fertilizing is important, you should not over fertilize your lawn during dry periods, less frequent but longer periods of watering will produce deeper and healthier roots.
Try to improve compacted or wet soils. Lawn roots will thrive in healthy soil that drains well and has plenty of organic matter. Poor soil will not drain well and this will only encourage moss growth. To correct compacted soil, aeration is highly recommended. Aeration is the removal of soil plugs; this allows air to penetrate directly to the root zone. The added oxygen encourages soil microbes to break down organic matter, such as thatch. The holes also allow water to penetrate more easily.
May is a good time to plant up a hanging basket or window box as all danger of frost should be gone
Plant summer hanging baskets from April onwards, but they will need protection from frost until the middle or end of May. If you do not have a greenhouse, it is usually easier to plant in May once the frosts have passed.
There are lots of plants that can be grown in baskets and window boxes, including annuals and small evergreen shrubs that will provide all-year-round interest. Instead of planting haphazardly why not choose a colour scheme such as pink or white flowers, or use reds and yellows.
Though most baskets are planted in early spring and then put outside after the risk of frost has gone, they can also be planted in autumn and filled with frost hardy flowers and tough evergreens for colour over winter.
The best way to plant up baskets and boxes is first prepare your compost by putting a small amount of slow release fertiliser granules and some water-retaining gel crystals into multipurpose compost. Before adding any compost, mix in the water retaining gel. You’ll need about the amount that would fill a 35mm film canister. The gel will swell up when it gets wet and will reduce the need for such frequent watering.
Next, remove one of the hanging chains from a 30cm (12in) diameter or a 35cm (14in) wire hanging basket and make sure that the hanging chains are outside the basket and stand the basket on a empty flower pot to help keep it steady, then cover the inside of the basket with a coconut fibre liner, sphagnum moss, or wool fleece with black plastic on top, you can buy bags of dried moss from nurseries and garden centres, but give it a good soak before using it. As the basket matures, the moss will turn green and will blend well with the foliage of the plants.
To help prevent too much water from escaping, cut around the edges where it overlaps the basket, making sure none of the black plastic is visible.
Cut small slits in the plastic and then select plants for the sides of the basket. To help prevent damage to roots and stems of the bedding plants separately wrap each in a tube of paper.
From the inside of the basket, push the tube through one of the holes until the root ball is secure against the liner. Unwrap the paper and add the other plants. Firm the compost around the root balls.
Adding this bottom layer of plants will help to give the basket that ball-like-mass-of-flowers look when it gets going. Add layers of plants. Fill two thirds of the basket with compost and then add another layer of plants.
Continue to fill with compost, leave a 3cm (0.75in) gap between the top of the compost and the lip of the basket, and finish by planting the top. Water well.
Put outside when all risk of frost has passed. Water daily, especially during warm weather, even if it has rained. Aim to keep the compost moist but not soggy, and avoid wetting the foliage and flowers. Deadhead spent flowers from your baskets twice a week to help encourage plants to produce a progression of flowers.
Boost plants with a weekly liquid feed.
Some good bedding plants to try are:
- Petunia Purple Velvet Cascadia and Surfinia are two more popular types bred for their trailing habit, vivid colours and prolific flowering.
- Begonia Chanson Pink boast long stems with blousy pink blooms.
- Lobelia Fountain Mixture Trailing come in red, pink, white and mauve flowers and sapphire blue.
- Dichondra Silver Falls is a trailing foliage plant with silver leaves.
- Fuchsia packs quite the focal punch.
- Sweet pea Pink Cupid has fragrant pink flowers on compact plants
- Impatiens (busy lizzies) palargoniums, pansies,verbenas,campanula
If you are planting a winter basket, why not try primula, trailing ivy, winter pansies heathers and some dwarf conifers? Underplant with dwarf bulbs such as narcissus, tulips and iris for a spring display.
Plant winter hanging baskets between September and October, the basic principles of creating a hanging basket for winter and summer are the same.
When buying trees or shrubs for your garden, be sure you have the right plant for the right place, take into account the site, the hardiness of the new plants, and your geographic location.
The following are things you can do to help your transplants become well established.
Check the intended site to be sure it is suitable for the trees and/or shrubs you want to put there. Check the site to be sure the plants will receive enough sunlight.
Check the soil for pH levels and proper drainage, and dig deep enough so the roots can penetrate deep into the soil to anchor it and gather moisture. Trees have traditionally been offered for sale in the nursery trade using three methods: bare-root, balled and burlapped (B&B), and containers including pot-in-pot and in-ground fabric containers.
Check the plants over thoroughly before buying them. Look for healthy growth and good leaf colour. Check the roots they should be white and firm. If the roots are blackened or soggy and soft it can indicate disease or pest problems so it would be best to avoid that tree or shrub and buy another one instead.
Make sure to water your plants during dry periods while they are becoming established.
Transplants do not have a large root system to help them reach deep down into the soil to take in water and they can become stressed easily. This also makes them more at risk to injury from insects and diseases, but also make sure your new plants are not getting too much water, either by overwatering or being planted in soil that does not properly drain, as too much water will smother the roots and will eventually kill the plant.
If your new tree or shrub was grown in a container and its roots have become twisted inside the pot, make sure to unravel and gently spread the roots apart before planting.
Most importantly be patient since you probably will not see signs of vigorous growth for the first year. After transplanting new trees or shrubs it takes a few years for woody plants, especially trees, to become established in your garden.
One of the more common mistakes in transplanting trees is planting too deep, and over or under watering. Careful attention to properly preparing the planting hole will greatly increase your chances of successfully transplanting trees. The planting hole should be at least three times as wide as the root ball, have sloped sides, and be no deeper than the root ball.
Plant the tree about 50 millimetres higher than the surrounding ground to allow settling of the root ball and prevent pooling of water at the tree base. If the tree is bareroot, make sure to spread the roots before backfilling.
After the tree is set in the planting hole at the proper depth, gently remove the pinning nails or rope lacing so the burlap can be cut and removed from the sides of the rootball. The burlap at the bottom of the root ball should be left. Removing the bottom burlap may injure the roots.
If a wire basket has been used, cut away as much of the basket as possible without disturbing the root ball. This will avoid any conflicts with the roots or with any equipment used later, mulch should be placed around newly planted trees to help conserve moisture and reduce competition for moisture from turf grass. Be careful not to over-mulch; 50 millimetres is the right depth. Keeping the mulch 150 millimetres away from the trunk of the tree to avoid disease problems and rodent damage.
If fertilizer is applied at planting, use a slow-release fertilizer at a rate not to exceed 1lb. of actual nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. Avoid using fast-release fertilizers to avoid root burn. Staking should only be done if absolutely necessary and any stakes should be removed within a year or two following planting. Be careful that the staking materials do not injure the trunk of the tree or girdle the tree. Prune only broken or diseased limbs at planting.
Making compost is often considered to be difficult but all you need to do is provide the right ingredients and let nature do the rest. The first rule of composting is to know what goes on the heap and what goes in the bin.
For starters, perennial weeds and anything that is diseased should be put in your brown bin for removal, and anything too woody, unless finely shredded, should be bagged up and taken to your local tip. Avoid meat, dairy and cooked food unless you want to attract a family of rats to your garden.
Set up a separate bin for your kitchen peelings and pods, and ask family to use it. The autumn clear up, especially of the herbaceous borders, will also give you plenty of raw material to compost, but make sure larger pieces are chopped or shredded.
Grass cuttings are a constant source of controversy; you can use them by all means but layer them between other fibrous material, to avoid a smelly black slurry.
Dead leaves can be tricky if just dumped on a heap. But they are worth persisting with. It is best to store them separately in perforated plastic bags or, better still, in cages made from chicken-wire. They will compost, but in two years rather than months. The next question is whether the compost heap should be wet or dry, it will have to be covered with something like an old piece of carpet or plastic, this will help build up the heat and accelerates decomposition. But it pays to leave it exposed sometimes to rain and it shouldn’t be allowed to dry out completely. Materials in the compost pile should be kept as moist as a squeezed sponge.
There are a variety of bins on the market but they are all just a container for the composting process and a bin is not strictly necessary. You can just build a heap and cover it over with some polythene or cardboard. Bins do look neater and are easier to manage. You can build your own.
The compost bin can be built of wood, pallets, hay bales, cavity blocks, stakes and chicken-wire. It should measure at least 1.3m x 1.3m x 1.3m.
For best results, use a mixture of types of ingredient when composting. The right balance is something learnt by experience, but a rough guide is to use equal amounts by volume of greens and browns. The brown materials provide carbon for your compost, the green materials provide nitrogen, and the water provides moisture to help break down the organic matter.
Composting is so worth the effort. Adding compost to your garden feeds the soil and provides a slow release of nutrients to your crops. Compost also vastly improves soil structure, allows the soil to hold in moisture better and improves friability. The finished product should be a rich, dark colour, crumbly texture, sweet-smelling with an earthy odour.
Compostable food wastes include fruit and vegetable scraps, raw vegetable peelings from your kitchen, tea bags and leaves, coffee grounds. Waste paper and junk mail composts slowly, so it should comprise no more than 10% by weight of the total pile. You can also compost shredded confidential waste cardboard e.g. cereal packets egg boxes and newspaper.
Bedding from pets e.g. rabbits, guinea pigs hay, straw, shredded paper, wood shavings, old bedding, plants, egg shells (crushed) hair clippings, feathers, livestock manure, cow and horse manure; and well-rotted, bonemeal and bloodmeal can also be composted.
Try, if possible, to collect enough compost materials to make a layer of at least 30cm or more in the compost bin in the bottom put a 10cm (4in) layer of coarse material, such as straw or twigs in a 15cm (6in) layer of garden waste and a little water if it’s dry. Put in alternate layers of different materials – like a sandwich.
The compost pile should be located in a warm area and protected from overexposure to wind and too much direct sunlight. While heat and air help composting, overexposure dries the materials. The location should not offend neighbours mixing the pile with a pitchfork or shovel, or shifting it into another bin, provides the oxygen necessary for decomposition and compensates for excess moisture.
A pile that is not mixed may take 20 times longer to decompose. Use a fork to turn the heap every few days more frequent turning results in faster composting, bad odours indicate that the pile is too damp or lacks oxygen, and that more frequent turning is necessary. This process adds air to the mix and helps it rot down faster.
Do not use fish, poultry, dairy products, foods containing animal fats, human/pet feces, weeds with established seed heads, and plants infected with or highly prone to disease, such as roses and peonies, coal or charcoal ashes as it might contain substances harmful to plants. Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter) might also contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans.
Occasional watering may be necessary to keep the pile damp, especially in dry weather. Covering the pile with black plastic reduces the need for watering; it also prevents rainwater from draining out the nutrients. By making your own compost, this keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
The more compost you can add to your soil over time, the more fertile and well-structured it will become, and the less fertiliser you will need to apply to keep the soil in a healthy, balanced condition. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will be produced naturally by the feeding of microorganisms.
To get the best result when growing roses, it is important to follow a few important steps. Select a proper site. Choose a well-drained site that will receive about six hours of direct sun daily. Be sure it is away from the roots of large trees and roof overhangs. Prepare the soil thoroughly; add lots of well rotted manure or good garden compost to the soil. Plant only healthy, vigorous rose bushes. Provide necessary seasonal maintenance. If possible do not plant new roses where old roses were planted previously or they might get Rose Replant Disease.
Treat the new roses with Mycorrhizal fungi either by brushing it on, putting it in the hole or soaking the roots in them. When planting container grown roses, always remove the pot, even if it is the fibre type.
Recommended spacing when planting:
Bush roses: (includes hybrid teas, grandiflora and
floribundas: 50 to 75 cm (20 to 30”) apart
Climbers: 1.5 to 4 metres (3 to 13 feet)
Shrub Roses: 1 to 2.5 metres (3 to 8 feet), or as solitary specimens.
Miniatures: 30 cm (12”) apart.
Water your rose well once a week, to prevent the spread of fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew and black spot, avoid letting water splash on the leaves. Water in the morning so that the plant has all day to dry off before night falls.
Insect pests can be controlled as noticed on the plant, either with a strong jet of water, hand-picking, insecticidal soap, or in severe infestations, using insecticides.
Deadheading is the removal of spent flowers and this will encourage a continuous supply of flowers. Most roses you plant in your garden have been budded or grafted onto rootstock from a wild rose to give it extra vigour, among other things. A sucker is any shoot that’s growing from below where your cultivated rose has been added. Ignore them and the wild variety will soon take over. Do not prune them; suckers need to be pulled off, moving some of the top soil to get at them.
Some of the best rose varieties to purchase, and what you can expect from them:
Just Joey: (Hybrid Tea Roses) Elegant buds of coppery-orange veined with red. Free and continuous flowering. A good cut flower because of its fragrance. Grows to 3 ft.
Iceberg: (Hybrid Teas and Floribunda) The iceberg rose ranks as a great rose for the beginner. They make a brilliant white, slightly fragrant floral display. It flowers continuously from early in the season, often well into the winter.
Ingrid Bergman: (Standard Rose) An excellent deep red rose with a very strong fragrance. It is sturdy and vigorous – branching and repeating well. Grows to 4.5ft.
Mary Rose: Rose pink, one of the most widely grown English Roses. It forms a good bushy shrub that is particularly winter-hardy and blooms fragrantly with unusual regularity throughout the summer. Grows to 4ft.
Eglantyne: (English Standard Roses) Light pink, It is sweetly fragrant, the flowers are quite large and the growth is ideal, being of medium height and bushy.
Ruby Wedding: (Hybrid Tea Roses) Deep red large dark pink or pale crimson flowers, spreading and bushy growth.
Princess Alexandra: (English Standard Roses) one of the best for cutting with a lovely scent. A pink rose with very few thorns. Grows to 3ft.
William Shakespeare 2000: (Fragrant Shrub Rose) a dramatic rich deep purple strong fragrance. The growth is neat and upright to 3.4ft.
Golden Celebration: (English Standard Rose) An orange, apricot-yellow, with great fragrance. Won the best shrub and most fragrant variety at the ‘Rose Awards Day 2000. Grows to 4ft.
Winchester Cathedral: (Standard/Tree Roses) White/ Cream blooms at regular intervals throughout the season. Better disease resistance than most and a stronger scent.
In our last edition, we gave some advice on how, where and when you can grow herbs in your garden or on your windowsill. We didn’t have room for all the possibilites so here are a few more species that you might like to try out.
It can be very satisfying to raise sage from seed, but you have to be prepared to wait as it is slow to get started. Sow indoors in March or in April outside. The plants will grow very slowly and you will not be able to begin harvesting until the next year. So it is best to buy established plants. After the flowers die down, prune the plant to about half its size. Other than that, leave it to its own devices, but be careful in dry spells, resist the temptation to water a lot, sage prefers dry sunny conditions.
The aromatic oils in oregano are a natural pest deterrent, making it relatively pest-free. As soon as the plant is several inches tall and has developed a couple of dozen leaves, it is okay to begin harvesting. It is best to harvest early in the morning while the oils are the strongest. At the end of the season, cut back the leaves and cover the area with mulch to protect the roots from the cold winter.
French Tarragon cannot be grown from seed. The only way to grow this herb is to purchase the plant, plant in full sun or partial shade. It can be grown easily in a container. Tarragon can be grown also in hanging baskets. Tarragon has no serious pest problems.
Chives grow easily without much help but you do need to keep their immediate growing area free of weeds. Keep them well watered, particularly when the weather is hot. Pink flowers will grow on many of the stems. Honey bees, bumble bees, and native pollinators love chive flowers. Chive flowers are edible, and make a lovely garnish, but letting chives flower reduces leaf quality and production.
Parsley requires a good amount of light and will do best when receiving around 7 hours of sun a day but can tolerate partial shade. After the first year parsley may start to produce seed at which point the plant is of no use for harvesting purposes.
Sorrel can be grown from seed or root cuttings. Sorrel likes full sunlight, so it is best to choose an area of your garden that will get full sunlight for most of the day. Once planted, sorrel will continue to yield for up to ten years. As the plant matures, it starts to produce reddish coloured flowers. It is very important to remove the flowers as soon as they appear so that the plant’s energy goes toward leaf production.
Mizuna or (Kyona or potherb mustard) is good to eat and also quite decorative, with glossy, ragged, dark green leaves and narrow white stalks. Keep cutting regularly to produce a continuous crop of small young leaves.
Mustard greens are ideal for containers because the plants stay quite compact and will provide a continuous harvest. Keep the pots well watered especially when it is getting hotter and the containers dry out faster.
While most herbs do better in very sunny windows when grown indoors, chervil will do better in more indirect light. Outdoor pots can be kept on shaded patios or decks. It has lovely small white flowers at the end of the season. Keep it well watered at all times. It loves being kept moist. Chervil is seldom bothered by any insect problems.
Salad Rocket is easy to grow, indoors or out. It can be sown almost all year round. Just choose a sunny spot for your window box, grow it to produce young leaves, which can be picked after only 4 weeks.
Growing herbs in containers can be one of the most rewarding aspects of gardening, and in a very small space you can grow a lot of different varieties of herbs. Fresh herbs will taste so much better than dried herbs in your cooking and you can pick them from your garden exactly when you need them.
Why grow Herbs? They look good, smell good and can do you a lot of good as medicines, perfumes, insect repellents, and last but not least, can add a beautiful flavour to your food. Herbs in most cases, are tough wild plants and with the right conditions will thrive and be easy to grow. It is not true that all herbs like full sun; basil likes partial shade at midday. So when planning your garden, you should divide your plants into two sections, those like, coriander, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and French tarragon that like full sun; and herbs that prefer partial shade such as parsley, sorrel, mizuna, mustard, chervil, and rocket.
If you have a choice, select some to put in a window box. Place it on the sunny side of the house and plant up with some chives, oregano, creeping rosemary to hang over the edge and lemon thyme. On a shady side of the house you can have a salad herb window box which ought to include mint, rocket, French parsley, red mustard and chervil.
When growing herbs in containers, it is best to use a soil-based compost, either organic or something like John Innes potting compost. As there are not a lot of herbs that grow well in peat, a soil-based compost will help retain moisture which in turn will help stop
containers drying out. For containers grown in full sun always water all plants shrubs and herbs in the morning and not in the evening because this gives the plants a chance if the temperature is hot during the day. If you water them at night the plants stay damp overnight and they are more likely to be damaged by fungal and bacterial diseases.
Feed container grown plants every 2 weeks from the end of March until September. This will help to keep the plants healthy, and helps them produce more leaves.
Keep Basil on a south-facing windowsill or patio (After the last frost). Water sparingly and remove flower spikes. If these are allowed to mature, your plants will stop
growing new leaves.
Coriander doesn’t like being moved, so it will be best sown where you want it to grow, either in the ground or in pots or window boxes. Sow in late spring or early summer.
In August sow some more in pots on the windowsill for a supply during autumn and winter. Coriander is quick to flower and set seed before it has produced much leaf, so it’s best to sow little and often. Watch out for fine, feathery leaves which are a sure sign the plants are about to flower.
Thyme is virtually free of pests and disease, although they are occasionally attacked by greenfly. Harvesting can occur all year round, although the best flavour is in the months of mid-June and mid-July. In winter the plants stop growing, so harvest only lightly. The thyme sprigs can be frozen or dried – both methods retain the original flavour.
Look out for more herb growing tips in the next edition of InTallaght. These will include sage, oregano, French tarragon, chives, parsely, sorrell, mizuna, mustard, chervil and salad rocket.
It is a good time to start off the slower-growing half-hardy annuals and perennials. Pelargonium, begonia can be easy to grow from seed if you have a warm window sill or some heat in a glasshouse. Some seed may take two to three weeks to germinate, which will bring you into March when the days will be getting longer. Sow seeds of broad beans and sweet peas in a cold greenhouse or outdoors in a cold frame with some protection.
Buddleia and summer-flowering clematis can be pruned, pruning last year’s growth to within a couple of buds of the old wood. Prune height to about 3 ft from ground and it will help retrain clematis on to their support. Hydrangeas can also be deadheaded now by taking the old flowering heads back to a new pair of shoots.
Prune winter-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering. Prune wisteria if plants show signs of dieback after a hard winter. The best time to check is in early spring when new growth starts, though some plants start into growth later than others, so make sure the stem is really dead before you prune it.
Scrape a small piece of the bark off with your thumbnail or a coin. If the stem underneath is greenish in colour it might be OK, if brown it might be dead. The stems of deciduous shrubs, such as hardy fuchsias, may die back completely and may take longer to restart growing, so do not be too quick to discard the plant, since it should re-grow from healthy buds lying sheltered underground. At the end of the growing season make sure the roots are well covered with a layer of leaves or compost or bark mulch.
Divide clumps of perennials. Cut back winter flowering shrubs as they finish flowering. Clean, oil and sharpen tools. You can start to prune clematis. Clematis fall into one of three basic categories early flowered such as Montanas, early large-flowered hybrids such as Nelly Moser and those flowering after midsummer such as Clematis Jackmanii.
The ones that can be pruned now are the last two types, so check first which varieties you have. For the last group, the late-flowerers, it’s not too difficult to prune them. Cut them down to six to ten inches above ground level, pruning them just above a bud if possible. Don’t prune spring-flowering clematis now or you’ll get no flowers this year. After pruning feed with fertilizer. Tomato fertilizer, rose food, or 5-10-10 are all acceptable fertilizers for clematis.
Camellias need to be in a location in your garden that does not get the sun before mid morning. The reason for this is that the flower buds can drop if they thaw too quickly in the early spring frosts. Placing them in a location that allows them to be heated up slowly by the air temperature before the sun hits them means that they thaw out at a slower rate.
Autumn-fruiting raspberries can now be pruned back to a few of inches from ground level, as the berries will grow from this year’s stems. Make sure to keep the row no wider than 18” by removing any suckers that creep beyond this these suckers can then be used to start another row. Raspberries will benefit from a top-dressing of a fertiliser high in potash, and a general fertiliser towards the end of March, and a mulch of well-rotted manure or compost during the summer.
Prune acer and birch trees now, while they are still dormant. This will avoid the danger of ‘bleeding’ (excessive sap loss) which is a danger if they are pruned in spring when sap is rising. It is best to wait until all leaves have fallen.
Wood ashes contain some phosphorous and magnesium, as well as potassium and calcium which make the soil more alkaline, so make sure not to put it on any lime hating plants such as Rhododendron, azaleas or conifers as it may harm them. It is beneficial around deciduous trees, including fruit trees and vegetables, but not potatoes or annuals.
Do not prune roses until after St Patrick’s Day, as it may encourage new growth and frost will burn the new cuts. On the other hand now is an ideal time for planting new roses, but do not plant roses where they have been growing before and you will avoid replant disorder.
It may be time to take things easier in the garden and plan for the new season, but there is still a lot to do.
Serious damage may be caused by heavy snow or ice accumulating on the branches, so remove any snowdamaged branches from shrubs and small trees, cutting back to a healthy branch or the trunk. Damaged branches you can try to wrap or strap together, but they are highly unlikely to rejoin and may attract fungal problems. Wound paints may help in some cases.
When pruning large limbs, always undercut first. This means to cut from the bottom up, one-third of the way through the limb, and then finish by cutting from the top. The undercut keeps the limb from splitting and breaking off which will damage the trunk and become a doorway for insects and diseases. Do not cut flush to the trunk, the collar or enlarged base of a branch produces hormones that help heal wounds. You should consider moving or replacing damaged, overgrown or badly placed shrubs.
Do not remove ice from ponds. Oxygen will still be available for wildlife and plants. Fish may benefit from extra oxygen, so keep the pump running if you can to prevent freezing. Placing a small ball on the surface will also help prevent freezing. But never smash the ice with an axe or hammer as the shock waves will kill fish, frogs and newts.
Put up bird nesting boxes this month – it’s the last chance before certain birds start looking for a suitable residence. It’s another hard month for wildlife and especially birds. Putting out fresh water and food will be really important, especially on cold days. When buying bird food, try to buy good quality food or fat/suet balls, as some of the cheaper stuff has a lot of empty seed husks, and check that water has not frozen.
Bulbs that you haven’t got around to planting in the garden yet, can still be planted as long as they are firm and free from mould. Do not let leaves accumulate around alpines as they will die if left damp for too long. Cover bare patches around clumps with gritty compost to encourage
If your plants in containers have frozen, it will be too late to bubble-wrap them, but you can move them to a sheltered spot near the house or into a shed or garage. Check pots and containers are raised off the ground if possible. Have a look at fences and see whether they will need mending or replacing, which is easier to do when there are fewer plants.
If you’re using salt to melt ice on paths and driveways, be careful to avoid damage to nearby shrubs. Consider using sand instead.
It’s a good time to prune most of your deciduous trees and shrubs. Dormant spraying of fruit trees, Cotoneaster, Dogwoods, etc, can be done this month.
Plants that start growing or flowering in the first few weeks of the growing season can find themselves struggling against the icy cold and frost that so often damage early blooms. Young shoots and flowers are especially vulnerable to frosting so when bad weather is forecast wrap the plants in horticultural fleece. This should be left on only while the conditions are bad especially at night then removed in the morning to allow growth to continue. Never improvise with polythene as this causes the plants to sweat and can exacerbate the frosting.
Avoid walking on the lawn if the ground is frozen as it will be easily damaged and you may have to reseed part of it. Moss may start growing on lawns before the grass, so now is a good time to start killing it with ferrous sulphate.
If your trees have moss on the trunks, you can use a lime wash to remove it. Aerate the soil and rake the grass on a dry day.
Remove leaves from around snowdrops so you can see their flowers emerging. Split clumps of overcrowded snowdrops by digging them up and gently teasing the bulbs apart. Replant in groups of five using a handful of peat Mulch and Mix in the planting hole.
Most plants need an annual pruning to keep them looking healthy and fertile, by just removing any dead wood and any damaged stems that are rubbing against each other will give even the most untidy shrubs a new lease of life, and if pruned in the right way, at the right time, will help to encourage side shoots, better fruiting spurs and more flowers.
The best time to carry out this work depends on the shrub and when it flowers or fruits. If you want to do it properly you will have to read up on the plant, but if it is done correctly you will reap the benefits later.
A lot of roses, fruiting trees and soft fruits need pruning in the dormant season from autumn through to early spring. Trained fruit trees will need summer pruning as well to keep them looking good.
Shrubs mainly fall into two main groups and if you get timing wrong, you will probably have to wait for another year to see any flowers. If the shrub flowers in spring on branches grown from the previous year such as forsythia prune it after flowering. If you make a mistake and cut it hard back before flowering, you’ll be removing the stems that are covered in buds.
The second group are shrubs that flower later in the year, on the current year’s growth, such as buddleia. Pruning these in early spring will encourage them to produce fresh growth that will flower later the same year.
There is a third group of slow growing shrubs that will keep the same basic shape, e.g. azaleas, witch hazel, magnolia and the hardy hibiscus. Do not prune these except for the pruning out of dead or damaged wood.
Now is a good time to do all the repair and maintenance jobs that have been left undone all year, drain water from any pipes garden hose or taps that you have in the garden and insulate them. Help Protect pots and garden taps from frost by wrapping bubble wrap insulation around them.
Any tender plants not brought inside should be wrapped in a protective covering of bubble wrap, fleece etc. Clear paths and patios of any moss and lichen, treat timber with preservative, repair fences, sheds, decks, clean and insulate your greenhouse and make sure heaters are working properly.
Clean and repair your garden tools and send the lawn mower in for a service. Before putting a mower away for the winter make sure it is drained of petrol, if it is a power mower, cleaned and oiled.
Carry on digging over beds and borders and add as much organic matter as you can. Forking the soil helps prepare the soil for next year, it helps decrease the amount of pests by exposing them to hungry birds.
Clear garden waste, this will help to prevent slugs and snails from setting up home. Do not let leaves pile up around alpines as they will die if they are left damp for long. Cover bare patches around clumps with grit to encourage regrowth.
Water your houseplants less often and keep them away from direct sources of heat such as radiators.
Make sure to leave out bird food of all kinds and sizes. The more variety of food, the more variety of birds. Make sure there is always plenty of water in the bird bath and keep it free of ice but go easy on white bread.
Make sure you don’t walk on the lawn when there is a frost; all you will do is leave foot prints where you have broken the brittle grass stalks.
Fern and Cordyline should be wrapped up with straw, surrounded by chicken wire. Place a football in the pond to prevent it freezing over. And after all that you might just have time to look at that your seed catalogue before the first bulbs appears.