Ice Age, Be-Gone!
You know how, on January 18th, I wrote that post welcoming snow? Well, I’m totally over it. Snow can be a good thing for the garden, and it puts plants into a proper hibernation so that they can burst into thriving life when warm weather appears. The problem is….we haven’t had any warm weather. It’s almost the end of March, the sun has disappeared from the sky and the Arctic seems to have extended her claws downwards and has Britain firmly in her grasp. Are we in an Ice Age? Has Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine’ movie become true?
My broad beans, egged-on by their warm windowsill temperature, have become leggy and can’t be put out until some of this bitter cold has disappeared, and as such, will probably be a dead loss. I several pots of seeds which, luckily, have done nothing, but I’m hoping that the cold hasn’t actually killed them. It’s around this time that I begin wishing I had a beautiful log cabin with roaring fire to ensconce myself in and forget about the woes of winter whilst dreaming of the spring sunshine and pottering around amongst the seed beds.
So, what can we do if sowing is not an option?
I know that the last place you probably want to be is outside in the freezing cold, but if you want to work up a sweat, doing some soil preparation in this weather is a good idea. Adding manure to the soil in frozen temperatures can be extremely helpful as the frosts will break down the organic material and help it seep into the soil. Uncovering covered areas of garden that you want to plant later in the year can also be a good idea. I pulled the huge articulated lorry tarp off my long row of allotment beds a couple of weeks ago and dug the soil over. Not only can the cold get in and help break down the material, but any weed seeds and pests that may have been hiding will helpfully be killed off by plummeting temperatures. You may find that friendly critters, such as frogs and toads, have taken up residence under these covered areas, so be sure to move them somewhere else frost free.
If you forgot to split plants or transfer shrubs last autumn, this long spell of cold has given you a little bit of extra time. Most things haven’t yet started growing, and even if new foliage has been produced, it’ll only be a tiny amount.
If you really need to move that shrub or split those perennials before the spring gets going, do so quickly. Plants won’t have an extended time to settle as they would in the autumn, so water consistently to ensure they get a good start this year. I have a couple of huge clumps of sedums that need splitting, so I’ll be doing so over the next few days and getting them in place before we get some warmth.
There’s a few things I didn’t get around to cutting back last autumn – especially the beautiful ‘shrub’ rose that’s outside my back door. I say shrub in inverted commas because it’s 7 foot tall and growing out the back of an escallonia. The spring shoots have grown a couple of inches already, but there’s still time to have a chop back. The berries on my callicarpa (right) are also long gone, so as spring growth hasn’t yet started, now is the ideal time for a quick prune.
At this time of year, birds are often already nesting, so it’s not the ideal time to snip. But, with the extended winter period, it’s the ideal time to do a little bit of garden tidying before the warm weather allows plants to take off.