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Easy gardening jobs to do before Spring

Want a fabulous garden come spring? Now is the time to act! Here are five things you should be doing to see your garden flourishing once the sunnier days arrive.

Optimistic though we are here at Muddy, it looks like our own gardens will feature heavily in our leisure time again this year. So if you’re looking for more privacy on your patio, a perfectly pruned apple tree to read under in the English summer sun, or perhaps you want to create a Provence-inspired lavender border, now is the time to put in the groundwork.

February is a very cruel and emotional month for those keen on gardening. There are days when it really feels like we’ve seen the back of winter and that we better get ready for spring. The next day, the temperatures plummet and it seems foolish to imagine a world without ice and frost.

But don’t be deceived – those slumbering plants are just waiting for their chance to burst forth! So what should you be doing this month in the garden to start Operation Lockdown Zhuzh-Up before the warmer, lighter and longer days of spring arrive?

We consulted green-fingered genius Rick Bennett, owner of Babylon Designs in Watlington. He’s transformed literally hundreds of gardens, from massive estate houses to bijou projects, all across Oxfordshire, Bucks and Berks with his  expertise in garden design, landscaping and garden maintenance – so who better to lead us out into the garden this month?

Grab your secateurs and knee pads – let’s do this people! Take it away, Rick…

Tree and Hedge Planting

November to March is the bare root season, a time of year when you can buy trees and hedging plants dug straight from the ground rather than grown in a pot. The advantages are these are cheaper and often much larger than pot grown plants – useful if you want fast, effective screening though be warned that they can be more difficult to plant and intolerant of drought for a year or two afterwards.

I always think of hedges and trees as the backbone of any planting and indeed the wider landscape. They can be used to screen the ugly, frame the beautiful or simply demarcate spaces. When choosing trees, consider evergreen or deciduous, flowers, autumn foliage, size and speed of growth. For example, whilst evergreens screen all year round, do you actually need it in winter? How often do you sit on your patio in February?!

With hedges, I always advise people to think longer term. Don’t rush for the cheap and quick growing. After all, you’ll be cutting 3 times a year instead of once and may end up with something ugly, rather than beautiful. I usually recommend beech, hornbeam or yew but talk with an expert if you’re unsure how to achieve what you have in your head.

Tidy up

Whilst your borders and beds may appear lifeless and messy, there will be plump, juicy buds pushing up whenever there is more than a day or two of mild weather. Be sure to tidy away any old growth and cut back tired foliage from Hellebores (above) if you are lucky enough to have some. This not only allows you to see the new flower stems emerging, it also reduces the transfer of diseases from the old foliage to the new and gives less cover for mice and voles that may eat the buds using the old leaves for cover.

Prepare to mulch

Lock in winter moisture and create a neat finish by mulching your newly cleared and tidy beds with well rotted shredded tree waste or other matter – it will create a neat finish and lock in that winter moisture. And come spring, you’ll have much less germination of annual and perennial weeds. Unfortunately, mulch won’t help if you’re battling pernicious, perennial weeds such as nettles or bindweed – you’ll need to dig these out and spray them (or get someone else to do it!).

Pruning Fruit Trees, Climbers and Roses

February is a month when you can get out on nice days and prune back fruit trees, climbers and roses without fear of disturbing nesting birds and before they are in leaf. Each require their own methods and even that depends on the form and age of the plants you are pruning but here are a few warnings and bits of advice:

  • Do not prune any stone fruits such as cherries, plums and apricots. These need to be done in summer. Apples and pears are fine to do now.
  • Only certain clematis are pruned hard in February – generally these are the later flowering varieties from summer and autumn.
  • It’s a great time of year to prune Wisterias. Be sure not to let any growth get behind downpipes or under tiles – the stems rapidly expand, and will literally rip them off your house and crush them. It would be terrifying if it wasn’t such a gradual process!
  • Hopefully you tidied your roses in November so they were less vulnerable to wind. Now’s the time to finish them off by dealing with the 4 D’s. Cut out the dead, diseased, damaged and duplicate branches. Ideally you’d remove all of those, but be sure to leave a decent structure, so some lenience may be required. Shrubs roses should end up as a vase shape whilst ramplers and climbers should ideally go in horizonatal layers to encourage better flowering.

Thinking of Redesigning Your Garden?

Oxfordshire gardener white outdoor chair tables amongst tall grass lilac flowers

If you’re fed up with your garden and the results of your efforts, consider getting in the pros to help you design/carry out the work and realise a more beautiful, ecological and low maintenance space. While the costs are greater than sporadic trips to the garden centre, it can add value to the home and give you something beautiful to enjoy every day.  One bit of advice – don’t wait till spring before you call. The design process takes time so prepare now to be ready for when it really matters in summer.

Babylon Design, Garden Design & Maintenance, The Stables, Chestnut Farm, Cuxham, Oxon OX49 5ND. Tel: 07801 191654.

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