With spring just around the corner, now is the perfect time to begin slowly awakening your garden from its winter slumber.
A garden's resilience is often pushed to the limits during the colder months, but this year’s winter proved more extreme than usual, with extended periods of wet weather and low temperatures. As a result, you will need to give your garden some extra TLC, in order to restore the depleted grass, plants and soil in time for spring.
Charles Walton, CEO of online garden retailer BillyOh.com, says: 'If you’re a gardening novice or if you’re simply just itching to get started on planting, you might think that you can just leave it to the last minute before rushing in to get everything done while in the throes of spring.
'However, there are certain preparations you should be making now in order to really get the most out of your garden during blooming season.'
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1. Tidy the garden
It's important to make time for some general cleaning jobs – get the fundamentals into a good state and you can spend more time focusing on your plants later on.
Remove leaves and debris from your lawn, taking note of areas that need reseeding. Cut down foliage from perennials and compost it. Divide clumped perennials for later replanting or sharing with friends.
Fix and, if needed, repaint fences, gates, railings and trellis.
2. Spruce up your tools
After months of languishing in the garden shed, your tools will likely need some TLC. Shears and hand pruners may be ingrained with dirt that could infect newly pruned plants.
Almost all tools are easier to work with when cleaned and sharpened so hone spades, trowels and hoes with a file and apply lubricating oil.
3. Prune trees, shrubs and hedges
If you didn't manage to to prune your trees before or during winter, then you need to do it now. Remove damaged, dead and diseased branches, but take note whether a certain plant is best pruned before spring growth or right after flowering. Pruning fruit trees is best done in late winter or early spring.
Also take time to thin dead foliage now before new growth begins and thinning becomes too difficult.
4. Banish pests – and encourage beneficial insects
Slugs, snails, aphids and larvae may have been sheltering in the crowns or flip sides of your plants for the winter. Go after these hibernating pests before putting in new plants.
If you have a greenhouse, pests may have overwintered in there due to a lack of food in the garden.
There’s a slew of pest control materials and methods to choose from but it’s best to start with more natural means like homemade remedies or beneficial insects that will prey on the harmful ones.
There are a number of ways to attract beneficial insects into your garden, so choose plants with care to create a haven for them.
5. Revive the soil
The harsh winter weather takes its toll on garden soil. 'Healthy soil means healthy plants,' says Duncan Mclean, a buyer at Wyevale Garden Centres.
To test for soil quality, grab a handful of soil and squeeze it tightly. When you open your fist, the soil should crumble instead of forming clumps. Test it for pH level if necessary and enrich accordingly: add dolomitic lime to raise pH or sulphur to lower pH.
Add in some compost or well-rotted manure, using a spading fork to mix in everything properly.
How to repair your lawn
'Deep frosts can cause huge problems for plant growth, making your lawn and bedding areas much more susceptible to moss, weeds and diseases,' says Wyevale Garden Centres' Duncan Mclean, who offers five top tips on fixing the damage:
- Aeration is essential. Using a hollow core aerator will improve soil structure, help water to drain away and grass to establish roots.
- Top-dress with lawn soil. Rake or brush it into aerated soil to smooth out. This will help with drainage, soil structure and encourage strong roots.
- When temperatures recover to 5+ degrees, over-seed your lawn with fresh grass seed. Once germinated, it will tolerate a bit of frost later on.
- Get mulching with a good soil improver. This is the application of material for weed suppression, moisture retention or to improve organic matter content.
- Use chicken pellets to restore good bacteria and encourage good soil flora and fauna – worms love it!
Top plants for spring
BillyOh's Charles Walton reveals the best plants to invest in this season:
- Bulbs (tulips, crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, dahlias, lilies, amaryllises)
Spring bulbs make for the most colourful flowers. Don't cut off their leaves when they have finished flowering.
- Shrubs (rhododendrons, camellias, viburnums, forsythias, lilacs, azaleas)
Certain bushes make an even bigger impact than flowers, and their blooms are often fragrant, too.
- Blossom trees (snowy mespilus, hawthorn, crab apple, pyrus, flowering dogwood, cherry tree)
Though deciduous, these trees give year-round delight, starting with dreamy blooms during spring.
- Vegetables (lettuces, cabbages, kale, broccoli, turnips, radishes, cucumbers, onions)
It's best to plant vegetables when the soil is warm, but March is a good time to plant cooler-season vegetables that can withstand that last of the winter frost. You can plant these crops directly in the soil, underneath a row cover, or in containers. Plant several varieties of each for a continuous harvest.