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  • Writer's pictureAmanda

“Killer freeze set to last 10 days”

…screamed the tabloid headlines last week. Which was disappointing. After a January of frosts and frozen ground, and for me a month of cramming for more Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) qualifications, I was keen set aside the theory and get on with the practice.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the cold, especially when it’s crisp and bright, but if you go stomping around in the garden in such conditions you can end up doing more harm than good.

Trees and shrubs can suffer if you prune them in freezing temperatures, and the ground, if not too solid to dig, can be waterlogged and prone to compaction under a well-meaning but weighty wellie.

Luckily the headlines seem to have been exaggerated, as is their way, and as I write this on a blissfully sunny Monday that is giving the world a tantalising taste of the Spring to come, I’m feeling optimistic.

So here are just three jobs we can be getting on with should the thermometer bob above 5°C for a while:

Plant bare root trees and shrubs

If you’re been meaning to plant a hedge, or thinking of adding cane fruits like raspberries to your veg patch, now’s the time to do it.

Bare rooted plants are just that: plants that have no soil, no pots, and as such they work out a whole lot cheaper than their containerised counterparts. They’re usually available from November until early March – just be ready to get them in the ground as soon as they turn up.

Lift and divide herbaceous perennials

Groups of herbaceous plants can soon become congested or start to out-grow their allotted space. So whilst they’re still dormant, use a garden fork or spade to lift large clumps out of the ground then tease, cut (a bread knife is useful for this) or prize them apart with two garden or hand forks placed back to back, to divide it into smaller sections – each with good roots and the buds of new stems.

Then replant what you need, taking the opportunity to work in some organic matter (see below), and either pot up the remaining smaller clumps for friends, or find them a new home somewhere else in the garden.

Prepare new borders and veg beds

In an ideal world, you’d do this in autumn, but as long as you’re not trying to work really wet, heavy (as in clay) soil, digging in some well-rotted garden compost or farm manure (again, well rotted) now will pay dividends later.

Whether you ‘single dig’ or ‘double dig’ is largely up to how energetic you’re feeling and how badly your soil needs improving, but whatever you do be generous with the amount of organic matter you add and get it right down at least 30cm. Your plants will really love you for it.


Gimme five A few more things you could be doing, you know, if you have the time…

  • Get tooled up. Sharpen, oil and clean garden tools.

  • On your marks. Order veg and flower seeds, and seed potatoes, so you’re ready for when it all kicks off in March.

  • Get weeding. It’s never too early to start. Get the blighters out and keep ’em out.

  • Have a think. Winter’s a great time to assess the bare bones of your garden; where some evergreen structure, height or volume might be needed.

  • Clear the way. Cut back any faded stems of perennials and grasses to make way for new growth. But don’t give evergreen grasses a haircut. A good comb through with a hand rake will see them right.



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