SOIL TOIL… Help your lawn bounce back from the effects of winter
The best you can do in the short-term is to leave well alone until conditions improve. But once a combination of drying wind and sun start making the ground firmer, so you can venture on to the grass without your feet sinking in, it’s time to start taking some gentle remedial action. First the lawn. If yours is on clay soil or low-lying ground which stays naturally soggy, sprinkle sharp horticultural sand thinly and evenly all over the surface using about a shovelful per square yard and work it in with a besom broom or a rubber rake.
This firms up the turf and improves surface drainage and aeration. It helps grass grow better and discourages moss or slippery green slime and liverwort.
Treat any lawn with care and if you need to use a barrow don’t risk leaving wheel ruts – make sure you use a temporary slatted path.
Now for the borders. Long spells of compaction and water logging can be a real problem for dormant roots so loosen the soil surface by forking it lightly to fluff it up a bit, taking care not to harm bulbs or dormant crowns of perennial plants. This also helps drainage and aeration.
Some plants with fleshy roots or storage organs are particularly at risk of rotting when soil conditions are not great so carefully work gritty sand or pea-sized shingle in around vulnerable plants. Use a bucketful per square yard.
The grit treatment will suit many slightly tender shrubby subjects too. Pay particular attention to Mediterranean-type plants such as lavenders, sages, rosemaries, cistus and Californian plants, including fremontodendron and carpenteria.
Several plants that usually survive milder winters intact may well have died back a bit this year. Leave it for now but keep an eye on them when growth restarts in spring. Cut back dead bits to just beyond the healthy new shoots.
You may need to cut hardy fuchsias and phygelius (cape figwort) close to ground-level but don’t worry, their roots survive better than the tops.
You might find several shrubs we think of as hardy have suffered a bit of die-back at the extremities so get ready to tidy up lightly.
Check your patio too. Some terracotta, clay or ceramic containers may have cracked.
When wet compost freezes it expands and something has to give, so a little repotting may be needed.
You may find some plants have died off if their roots were frozen in blocks of icy compost for any length of time so some replanting may also be in order, just wait and see.
But be positive. A bad winter is the perfect excuse to splash out on a few new plants and think how it will have decimated the slug and snail population.
One of the many great joys of a garden is being able to cut a few flowers and bring them indoors to put in a vase.
SNIP HAPPY… A vase of sweet peas will brighten up an indoor space
They bring a flavour of outside to wherever you may be, at your desk working, whipping up a tasty dish in the kitchen or sitting chatting with family or friends.
If the flowers are scented so much the better.
However, if the very thought of cutting flowers brings out your protective instincts don’t imagine I’m giving the snipper in your life carte blanche to run wild with the scissors through your best perennials.
Gardens need compost or manure to be worked into the soil during winter
It is safe to harvest the odd bloom or two without doing much harm but if you’re keen on having regular bunches for vases it’s worth setting up a small cutting garden and growing annuals especially for the job, and now is a good time to start.
You can make a separate bed or just use a few rows at the sunny end of the veg patch. If you haven’t already done your winter digging, work in plenty of compost or manure then in March rake in a dressing of organic general-purpose fertiliser.
When it’s time to sow and plant remember some of the best traditional annual flowers for cutting – after must-have sweet peas – include asters, stocks, larkspur, statice and flowering tobacco (nicotiana) .
The lime-green varieties are favoured by arrangers as they go with anything.
For those of a fashionable bent try sunflowers, antirrhinums and Ammi major, an impressive annual cow parsley.
If you have room add some dahlias and a few classic perennials such as scabious, gypsophila and pinks; sea holly is great – choose the biennial Eryngium giganteum and ice plant (Sedum spectabile).
Start now and your summer borders will be safe this season.