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What an invigorating month this is, preparing the garden to welcome that unfailingly astonishing new growth nudging out from inhospitable soil. Leaves can be cleared where new bulbs are to emerge, new outlines revealed where brave plants will sparkle; every shot of colour is a miracle.

AREAS TO CONSIDER Alpines Work over them to remove dead and diseased leaves, checking for slugs. Add new grit around those in the ground and to the surface of those in pots, checking they are not soggy. Take out any that look sickly to check for vine weevil – creamy grubs. These will need to have their roots washed before being replanted or repotted in new compost. A biological vine weevil killer such as Nemasys (available online) only works if the soil is over 5°C so is only useful under glass this early in the year.

Annual meadow In the first year, start preparing the ground. Unlike with a perennial meadow, the soil needs to be fertile, so remove weeds, incorporate humus, rake over to remove stones and lumps. By the time the second year comes round, you can leave the preparation until about the time you sow in April: the less time between ground preparation and sowing, the less time for weed seeds to blow in. Professional advice is worth having. Pictorial Meadows in Sheffield will provide very helpful advice to those planning their first meadow.

Bare-root plants Provided the soil is not frozen, plant bare-root roses, fruit trees, deciduous trees/hedging.

Galanthus plicatus ‘Wendy’s Gold’ (flowering January–February)

Bark Many species of maple, birch and cherry have wonderful bark, especially when cleaned with a pressure hose.

Bulbs Check stored bulbs/tubers/corms, throwing out any with rot. Bulbs in the ground which could provide food for rodents could have a soil drench of a very mild solution of water and paraffin to disguise the scent.

Compost If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse or shed, bring bags of seed and potting compost into a warmer environment a day before using them. Otherwise, ensure any bags of compost do not get frozen while left outside.

Container and pot plants Even in deep winter do not let the compost dry out completely. Pots of evergreens, and conifers especially, need water throughout winter, though all plants need just enough to keep them going. Keep watch during long cold and dry periods. Placing pots together under a south-facing wall if they cannot be taken under cover maximizes protection and makes their care easier.

Cuttings: root Take root cuttings of perennials with taproots (which are almost impossible to divide) or which have fleshy roots such as acanthus, crambe, dicentra, echinops, eryngium, Japanese anemone, oriental poppy, pulsatilla, verbascum.


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