February LINK Gardener
Gardening, weather conditions and preparing for Spring
Nature as we all know does what it wants to do and it might be worth our while looking at the potential consequences of the recent very wet and unseasonably warm weather arriving in the UK in strong southerly winds emerging from the north west of the African continent.
Botanically we have all experienced unusual or unexpected flowering which may be late second flowering or too early Spring flowering which is all very confusing for plants, gardeners and wildlife. We have seen Daffodils (Narcissus) bulbs flowering in December, also Anemonies and Primulas (Ranunculus family) and many more jumping the gun and flowering a month early in December/January. This is not a worry unless woody shrubs and herbaceous perennials flower in the severe frost that may well follow mild conditions with resulting damage to the flower heads and buds. Even very hardy woody shrub buds such as those found on the Camellia can be badly damaged on a very frosty sunny winter morning with sudden melting of the frosted buds. We can try protecting them with garden fleece or bubble wrap if we are well prepared in time.
We may not like frosts, but many plants do and nature comes to the rescue with plant Vernalisation, the name given to a sustained period of severe cold. Most vegetable biennials e.g. brassicas (cabbages, sprouts etc.), hardy herbaceous plants and many woody shrubs/trees should have this frozen period which used to be regarded as normal in Winter in the UK. Also many standard flowering plants e.g. Campanula – Bell Flower (Campanula family), Chrysanthemums (Aster – Daisy family) and especially the fruit tree (Rose family) require this vernalisation. The consequences of not may be very delayed flowering and fruiting till late Summer or even Autumn. This delay can also be disastrous for loss of Spring ornamental flowering. Vernalisation is also important for early vegetable harvesting, ornamental and fruit growing farms, e.g. Plums, Cherries, Pears, Apples all need that vital frosty start to the season.
Ground – soil condition this month
Soggy soil will soon harden but clay based loam water will lie trapped until better drainage/evaporation starts in the warmer weather in April/May some time after the long thaw takes place. Add as much organic matter as you can e.g. compost, manure, leaf mould and if soil is holding water add inorganic matter e.g. grit, spare gravel, even a small soakaway for large amounts of trapped water. On a positive note again we will need a good reserve storage of water in the soil for those hot months we yearn for, remembering how quickly the ground dries up under grass lawns for example.
Our beloved gardeners’ friends, slugs and snails bless them, will now be so ecstatically happy and in March/April they will start reproducing big time from earlier perfect soggy conditions. So be warned and try with tough gloves to remove them yourself at night or early morning (horrible job but better than slug pellets that kill hedgehogs and other animals and pets!) We will have fewer of our wonderful hedgehog friends, blackbirds, thrushes and other ground feeders sadly unless we all pull together and provide appropriate conditions for them.
So while we don’t all appreciate bitter cold weather ,or excessive wet weather, horticulture needs it in moderate balance and aquatic-moisture plants adore it, so have a look around for some selections in the garden centres.
Have you prepared your garden plan for this year for what you want to see for Spring Summer and Autumn onwards.
Enjoy preparing now for spring next month!
Tony Arnold MCIHort
Author Science for te Gardener