|Winter pruning. If not already
completed, any pruning required on fruit and decorative trees and shrubs is best finished
before the sap becomes active. Garden lore is rich with advice, learned books are there to
be consulted. However, most of us , and the plants in our charge, manage without degrees
in prunology, and for ease and simplicity there are a few things it may help
Remove branches that reach from one side of the tree or shrub across the centre, those
that chafe against others and ugly and unbalanced growths. Always cut back close to
a remaining bud and, if at all possible, choose a bud pointing outwards from the centre of
the bush or tree.
With top fruit (trees such as apples and pears ) try to allow plenty of air circulation
around the branches. For bush fruit like gooseberries you should be able to move a
clenched fist around branches without getting scratched.
Many decorative and fruit bushes flower and fruit on the previous years wood.
Pruning should therefore remove a good proportion of the flowering / fruiting wood after
this harvest to encourage fresh wood for the following year.
Roses. Traditionalists make a lot of pruning bush ( large-flowered
) roses. Recent research has proved that bushes produce more blossom by being trimmed back
by a third with shears or even a chain saw, which is far less time-consuming.
Species and old-fashioned roses require less pruning so, if this is not a task you enjoy,
plant fewer of the bush varieties and more of these. Restrict yourself to removing
obviously worn-out stems, ugly and diseased pieces and shoots that unbalance the form.
Weak growth and bits that clutter the centre should also be removed.
SEED SOWING. Growing masses of bedding plants from seed is a lot of
work and not recommended for the easy garden, but there will be some plants that you will
enjoy raising and new ones you may want to try. If there is some heat available, this is a
good month for sowing most seeds ( look at the packet instructions, as some seeds need the
action of frost to activate them ) The warmth of the kitchen windowsill will be plenty to
get most germinating quickly. It is sensible to use seed compost free of organisms
and weed seeds that could inhibit germination or damage or compete with fledgling
seedlings. If you do not have a propagator, you can manage perfectly well with a seed tray
or pot enclosed in a plastic bag to retain moisture and provide a mini eco-climate, or
even a margarine tub covered with cling-film. The rules for successful
seed raising are as follows. Use clean containers and fresh seed compost. Sow seed
thinly, so that germinating seedlings are not crowded and do not get drawn upwards seeking
space and light. Keep the compost moist but not sodden, which is best achieved in a sealed
container or plastic bag. Maintain warmth.
As soon as seed begins to germinate, allow
in more air and make sure that the seedlings have full light. Seed leaves are followed by
the first true leaf- one which begins to show the characteristics of the species.When the
first true leaf is fully developed, the seedlings will be ready for pricking out into
individual pots or spaced in trays. Do not allow the growing seedlings to dry out but do
not drown them either. Try to prick out only a few more seedlings than you need. There is
a temptation to use all the seedlings, thinking in terms of waste not want
not, but time, effort and space spent raising surplus plants is wasted. Keep
yourself under control.