The Sunday Gardener's Blog

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  1. Iris reticulata

    It's gone, but not quite forgotten. Spring if full of lovely images, above is Iris reticulata, blooming at Harlow Carr, but the Beast from the East with its prolonged, freezing wind has damaged garden plants, some permanently.

    The mild spell means we can get out and take stock, and the main casualties are the evergreen and semi evergreen shrubs. Other plants have suffered, the hellebores look a bit ragged and many plants are much later coming into spring bloom, in some areas almost a month late.

    Below are images of two plants illustrating the sort of damage which can be caused by the unusually cold weather. On the right Rosemary officinalis and on the left Cotoneaster. The Rosemary is too badly damaged to salvage, good only for the compost heap. The Cotoneaster, if you look closely does have some buds, so it is a wait and see gardening game.

    How to tell if your shrub has died? 

    The best way is to snap off a small branch, or scrape away the bark on a branch and examine the wood below. If it is brown all the way through, chances are it is dead. If it is green in the interior, the shrub should revive.

    Many of the evergreens may have wind burn, where the leaves look literally burnt, or shrivelled,  which should  improve with the warmer weather.  The Cotoneaster is normally evergreen/semi evergreen but it has shed all its leaves in the extreme weather. 

    A shrub which was really healthy before the bad winter  may well revive. The Rosemary was struggling because of the wet as well as the cold, and was not on best form before  the winter, and the Beast from the East was the final straw.  

    This maybe a good time to feed shrubs with a balanced fertilised to help them along, remembering that any , ericaceous i.e. acid loving shrubs, Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Camellia, Pieris etc will need an ericaceous feed. 

    Shrubs whose branches have been damaged by the snow maybe best pruned. If the stems of the branches have been compromised, the shrub is better off being pruned back. You may loose from flowers in the spring, and if this is a problem you can tie up the branch to support it and then prune later if you prefer; depends in part how damaged the branch is.

    If you are not sure if your favourite shrub is alive or not, give it a feed and wait a while to see what spring brings.

    Cotoneaster damaged 310 Damaged rosemary




  2. tomatoe-seedlings-310x240 tomatoes ripening on the vine

    It is not too late at the end of March/early April to sow tomatoes. If you do sow now, which is a little later in the season, it is best to pick the smaller varieties of tomatoes. Basically, the larger the tomato, the longer growing season it needs to come to fruit and ripen, so the small cherry types are good to sow now.

    For best results fill up a seed tray or small pots with seed compost and press down gently to remove any air pockets. The reason for this is that if roots find themselves in air instead of soil, especially young delicate roots, the root may die which could be critical in the early stages. 

    Place a few seeds per pot or in the tray and cover very lightly with compost, mist gently with water. Place in a warm sunny spot such as a heated greenhouse, conservatory or window sill. 

    Seedlings can get leggy, especially if grown where the light is all from one side, such as on a window sill. The seedling is drawn to the light and becomes long and leggy, as in the image below. This can be remedied by repotting the seedling deeper into the soil which will give only a small study stem above ground. The images below what to do if your seedling is too leggy. The image on the left is the leggy seedling and then on the right re potted.

    Once the seedlings are mature pot on and then check How to Grow Tomatoes which is packed with growing tips and advice to get a tasty crop. Or you can splash out on the Sunday Gardener's short book "Success with Tomatoes"  which is a comprehensive guide to growing tomatoes. 


    Weedy seedling left potted up seedling right


    Version 6 book cover

  3. Late February and early March is the best time for Pruning Clematis to ensure it produces lovely flowers year after year. Clematis prune can seem a bit complicated, but not really. Group 1 Clematis do not prune at all, and group 1 flower early in the year. Group 2 is a light prune, and Group 3 a hard prune. To check which you have there is detailed information on the Clematis pages to help identify the group to which a clematis belongs if you have no labels or information.  If all fails and you have no idea, Group 2 usually flower in mid summer and Group 3 later in summer which is not true of every type of clematis but it can be the best guess. 

    All the books and magazines say "prune to an axial bud" so to know what to look for are two images below. At this time of year on some Clematis the axial bud will be easy to spot, as in the first image, on others is can be quite small and you need to look carefully. 

    There are also videos to help you identify your clematis and to which group it below on the Sunday Gardener You Tube channel.

    clematis large axil bud clematis small axil bud


  4. strawberries before cutting back

    Do your strawberries look like this?

    The image left shows strawberries before they have been cut back. Ideally, strawberries should be cut back in late summer, afterfruiting and once any runners have been removed or potted on to make new plants.

    Not everything in gardening goes to plan and I didn't get round to cutting back the strawberries until February. It still has to be done, as you do not want to start the growing season with lots of dead leaves which will only lead to problems and an inducement to Botrytis, Grey Mold.

    If you live in the south with lots of sun, or the east with low rain fall, Botrytis is less of a problem but anywhere tending on the wet side is higher risk and it is one disease strawberries are prone to.

    Start the season with clean-cut plants which allows plenty of light and air circulation.  More tips on growing strawberries. 

    strawberries after cutting back