Preparing for Spring

Alliums and tulips ready to plant out., Feb 2013

Last weekend it was time to get my potted bulbs into the ground before I went on my travels. Because we have a lot of tender perennials that sometimes last well into the winter, I avoid disturbing them by planting spring bulbs such as alliums and tulips in black pots. Then I can bed them out once the foliage has died back. Normally I plunge the plastic pots into the ground when the shoots start to emerge, tipping the surface layer of grit into the bottom of the planting hole to improve drainage. This seems to work well unless it’s a dry spring, in which case I think the bulbs can be starved of water, resulting in stunted growth. So this year I carefully knocked the young rootballs from the pots and planted the bulbs and compost directly into the ground. The alliums (Allium ‘Globemaster’) were already 3-4″ tall.

It was also time to give the trees and shrubs their first top dressing of blood, fish and bone. Whilst it may not sound very pleasant, blood, fish and bone is a good, low-tech, nutrient-rich fertiliser that is perfect for established plants. It’s made entirely from fish, providing plants with the three main nutrients they require: nitrogen for growth and foliage development; phosphate for the strong roots; and potash for improved fruit and vegetable ripening, as well as better flower colour. A couple of handfuls per square metre, forked and watered in well, does the trick.

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February means it’s time to prune clematis that flower in late summer, on growth made in the current season, such as the lovely ‘Perle d’Azur’, above. These ‘Group 3’ clematis make new growth from the base each year, so can be cut back hard now. Use clean secateurs to cut back all the old stems to the lowest pair of healthy buds 15-30cm (6in-1ft) above soil level. Failing to do this results in top-heavy plants which are leafless at the bottom. Also getting the chop this weekend was Verbena bonariensis, already producing lots of new new shoots from the base.

Geranium palmatum foliage, 2013

It always amazes me how many sub tropical plants seem to look their best in late winter, despite what the UK climate has to throw at them. Having lost one or two of the outer leaves in January, Geranium palmatum is looking splendid, the apple green leaves unfurling from the central trunk. Geranium palmatum is supposed to be shortlived, but this plant is now almost 8 years old and looking good on it.

Next door, Ispolexis sceptrum (top and below) is also looking very much alive, having dropped a number of older leaves. I am willing it to flower in 2013, having had 3 or 4 years of greenery only. I’m getting quite impatient for those burnt orange foxglove flowers now – oh for a warm spring to bring them on!

Isoplexis sceptrum in rude health, Feb 2013