It’s nearly the end of February, there is still frost at night and some of the plants look shabby… Before I can see where the weeds are, I need to ‘tidy up’. But I need to know what’s safe to cut back.
I am the kind of gardener who will always want to delay cutting back of herbaceous perennials and grasses for as long as possible. This is because they are homes to useful insects and are often attractive, as well as providing extra cover for the soil, which helps nutrients from being washed away with the winter rains.
Of course, if I’ve done a winter mulch of garden compost, I’ll have cut them back before doing this, in order to easily see where the gaps are and remove any perennial weeds.
At this point, I will be casting a critical eye along the borders asking myself whether a particular plant has ‘done its winter thing’ and now needs to be cut back ready for the new growth. So today I left some perfectly acceptable Sedum spectabile seed heads but also cut back the Verbena bonariensis. I try not to be too rule-obsessed about this, as gardening is an art, even though it relies on good scientific knowledge for best practice.
At this point I look at the shrub roses. About this time, February to March, is when I do it, making sure the plant has a good feed afterwards with rotted horse manure if it is available or seaweed feed. I have got so used to the mild winters I still worry about the frost, and there has been frost damage to even un-pruned roses, as well as to a newly planted Daphne odora and a Callistemon citrinus, which with hindsight, I should have planted in a more sheltered position. These I will not touch until I know the frost has passed, as the damaged parts will give protection to the healthy parts.
Other deciduous shrubs which flower later in the year can be pruned now and these are the ones I’m thinking of or have already done: Buddleja, Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’, Perovskia, Spiraea japonica, and Fuchsia. I am also pruning some in order to get the young growth; for example, for the bright bark colour of Cornus alba, the immature leaves of Eucalyptus or Cotinus, or for withies from Salix.
Sadly many daffodils flowered too soon and were knocked down by the frost and, as I may have mentioned in a previous post, https://www.greenplantswap.co.uk/talk_posts/353-badger-badger-badger-badger (!) the badgers have eaten loads in a particular garden. I am being extra careful with the hoe…There are summer bulbs to plant but it still seems a little early.