Weather has been unpredictable this year
The snowdrops (Galanthus) are looking particularly good now and are the first bulbs to give you a show in the new year. Donít be tempted to buy snowdrop bulbs to plant unless you want to dig half way to Australia to get them in deep enough (donít believe the planting depths on the packets!). Instead - wait a bit to buy them Ďin the greení and plant them deep.
Although itís not a showstopper, Viburnum tinus is flowering well at this time of year and itís white flowers and evergreen foliage make it a useful addition to the garden. It gets quite big but itís useful as a Ďbackgroundí or hedging plant and can be pruned back after flowering to keep it compact. Viburnum burkwoodii is a deciduous relative and its pale pink flowers are highly scented.Itís a bit of a mouthful but Sarcoccoca (Christmas Box) is worth having in every garden. Itís evergreen and glossy. It wonít win any prizes for itís looks but the scent is amazing at this time of the year. I tend to tuck them in shady areas near doors so you get the scent as you go in and out of the house.
You donít always need flowers to create a colourful scene in the garden. Cornus (Dogwood) has fantastic coloured stems at this time of the year and for most of winter. A group of three or more Cornus sanguinea ĎMidwinter Fireí will brighten up a dull corner.
What to do in the garden this monthIf
itís dry - have a weeding session now and save yourself a lot of bother later on. I use a three pronged cultivator to grub them up. Itís not too late to mulch round shrubs to stop the weeds coming up for a while Ė leaf mould or old compost works well
.Itís a good time to attack your Buddleias before they take over the garden. After cutting out any dead stems. Prune each stem back to a nice healthy pair of shoots near to the older, thicker growth to re-shape the plant. You can be quite brutal with them Ė I usually Ďpollardí plants in clientsí gardens to get a lot of bushy growth and flowers later on. To do this Ė cut them back to a pair of shoots just above the main trunk.
Mahonias can be cut back after flowering. Sometimes they get very leggy with a mop of leaves on top. If yours have got out of hand Ė cut a third of the stems back to just above a node Ė like a knuckle in the stems. If you do this evenly all over it thins out the shrub and you get new, bushy growth from the cut ends within a month or so.
Now is also the time to stop your winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) getting out of hand. Once itís finished flowering it can be pruned. I tend to prune back each stem to about two or three pairs of leaves/buds from the main stems. Winter Jasmine can be clipped like a hedge and this seems to work surprisingly well if you like your plants neat.
Hellebores are starting to flower now. If you notice that the old foliage is spotty and brown Ė just chop it off at the base and leave the young growth.
Late February/early March is the time to cut back deciduous ornamental grasses. The first thing to work out is which grasses you have to cut back. Generally the evergreen grasses such as the Stipas just need the old, dead, growth pulling out to leave space for the new shoots. The deciduous grasses such as Miscanthus are the oneís you need to cut back now. Donít be tempted to cut them down with shears Ė you will damage the new shoots coming through. Reduce the height with shears and then get in there with the secateurs to cut them down to the base Ė leaving the new short, green shoots.
Summer flowering bulbs are around in the garden centres now. If you arenít confident about the weather Ė you can always start them off in pots of compost and plant them out later.